Monday, October 24, 2016Mostly Cloudy 10°C

New study blames passenger loading for slow streetcars

Posted by Derek Flack / August 7, 2014

ttc streetcarsWhy is the streetcar so damn slow? A new study by Toronto transportation services on the 504 King line has an answer -- one that might be a little surprising. Although traffic and bunching play their part, an efficiency report on the 504 line suggests that passenger loading is the primary culprit. With only two entry and exit points, vehicles often remain at stops for minutes while passengers pay their fare and exit the vehicles.

The arrival of the new streetcars later this month will help alleviate this problem given that they have four doors through which riders can board and leave the car. Unfortunately, these new vehicles won't be on the King line until 2017 (the cars are slated to start service on the 510 Spadina line).

This is both good and bad new for the TTC. On the one hand it allows them to tout just how helpful the new low-floor vehicles will be, but on the other, it sounds a whole lot like riders are being blamed for slow service. If only we could be more efficient about getting on and off the cars, things would be so much better, so the argument seems to go.

The reality, of course, is that there really is a problem with the current streetcar design on busy routes and that the TTC should probably investigate ways to expand its Proof of Payment system beyond the Queen and Lake Shore lines (and, you know, actually have people whose job it is to ensure that people have a Metropass or transfer. The new streetcars are coming soon, but they won't be rolled out across the city for years.

Correction: The original version of this post attributed the study in question to the TTC, when if fact it was conducted by Toronto Transportation Services.

Photo by Ben Roffelsen in the blogTO Flickr pool.



Brent / August 7, 2014 at 11:58 am
The extra doors won't do anything to speed up passengers exiting. Sure, there'll be two more doors, but the streetcars are also twice as long and hold twice as many riders.

The low-floor buses suggest that, if anything, it may take longer for riders to exit, depending on whether the doors allow riders to continue to exit two at a time or whether they start exiting in single file (which is what happened on the Orion 7 buses).
David / August 7, 2014 at 12:04 pm
This is Orwellian propaganda. We all know streetcars are slow because they themselves cause traffic, preventing faster moving vehicles from moving past them. But go ahead TTC, tell us otherwise.
Dave / August 7, 2014 at 12:04 pm
The biggest problem I've had is usually people getting off at the front doors, forcing people to wait to get one and holding up the whole car. Get off at the back doors, get on at the front. Just that easy.
Pbj / August 7, 2014 at 12:05 pm
I don't have any problem with them making this claim.

I have no doubt that a significant part of the TTC's delay and capacity issues could be resolved if the average rider developed some consideration for efficiency rather than their own personal comfort and priorities.

For every 2 people I see waiting for subway passengers to exit before loading on, there's still 1 idiot who tries to swim upstream, or another crowds the doors on streetcars with no intention of exiting any time soon.
alan / August 7, 2014 at 12:09 pm
as a intermittent rider I do notice on all lines riders bunch at the front and feel the back of the streetcar is for lowlifes,'ve boarded cars where there is a lot of seta at the back but the front is jammed and trying to work my way to the back is quite the chore...also a lot will exit through the front door while people are trying to board...
Jill / August 7, 2014 at 12:13 pm
The only reason why I always exit from the front doors is because cars Zoom by and don't stop... Terrifying drivers learn the streetcar rules please and then maybe passengers won't be the problem - or just have dedicated lanes for streetcars .
v79 / August 7, 2014 at 12:20 pm
The steep steps definitely make it harder for seniors and people with mobility issues to get on and off in a timely manner, but to be honest I've never noticed streetcar loading to be any slower or time consuming than on buses. Being on a fixed track waiting for the traffic in front definitely is a bigger issue than loading IMHO. And then there was the time I had to get out and help rock a parked car out of the way so the streetcar could get by. That's not an issue with buses either.
Liberty Villain / August 7, 2014 at 12:28 pm
Nice try TTC.

The 504 has very inconsistent service, which causes the number of passengers to pile up at the major hubs/stops. An empty streetcar can get easily filled at one stop alone, and that takes time, and also backlogs every other streetcar and stop thereafter. I often upstream to the stop before the one I should be boarding at, just so I can get on.

I'm probably in the minority when I say this, but it's time for King and Queen to be converted to one way streets. It's the cheapest solution versus the (lack of) alternative. Hell, I'd just like to see the city test pilot it for a week or two.
iSkyscraper / August 7, 2014 at 12:29 pm
Loading is no joke, glad the TTC finally figured it out, a half-century or so after it became a problem. Duh.

Like other cities with these sorts of vehicles, the key is to move payment off-vehicle. Get on it already. Boston figured this out years ago.

steve / August 7, 2014 at 12:33 pm
Obviously the best solution is to allow the drivers to run more red lights
Kelly again / August 7, 2014 at 12:45 pm
This is not rocket science. It's a human interface design problem that has been solved any number of ways by other cities. The TTC knows this, and also knows that solving the problem costs money.

Vancouver solved the problem by adding high capacity express buses along Broadway. But these expensive new buses only really began being worth the expense when they allowed all-door loading combined with a dedicated rush hour lane.

So you need higher capacity, fewer stops, and a dedicated express lane. With one way King and Queen Streets, as suggested above, this could be done.
McRib / August 7, 2014 at 12:46 pm
If only there was some sort of technology we could implement, to make the loading and payment on the streetcar easier and faster. Something like a card that you swipe as you enter so there is no more fishing for coins or tokens, no more requesting a transfer.....

maybe one day in the future a scientist can invent such a device and save us all.
yt / August 7, 2014 at 12:51 pm
average streetcar rider: *sees streetcar is full* *tries to cram on anyway* *doors won't close* *finally forced to get off and get on the next street car DIRECTLY BEHIND which happens to be mostly empty*

really looking forward to the end of bike season, you guys!
S / August 7, 2014 at 12:54 pm
How about when the driver sees the car is packed they stop letting people on, instead of letting people cram on and then yelling at everyone on the vehicle that the vehicle won't move until everyone is behind the white line.
AndrewF / August 7, 2014 at 01:08 pm
One thing I hate is when people insist on leaving via the front doors. This slows the stop times to twice it would be. If everyone left in the back doors, and people boarded via the front it would be great. And the drivers never enforce it, even when it's posted right at the front.

But that's for buses, I don't know how relevant it is to streetcars.
Where's my Presto Card? Ohh that's right another success from Karen Stinz / August 7, 2014 at 01:13 pm
So no blame on the archaic ticket and token situation at all - where's my smart card? It's all the riders fault?
Potrzebie replying to a comment from yt / August 7, 2014 at 01:13 pm
yt, here's a tip for you:

The first rule of effective streetcar commuting is to ALWAYS cram onto the lead streetcar, so that you have options when it short-turns. You'll shave hours off your annual TTC sentence.

Potrzebie replying to a comment from McRib / August 7, 2014 at 01:15 pm
McRib wrote: "If only there was some sort of technology we could implement, to make the loading and payment on the streetcar easier and faster."

A pitchfork might work.

Brent / August 7, 2014 at 01:28 pm
If there's only one or two people getting on and off, it's still faster if riders get off at the front on the Orion 7 buses, because of how long it takes the back doors to open and close. I have been on buses that are running late and the driver asks people to get off at the front in an effort to keep the bus from getting even more behind.
Viktor / August 7, 2014 at 01:33 pm
I take this streetcar almost everyday and the traffic depends on where you are. East of Peter St. it's just your standard Toronto morning traffic which is to be expected during rush hour. But getting closer to Spadina it gets really bad, reason being the Southbound Spadina street car which uses King St as a means to get back onto Spadina after it's turned around to go North agin. Often there is so much pedestrian traffic that the street car can't make the turn till after the light has turned yellow (and often red), which means everyone behind them just waited an entire light just so the street car could make a right turn. Now that the Spadina streetcar has been shut down till their done with construction, the King streetcar is much much faster in the mornings.
tnt / August 7, 2014 at 01:58 pm
All valid points but I believe the underlying cause is people's tunnel vision and sense of self importance with no regard for others in the surrounding areas..this is a result of the way technology makes us focus on itself and ignore whatever is occurring in the peripheral vision ...obvious mostly among younger riders
iSkyscraper Needs To Get A Life replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / August 7, 2014 at 02:12 pm
iSkycraper, is it possible that you can stick to your own side of the pond and leave those of us who live in Toronto alone? I for one am getting tired of your 'New York does everything better' spiel that you say each and every time you post here about everything related to the TTC and other matters concerning Toronto. You live in New York, you've got it made-keep New York matters to New York, and let Toronto find its own solutions (on transit and everything else) in its own way.
Linda / August 7, 2014 at 02:22 pm
Presto will not speed up loading as much as people expect, check out union station to see the response time for tapping and waiting for the beep. Imagine the delays when everyone has to tap instead of some people just flashing a transfer or metropass. And wait til you see the people that try to tap thru their wallet or purse and keep trying and trying until it beeps instead of taking it out. People do contribute to the delay, how many times a day does some moron stand on the back steps so the doors won't close until the entire street car is screaming at them. As for the comments to exit rear doors only, the King street car is so jammed in the morning and afternoon you must exit whatever door you are near. Forcing everyone off the back will result in greater delays.
KA / August 7, 2014 at 02:24 pm
I found that at 5:30pm to 7:30pm there are tons of taxis that line up along the sidewalks. I am not sure what they are there for but they show up like clockwork and little is done to make them move along. One rumor I heard is that some of the bigger law and accounting firm haves a policy that if they make a admin/clerical person (most of these are women) stay past 6pm the company gives them a free cab ride home so their evening is not completely ruined.
504Rider / August 7, 2014 at 02:29 pm
The traffic slowdowns couldn’t have anything to do with the constant line of cabs, delivery trucks, and construction that line both sides of King St. from Victoria through to Bathurst - bringing King St. down to one lane in each direction. Nah, that couldn’t be a factor at all.

I agree with a previous post - make King and Queen each one way.
ginnee / August 7, 2014 at 02:38 pm
All those young people in vests at Bloor/Yonge Station, who are constantly standing in the way of passengers, would be of much better use checking fares on King so it could be a POP route.
TJ / August 7, 2014 at 03:03 pm
Pre-paying before boarding (aka honor system) does not work as effectively in the City of Toronto as it does in with GO Transit or VIVA buses in York Region. You have completely different clientele. There is a much higher percentage of people in Toronto who would not pay compared to users of GO Transit and VIVA. People would easily hop on and off for a few stops (or even a stop or two) and they would never get caught. Even if there were transit police on-board, due to the short stops and busy-ness of TTC streetcars or buses, people can spot the transit officers and hop off at the next stop, which is some cases is 30 seconds or a minute away. TTC knows this as they've conducted such studies which is why they are taking years and years before rolling this out. They are trying to figure out ways roll it out effectively without this potential high percentage of delinquent riders.
TJ replying to a comment from KA / August 7, 2014 at 03:04 pm
Yes, this is true.
W. K. Lis / August 7, 2014 at 03:23 pm
There are two reasons for slow streetcars. One, the single-occupant motor vehicles (average 1.3). Two, passengers who refuse to use the centre or rear doors to exit, but use the front doors to exit, delaying the passengers who want to get on.
Marc / August 7, 2014 at 03:45 pm
They should make the AC colder in the back.
You're Not Entitled to a Car replying to a comment from David / August 7, 2014 at 03:46 pm
By streetcar you mean "single-occupant vehicle," right?

We need to do what Singapore did and place a $40-$60K surcharge on vehicle registration.
Christina replying to a comment from Liberty Villain / August 7, 2014 at 03:58 pm
Agreed, 504 is so inconsistent that there will often be 20 people getting on at a stop with an already full streetcar. It only takes so long per stop because there isn't enough room for the people to board and get off when we are packed like sardines.

Queen and King one way is definitely an interesting idea and something maybe worth testing but what should be implemented immediately is no parking or stopping on streets with streetcars. If anyone is parked or stopped for a few minutes it leaves those main streets with only one lane, and with a streetcar involved that's impossible.
BM / August 7, 2014 at 04:19 pm
On at the front, off at the back....simple.

Also, don't get on and stand right in front of the back door.

In this country, people appreciate their personal space.
Rob Ford / August 7, 2014 at 05:06 pm
Don't let people on streetcars. S*U*B*W*A*Y*S are the answer. Scrap the streetcars. CarsCarsCars!!
Goldielover replying to a comment from AndrewF / August 7, 2014 at 05:16 pm
Not always feasible for elderly or disabled passengers. I use a cane, and am usually to be found in one of the seats at the front. I would not be able to safely navigate to the back door on a crowded bus or streetcar, so usually use the front door. Unless I have to travel for medical reasons, I do try to avoid rush hour, though.
tommy replying to a comment from iSkyscraper Needs To Get A Life / August 7, 2014 at 05:29 pm
How about getting some worldly perspective on our not-unique-to-Toronto problems? It's people like you that try to invent the wheel from first principles, while ignoring the dude with a wagon next door. How about opening that closed little mind of yours, hmm?

As for loading, Brent has a good point. The new Orion backdoors have made bus alighting a nightmare. The doors on the new streetcars aren't pneumatic, so they'll open/close faster, but the loss of the double-doors will be bad.

Linda has a good point too: the Presto RFID card-read delay might only be half a second, but it's far slower than just dropping a token or flashing a metropass. Take a look at Montreal. The cards work well for the Metro, but it takes FOREVER for a line-up of people to board a bus, as each person waits for the card to register. This shouldn't be too much of a problem on the streetcars because each door has 2 Presto readers, but it'll be bad on our bus routes.
DL replying to a comment from Liberty Villain / August 7, 2014 at 10:06 pm
Been saying this for years and can't understand for the life of me why it hasn't been done yet.
Don / August 7, 2014 at 10:15 pm
drivers should enforce entrance at the front, exit from the back. or just add an automated message that plays on the intercom every 4 minutes "please exit from the rear doors". easy solution
Jon / August 7, 2014 at 10:35 pm
Add a turnstile at the front of the streetcars to block people from leaving through the front.

King & Queen one way? one-way pairs don't work for transit when they are that far apart (380m). Its a long way to ask some people to walk every day just to reach a low-quality service.
Beyond Belief / August 7, 2014 at 10:59 pm
How stupid the people who put this street car system on the roads had to be: stop the entire flow of traffic to let people on and off the street cars. The inefficincy and effect of it on the commuting system is mind blowing. Anybody with authority over this with the slightest common sense would immediately do something about it, but no in Toronto this is normal. Even more this is special about Toronto street cars, here the entire street stops to let five people get on them.
Moaz Ahmad / August 7, 2014 at 11:57 pm
The Peter Witt streetcars had people could board quickly...they paid on exit.

While we're not going to bring back conductors, the best solutiin would be to shift all the ALRVs to King and have a Proof-Of-Payment and all-door boarding. Of course the next problem will be the ALRVs arevfalling apart...but they may last until 2017. Cheers, Moaz
Mike Burdock / August 8, 2014 at 10:22 am
Let's assume this is right - that loading and unloading takes the most time.

Anyone who has ridden a streetcar in rush hour knows that it is not that people are dragging their ass or that the conductor is taking their sweet time (though they sometimes do). The problem is that there are too many stops and too many people on the damn car. Loading/unloading takes forever when you've got to squeeze even more people on a packed car and you stop every thirty metres.

Why might there be too many people? Streetcars not arriving frequently enough, which could be due to congestion. The loading/unloading finding is simply uninteresting.
Rob Ford / August 8, 2014 at 05:04 pm
Scrap the streetcars. Turn them into hash pipes! Free hash pipes for TCHC tenants! Yowzir! Vote hash pipes, vote Ford, YOUR HASH MAYOR!!!
Arturo / August 9, 2014 at 03:11 pm
The main problem with streetcars is that they exist.
Streetcars / August 11, 2014 at 07:55 pm
The main problem with Arturo is his existence.
Rob Ford / August 11, 2014 at 07:58 pm
An Escalade in every garage! Junk the streetcars!
Other Cities: Montreal