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All aboard for the King St. choo-choo

Is there another way for the better way? The TTC looks at new ideas for old equipment

Apr. 15, 2006. 09:05 AM
KEVIN MCGRAN
TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

The TTC may experiment with “coupling” its streetcars � in essence, creating a train � in order to improve service on King St.

The coupling would move more people faster, even though the “headway” � the time between streetcars � during rush hour would increase from two minutes to four, the transit commission says.

King St. is the busiest TTC surface route, with 50,000 passengers and 114 stops. The streetcar crosses through 102 intersections. But any time a motorist turns left, or there’s an accident, or a vehicle going north or south blocks the intersection, the cars quickly fall behind schedule.

During rush hour they’re supposed to be two minutes apart, but before you know it, a bunch of them end up travelling together.

Up ahead, impatient passengers push to get into the first car that shows up, even if it’s already packed, putting the “first” one further behind schedule and slowing down the rest.

To add to the frustration, the emptier ones behind often get “short-turned” to speed up service in the other direction, a sure sign of transit inefficiency.

“The demand is increasing, and we’ve been putting more and more streetcars on King St., but we’re not carrying any more people,” says TTC manager of service planning Mitch Stambler.

“It’s not because the people aren’t there. It’s because we can’t carry more people because the streetcars are getting bunched up, and stuck in traffic.

“You couldn’t find another streetcar line in the world that’s trying to run every two minutes in mixed traffic.”

So the TTC commissioned a report from Amer Shalaby, a public transit planner at IntelliCAN Transportation Systems Inc., to find out what would happen if the TTC coupled two or three streetcars together and operated them four minutes apart instead of two.

Shalaby ran an intricate computer model, taking into account actual traffic and commuter counts as well as human behavioural pattern. He found passengers would benefit because:

  • Fewer streetcars would bunch together.
  • More streetcars would stay on schedule.
  • Fewer customers would be left behind at crowded stops.
  • There would be less on-board crowding.

“The strategy of reducing the frequency of a route to improve customer service seems counterintuitive,” Shalaby admits in the report.

The report comes as the TTC wrestles over the future of the streetcar. The commissioners are determined to replace the fleet due to its age, likely by longer articulated light rail vehicles.

But it could be take 10 to 12 years to replace the fleet, says Stambler.

None of the current fleet is outfitted with couplers, meaning the train idea is still a few years away.

It could be linked to a new GTA farecard that would allow patrons to enter any of the streetcar doors by swiping an electronic card reader, Stambler says.

But as existing cars go in for a rebuild � things like air conditioners, new brake controls � couplers will be added to the rear, says Stambler, to give the TTC the flexibility to run multiple units.

“It doesn’t mean we would do it on every route,” says Stambler. “In a case like King where you have a two-minute service and you can make it a four-minute service, that’s an incredibly high-frequency service.”

He suggested Spadina, with streetcars running 2 1/2 minutes apart, as another possibility.




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