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PARKDALE: Fixing the 501 Queen streetcar route no easy feat

TTC considering initiatives to improve service along city’s longest streetcar line

BY LIAM LAHEY
June 18, 2008 08:46 AM

As public discussions for improving the service problems plaguing the Queen Street 501 streetcar route continue, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) says there is slow progress being made on the complicated matter.

A public meeting, held at City Hall on June 16, served as a follow-up to a December 2007 meeting on the subject. Citizens heard fixing the 501 would require a three-pronged approach: the TTC would have to make changes internally; the city would need to find alternatives for dealing with traffic congestion; and the Toronto Police Service would have to get involved. There was no police representative at the June 16 meeting, but hope was expressed a handful of times that police would attend a third public meeting slated for October.

Meanwhile, Mitch Stambler, manager of the service planning department for the TTC, made a presentation outlining the challenges the system faces. Last January TTC staff identified five operational improvement initiatives and three other areas that required further study, he explained.

Reducing short-turning was one recommended initiative the TTC implemented last December, but Stambler admitted it hasn’t gone swimmingly.

“At this point in time we’re really not there yet; we’re still educating operators and supervisors on how to do short-turning in a customer-focused way,” he said.

Another implemented initiative saw additional operators placed along the route to help fill gaps in service and thereby reduce wait times. But others are proving even more cumbersome, such as ensuring the TTC has the workforce to operate all of its scheduled service.

“As obvious as that may sound, the TTC is challenged with respect to workforce because of the delightfully increasing ridership [sic] and the need to put more service out and the difficulty to get operators trained has been significant,” Stambler said.

Another hurdle for the Red Rocket is technology. The TTC’s automated vehicle monitoring system (called “CIS”) is antiquated.

“It does not allow the people supervising at a remote location to understand the spacing between vehicles and it’s also somewhat unreliable. It’s a 1980s technology,” he said. “We’re replacing all of that with GPS-based tracking which is more accurate.”

TTC staff also recommended measuring the quality of service on the 501 route, to work with the city to identify site-specific traffic improvements (such as reducing the number of parking spots along Queen), and to consider splitting the 501 route. Stambler added the TTC would be reporting back to the city in October on the impacts of changes made thus far and on the proposed options currently on the table.

It was the same presentation he gave last month evidently, raising the ire of longtime transit observer and critic Steve Munro.

“I’m disappointed to hear a repeat of the same presentation we had at the May commission meeting,” the East York resident said. “It’s now June the last time I looked and there aren’t any June stats (in Stambler’s presentation).

“I’m particularly concerned about the comment on educating operators… how long does it take to educate people about how to run a transit line properly?”

Councillor Sandra Bussin (Ward 32 Beaches-East York) hosted the modestly attended meeting. She said the 501 route represents the city’s longest streetcar line stretching from Scarborough in the east, almost to Mississauga in the west.

“This is a major, long-standing issue,” she said. “Especially in my ward… we tend to be at the very tail end of the longest streetcar route in the City of Toronto.

“But it isn’t just (the 501) line. The King Street car is another as well as other routes across the city that could all benefit from the research and work that’s going into how to make the Queen streetcar route more effective.”

Bussin added it’s important for the public to “keep the pressure on” the TTC’s city commissioners (she herself is one) to implement changes to make the streetscape work more effectively for the TTC, such as the hiring of six new supervisors at a cost of $245,000 per year.

Gary Walsh, general manager of transportation services for the city, said last fall his staff brought a report to council (the “Sustainable Transportation Initiative”) to try to give short term (solutions for) pedestrians, cyclists, parking considerations, transit, and overall transportation management. Much of it was approved by council.

“We’re trying to implement a lot of these as soon as possible… which will benefit the TTC operations and especially the Queen streetcar,” he said. “We’re looking at the whole network along Queen Street (to restrict left and right turns at specific intersections)… and we’re looking at reducing on-street parking. But it’s a lot harder than it seems… you wouldn’t believe the push-back we get from businesses and residents.”




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