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Streetcar Queues at Spadina Station

Regular riders of the 510 Spadina will be familiar with long, sometimes very long, intervals spent waiting in the tunnel outside of Spadina Station just for their car to move onto the platform and discharge passengers.

This is the compound effect of several factors:

  • The Flexity streetcars are too long for two of them to be on the platform at once (as the former CLRV cars could be) with one loading and the other unloading.
  • The Flexitys cannot selectively open doors, except for the very front one, to serve riders while only partly on the platform.
  • A common situation at this station is for a car to wait on the platform while the operator takes a bathroom break or waits for a relief crew to show up.
  • The running times on the 510 schedule are generous enough that there is usually time to sit at Spadina Station rather than leaving immediately.
  • During some periods, service that would normally operate to Union Station is cut back to Queens Quay or Charlotte Loop giving cars even more surplus running time.
  • When service on Spadina is bunched and a parade of cars reaches Spadina Station, only one car can use the platform while those behind wait in the tunnel.

This situation cries out for better line management and scheduling, including shifting away from a strict adherence to “on time” cars and a move to dispatching on a regular headway to avoid backlogs. Step back crews would be essential in allowing cars to leave as quickly as possible while operators had their breaks. (Note that breaks are generally not taken at Union because it is a busy station serving two routes.)

As things are, much of the benefit for riders of a reserved lane on Spadina can be undone by the operation at Spadina Station.

During the month of August 2023, 510 Spadina service to Union did not operate on the following days so that all service at Union could be provided by 509 Harbourfront cars to Exhibition Loop:

  • Saturday, August 5 from about 8am to 8pm during the Caribbean Carnival.
  • Friday, August 18 onward from about 10am to 8pm during the CNE.

In an attempt to see just how bad this problem was, I built a fine-grained “map” of Spadina Station Loop for my usual route analysis programs. This includes screenlines at:

  • The loop entrance where the north and southbound tracks divide
  • The east end of the station platform
  • The west end of the station platform

This allows plotting of how long cars spent queued in the tunnel, and how long they sat on the platform. Unfortunately, it is not possible to resolve the difference between cars sitting at the loading area at the west end of the platform and those almost, but not quite, on the platform to unload.

(The reason for this is that the TTC’s “Vision” tracking system does not accurately map car positions inside the station. Indeed, cars sometimes appear to reverse within the station according to the GPS data. This is likely due to the problem of getting accurate GPS info underground.)

This is a route that should have more reliable service given its operation entirely in reserved lanes, and it certainly should not make riders wait five minutes or more just for a car to reach the platform at Spadina Station.

The TTC’s Real Estate Investment Plan includes an item for expansion of the platform at Spadina Station, but it is not clear that this applies to the streetcar platform. With the current tight budget it is hard to see this sitting near the top of the pile for funding.

Scheduled Service

Here is the summary of scheduled service on 510 Spadina in August 2023. What is particularly striking here is the very long terminal time allowances during many periods exceeding the capacity of terminals to hold vehicles.

How Long Do Cars Sit on the Platform?

The charts in this section show the time spent somewhere on the platform at Spadina Station. The first chart shows weekday averages and standard deviations of the headways. The remaining charts show details by day for each week, and for Saturdays and Sunday/Holidays.

The values are fairly consistent throughout, although they are spread over a range up to ten minutes. With a scheduled service of 5 minutes or less during most periods, cars cannot sit on the platform for long without creating a backlog.

How Long Do Cars Wait On The Approach

It is common for cars to sit in the tunnel approaching the station because there is no room on the platform. Note that the times here do not include time spent almost on the platform waiting to move up and discharge passengers. Various effects are clear here:

  • In Week 3, Friday (the first day of the CNE service configuration), the trend line (turquoise) sits higher than the other days, and many data points sit outside of the main “cloud” of values above the 5 minute line.
  • The weekly averages run slightly higher for Weeks 4 and 5 (CNE) than for the earlier part of the month. The individual values for these weeks also run higher than early in the month.
  • Saturdays are particularly bad with some cars waiting over 10 minutes just to reach the platform, notably on August 5.

Headways Leaving Spadina Station Southbound

In spite of the tendency for cars to accumulate at Spadina Station, they do not leave regularly spaced. Gaps and bunches are common. Here are charts showing the range of headways leaving the station.

  • On weekdays, the averages and the trend lines run consistently at 5 minutes in line with the scheduled service. In other words, all of the planned trips operate, but the data points are scattered either side of the scheduled value.
  • The standard deviations in the 2-3 minute range indicate that much of the service lies within a band from 2 to 8 minutes. A six-minute wide band is acceptable in the TTC’s service standards, but this shows just what is the result.
  • Some headways lie above the 10 minute line even when they are supposed to average 5 minutes. Correspondingly, there are many headways of 1 or 2 minutes.


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