Since November 23 the TTC has been running an experiment at Bloor-Yonge station. The goal: to try to increase the subway line’s capacity during the morning rush hour (7 to 10 a.m.) by decreasing train dwell times (the amount of time a train sits in the station). During peak hours, passengers transferring from the Bloor line to the Yonge-University-Spadina line tend to cluster at north end of the station’s southbound platform, forming a bottleneck that delays trains. To spread the load, the TTC has erected temporary barriers between the platform and the southbound staircases that link the lines, placed workers in key positions to shift riders to the south end of the platform, and stationed staff at the train doors to direct traffic and ensure that people board in an orderly fashion. We visited Bloor-Yonge station on Thursday and were pleasantly surprised by the system’s efficiency: the setup was simple, the TTC workers were helpful, and overall, the station didn’t feel as congested.
“Reducing the dwell time at Bloor-Yonge station will improve the performance of the Yonge-University-Spadina line dramatically,” Brad Ross, the TTC’s director of communications, told Torontoist. “It’s not about crowd control. It’s really just a test to see if we can manage passenger flow better…Prior to this test, the [dwell time] situation—due to bottlenecking at the north end of the platform—is about fifty-five seconds. The goal is to get that down to anywhere between thirty to forty-five seconds. If we can get another train on the line, that’ll mean less crowding on trains.”
We timed several trains on Thursday, between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., and found that the average dwell time was about thirty-five seconds. According to City Councillor and TTC Chair Adam Giambrone (Ward 18, Davenport), each rush hour train carries about twelve hundred people, and Bloor-Yonge’s southbound platform handles approximately thirty thousand people an hour at peak times. So, even if the experiment only adds one additional train an hour, that’s still a potential capacity increase of 3–4%
The project’s promise even has transit guru Steve Munro impressed. “One of the most important things that they’re doing is the way they’ve divided the flow so the people coming off the Bloor subway come down the outside channel, and everyone who is going to the Bloor subway goes up the platform side, around, and down the far stairway,” he told us. “It gets rid of the plug at the north end of the station, and that’s as important as what’s happening on the platform.” But, until it’s tested in an emergency situation and by the increased ridership that follows the city’s first snowfalls, we really won’t know how well it functions, Munro also cautions.
While most of the riders we talked to were content with the new procedure, not everyone’s happy. Angry tweeters have called the system everything from laughable to Orwellian, and some suggest that the experiment is actually making things worse. Giambrone was at the station on Thursday answering riders’ questions, and while some commuters expressed frustration, most of the anger was directed at the upcoming fare hike and at the TTC workers union. “I’ve heard nothing but negative feedback from all the riders I’ve spoken to,” Eli Bennett, a daily commuter, told Torontoist. “The perception is that this is going to be a high labour cost thing, and it’s the wrong time to be doing it because fares have just gone up, so it only adds to the frustration that people are feeling.”
We counted approximately thirty TTC workers and special constables on duty on the southbound platform. And while this number is excessive, both Ross and Giambrone assured us that it’s only temporary, and as passengers adjust, the number of staff will be reduced. For the duration of the experiment, only employees on alternate duties—those who are unable to do their normal jobs due to illness or injury—will be part of the project. These employees usually rotate through odd jobs, like helping load the King streetcar. If the experiment becomes permanent, then the TTC would have to hire more workers or rearrange its duty schedule. The special constables on the platform are those already assigned to the station.
“What we have to do is take a look at the cost implications, and measure it against the gained capacity. It might be worth twenty to twenty-five salaries if you can get three-and-a-half [percent] more capacity,” Giambrone told us.
The rush-hour situation at Bloor-Yonge station is a classic case of self-interest triumphing over the greater public good. Passengers want to board as quickly possible, so they rush the train at the north end of the platform, and end up slowing the whole process down. The TTC’s experiment solves this collective action problem by applying new rules that force cooperation. And although the TTC doesn’t have any hard data yet, it looks like this traffic management system might become a regular fixture at Bloor-Yonge station. “Will we just go back to normal? Probably not,” said Ross. “After this test, we’ll probably look for some permanent type solution to allow this to continue on with a lot fewer staff.”
All photos by Joel Charlebois/Torontoist.