Posts Tagged: Statistics



Can Transit Learn From Wade Boggs?

Professional sports and public transit are two very different things, I admit that.

But contemplate, for a second, the amount of statistical scrutiny we give to the athletic diversions in our lives and how much we attention we pay to the statistics of public transportation.

Now contemplate the robustness of the statistics gathered (and are available) for professional sports – how do they measure up against public transportation statistics?

How is it we have more information about this man than we do about most of our public transit systems?

Some people may find this observation entirely glib, but it’s not. I’m being serious here.

How is it that we can simply and easily access numbers for arcane matters like how many times Wade Boggs was intentionally walked in the 1986 Major League Baseball post season (the answer is once, by the way), but newspapers have to file government appeals in order to ascertain how many suicides occur every year on the Toronto Transit Commission?

Consider that observation in light of this:

The current annual operating budget of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is roughly $13 billion US. The combined annual payroll of all 30 Major League Baseball teams, meanwhile, is a little bit less than $3 billion.

Is this not absurd?

Does it really make sense that the general public has a greater number of and greater access to rigorous statistical tools of measurement for baseball than public transit despite a) the public transit industry being infinitely larger than the professional baseball industry and; b) public transit having an infinitely greater impact on our lives than baseball could ever hope to?

I’m sure there are dozens of good reasons this disparity exists. The first that pops to mind is the fact that baseball statistics have been gathered for decades by a dedicated and interested fan base who see this activity as pleasurable and interesting – it’s a hobby aligned with their interest in a game. Public transit likely doesn’t have the necessary fandom to instigate such a casual interest in statistical arcana.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel that if a swarm of baseball fans can gather all this information and disseminate it – including during times before the internet – without the help of Major League Baseball, then the same thing can (and should) be done with transit statistics.

Isn’t this something that needs to be remedied?

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Cost Is Relative With Urban Infrastructure

The good folks over at US Infrastructure have invited me to blog for them on occasion. So, of course, the first blog has to do with the Caracas Metrocable and how various people (including The Economist) choose to portray the costs of civil works projects.

Please check out Cost Is Relative With Urban Infrastructure.

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Dinner at The Mandarin

I apologize to any reader of this post who is not from Toronto. This is going to be a very Toronto-specific post, but it should still be informative, enlightening and entertaining for others to see how transit planning is done in the city I like to call The City That Used To Work.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is not enamoured by my proposal for cable transit in Toronto, likely because their plan is a multi-billion dollar network of light rail lines throughout Toronto called Transit City. Fair enough.

But let’s actually break down the TTC’s argument and see why they’re not into the idea. Brad Ross, TTC transit spokesman was interviewed for the same story in the Toronto Star as I was. Let’s see what he said:

Brad Ross explicitly states “I don’t know how fast cable cars go.”

Then how can you make an effective comparison between it and Light Rail?

Brad Ross then states that “it’s not speed that makes dedicated rights-of-way (be it streetcar or other mode) so much better. It’s reliability – they don’t operate in mixed traffic and, therefore, are less likely to be delayed due to conditions beyond our control.”

No one was talking about dedicated rights-of-way in the article but, okay I’ll bite:

1) Toronto streetcars that operate in semi-dedicated rights-of way operate at speeds equivalent to those that operate purely in mixed traffic.  The Globe and Mail published an article on this matter a few years ago and the TTC’s own internal statistics demonstrate this. The reliability Mr. Ross speaks of is not due to the dedicated right-of-way. It’s due to the fact that there are far more streetcars on these routes than others, giving the impression that it is more reliable, when in fact it is not.

2) The Transit City Light Rail plan does not include vehicles operating in a dedicated right-of-way. Vehicles will operate in a semi-dedicated right-of-way. This means that at intersections, the vehicles will have to contend with traffic just like everyone else, whether they implement a Transit Signal Priority scheme or not. Only the Eglinton Crosstown will have a dedicated right-of-way and that will be in the downtown portion of the line where vehicles will run underground.

(Incidentally: I am very positive on the Eglinton Crosstown line. It is the only Light Rail line we should truly be considering in my opinion.)

3) Virtually every cable transit system in the world operates in a fully exclusive dedicated right-of-way. Shouldn’t the TTC prefer a technology that operates in a fully dedicated right-of-way rather than a semi-dedicated right-of-way?

Brad Ross states that the TTC’s new streetcars will hold twice as many riders, about 260.

Okay … The Sheppard Avenue LRT plan has one streetcar arriving every 4.5 minutes.  That means, every 4.5 minutes, 260 spaces will pass by a given stop. A solid, good gondola system, meanwhile can only carry 24. But let’s say you have a vehicle arriving every 25 seconds, which is totally doable with cable.  Over the course of 4.5 minutes you’d have (wait for it) 260 spaces pass by the same spot. If you had a vehicle pass by every 10 seconds (also doable) you’d have 648 spaces pass by the same spot.

Brad Ross also believes that cable “would be more expensive to build, maintain and operate.”

The facts simply do not support this statement. I’ll be in Toronto for a couple of weeks in January. I cordially invite Mr. Ross to prove his point of view over dinner at The Mandarin Chinese All-You-Can-Eat Buffet (neutral territory). My treat.


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The Speed of CPT (and Chickadees)

The other day I wrote about how Toronto’s streetcars were like shooting chickadees with cannonballs.  In terms of speed, the streetcars were designed to operate at speeds far in excess of what was possible in an urban environment.

So how does CPT stack up on our Cannonball Index (that doesn’t exist, by the way, but wouldn’t it be great if it did)? Pretty well, in fact.

Cable-Propelled Transit maxes out at around 40 km/hr and most are built with a maximum speed of around 27 – 35 km/hr. Doesn’t sound too impressive, does it?  Remember, though, these vehicles actually travel at that speed. None of this built to go 100 but actually goes 10 nonsense.

Of course we have to factor in the time required for the vehicle to stop and allow passengers to alight and board but that time is offset by three major factors:

First, terminal time.  Because CPT is almost always fully automated, terminal time (the time a vehicle idles at its two terminal stations) is statistically irrelevant.

Second, drivers’ breaks.  Again, because CPT is typically fully automated with driverless vehicles no time and speed loss occurs due to bathroom breaks.

Third, crawl speed.  In the case of aerial-supported Gondola systems, vehicles don’t stop at stations. Instead, they are slowed down to what is known as “crawl speed” or “creep speed”.  Vehicles move through the stations at a speed of less than a meter per second allowing passengers to safely board and alight.  For those with accessibility issues, the vehicles can be stopped entirely for safe loading. Crawl speed doesn’t have a dramatic impact on overall average speed, but it does increase it somewhat.

So next time you’re riding a streetcar in Toronto . . . please, think of the chickadees.

Plz kanz yous think of me?

Please, think of me?

Creative Commons image by spaceamoeba

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(For those of you not statistically or mathematically inclined, you’ll probably want to skip this post)

PPHPD is an acronym for persons per hour per direction and is a great tool for calculating offered capacity of a transit line. Unfortunately, it’s not a term that has any sort of mainstream usage or understanding and that means it’s easy for us to be confused when we read reports or news articles about our cities’ transit systems.

When we read a news clipping where someone lauds a transit line carrying “40,000 people” (as is common in my hometown of Toronto), we tend to nod our heads and say “hmm . . . yes . . . that’s a lot of people. We should be proud of ourselves.”

But what does 40,000 people really mean . . ? We’ll get back to that in a minute.

PPHPD boils things down to their lowest common denominator. PPHPD defines this:  How many total passenger spaces per hour pass a given point on a transit line in a the single peak direction?

In other words, if over the course of one rush hour, a westbound streetcar is scheduled to arrive at a given stop every fifteen minutes; and those streetcars can each carry 100 passengers each, then we know that the PPHPD of that line at that time is 400 (60 minutes / 15 minutes x 100 passengers = 400 PPHPD).

So let’s apply that knowledge, going back to our 40,000 people example:

The 501 Queen Streetcar in Toronto has the distinction of being the world’s longest Streetcar line, it’s also one of North America’s busiest. That should tell you something. At around 30 km long and running 24 hours per day, it carries 40,000 people (on average) per weekday.

Impressive? I guess, unless you look at it from the perspective of PPHPD. If you look at the 501 from the perspective of PPHPD, you find that on any given day, the501 Queen Streetcar only offers around 2,000 PPHPD at peak rush hour.  See the difference there? It’s classic bait-and-switch.

40,000 people sounds impressive so that’s the statistic planners and journalists trot out. 2,000 on the other hand, doesn’t just sound common, it sounds inadequate.  What politician wouldn’t want to say 40,000 instead of 2,000?

My point in bringing this up is this:  Light Rail/Streetcar technology is very expensive to build. It ranges, generally, between $30 – 75 million USD per kilometer.  Some instances such as Seattle, have had costs explode over $100 million USD per kilometer. Meanwhile, there is no single Light Rail line in all of North America that provides an offered capacity greater than ~ 5,000 PPHPD.

(For the wonks out there: Yes, I know Boston’s Green Line provides offered capacity of over 9,000 but that’s only in the trunk section of three converging lines.)

Cable, on the other hand, can be built for between $15 – 45 million USD per kilometer and can provide capacity up to 6,000 PPHPD.

How much sense does that make?

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Shooting a Chickadee with a Cannonball

The Swiss have an expression to describe solving a problem with far more than is necessary.

To do so, they say, is to “shoot a chickadee with a cannonball,” and is a perfect description of what light rail is to the transit planning problem.

As an example: Toronto’s current fleet of streetcars were designed to reach a top speed of around 100 km/hr, and yet they never reach that speed. Not even close. In fact, if one looks at the Toronto Transit Commission‘s own service summaries, one sees that the average speeds of most streetcar lines in Toronto rarely eclipse 15 km/hr. Most hover around 12 or 13.

(You can find several TTC service summaries on the fine Transit Toronto website.)

Anyone whose ever ridden a Toronto streetcar can tell you the reason. Streetcars in Toronto stop constantly to linger at red lights, pick-up and drop-off passengers and avoid any of the pitfalls of modern urban traffic.

Yes, terminal time and driver’s bathroom breaks also factor into the equation, but the point is still the same:

Streetcars in Toronto will never reach speeds of 100 km/hr because the nature of urban environments preclude it. In fact, even subway trains, which stop far less frequently and operate in exclusive rights-of way, rarely surpass average speeds of 35 km/hr.

It’s like that guy who buys a Ferrari and drives it into the city every day only to get stuck in traffic jam-after-traffic jam. It’s all fine and well that you have a Ferrari that can go zero to 200 in 3.2 nano-seconds (or whatever), but if you use it in the city, you will never get to do so.

So what’s the point? There isn’t one . . . unless you like shooting chickadees with cannonballs.

That Guy

That Guy

Creative Commons image by vm2827

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