Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Guest blogging! I love guest blogging! Especially in an election - Introducing "Who's Not Been Serving Us Lately?"

It doesn't have to be me driving the train here. If you'd like to hop into the cab, let me know, and we can discuss. I'm totally open to your ideas and opinions and publishing them on the site.

Guest blogger, Chris P. Bacon, brings us the first in a three-part series entitled, Who's Not Been Serving Us Lately?

In this first installment, I start by looking back at this post from CJ, in which inefficiencies at GO Transit are alluded to.

Ever wonder about the effort involved to get that bus you’re boarding to pull up in front of you?  Route 12 runs an express bus (12D) between Burlington station and St. Catharines on Friday afternoon.  The bus is sourced from the Niagara Falls garage, and the driver is from the Hamilton garage.  How is this possible?  Follow along with the sequence diagram below:
  1.  The driver commutes to Niagara Falls
  2.  The driver deadheads to Burlington station, i.e. the bus is empty
  3.  Passengers are transported non-stop from Burlington and are dropped off at Fairview Mall in St. Catharines
  4.  The bus takes on new passengers who are driven non-stop to Burlington station
  5.  The driver deadheads back to Niagara Falls
  6.  The driver commutes back to Hamilton

I don’t know how much GO Transit pays their drivers for personal mileage, but the acceptable Canada Revenue Agency rates for 2014 are 54¢ per km. for the first 5,000 kilometres driven; and 48¢ per km. thereafter.  If we estimate the distance from Hamilton to Niagara Falls at 75 km., then that translates to between $36.00 and $40.50 one way.

Last Friday, I was on the 12:25 trip from Niagara Falls to Burlington.  As we approached Burlington station, I saw the express bus leaving for St. Catharines – it was a double-decker.  Yep, that afternoon a fuel guzzling piece of equipment round-tripped between Niagara Falls and Burlington with no passengers (legs 2 and 5 in the chart).

No doubt you’re wondering if this scenario could get any worse.  Sadly, yes.  There is a two-hour gap in the Route 12 schedule whereby buses do not leave Niagara Falls after 10:30 to before 12:25, resulting in the latter being loaded with passengers and luggage.  If Bus Ops insists on this modus operandi, why can’t the express bus be scheduled to take passengers non-stop from Niagara Falls to Burlington (especially since ridership is high on Fridays)?

GO Transit also operates Route 11, which is a seasonal shuttle bus between the VIA station in St. Catharines and Niagara on the Lake (NOTL).  It’s part of the GO to Niagara adverts you’ve seen so much recently.  If you are under the impression that the Niagara Falls garage handles this work, you’re wrong.  Nope, the Streetsville garage in Mississauga works this route.  If I understood correctly, the sequence diagram flows like this:
  1. The driver deadheads from Mississauga to NOT
  2. Passengers are shuttled from NOTL to the St. Catharines VIA station
  3. When the GO Transit Niagara train arrives in St. Catharines, passengers are shuttled to NOTL
  4. Time to call it a day, so the driver deadheads to Burlington station to cash in the ticket sales.
  5. The driver deadheads back to Mississauga

If planning like this happens for routes that are not even on the map for Metrolinx’s Big Move, how efficient is the rest of the system?  Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.  Perhaps the unnamed politician in CJ’s post has reason to be paranoid.

Who is responsible for these inefficiencies in Bus Ops?


Anonymous said...

The above is another example of text-book Metrolinx planning.

The Text Book is called "How NOT to plan". Metrolinx obviously missed the "NOT".....

TomW said...

This is the edge of the system, which is precsiely these ineffcicincies always occur on any system. I've yet to find a transit agency that doesn't have some deadheading that looks weird on paper when not considered as part of the wider network.

In this specific case, there's a number of possible reasons: Hamilton bus garage doesn't have room for another vehicle; the vehicle needs to be in NF for weekend service; the vehicle ends up in NF after normal weekday service; NF has a driver shortage and Hamilton has one spare; etc.
Further, fixing any of these for a once/week service may make things worse for servcies that run every day.

Similarly for route 11 - it's probably not worth giving NF garage an extra vehicle for a service that runs less than 20 times/year. Streetsville has one spare at the approriate time, and it's cheaper to deadhead from there than to buy and maintain an extra bus in NF. (People would moan that GO has bought a bus that's barely used...)

People who do bus operations planning hate this sort of waste and inefficiency, and normally all they can to eliminate it.

Chris P. Bacon said...

For the prior two board periods, 12D was handled by NF drivers deadheading to Burlington, transporting passengers to St. Catharines, then running passengers to Burlington, and deadheading back to The Falls. Prior to that, the crew was handled by Streetsville. The workload and resources in NF have not changed over that time. From those in the know on the front line, the current scheduling of resources has raised many eyebrows, as it appears to be the most expensive solution to date.

Regarding Route 11, this service has such low ridership, it can’t hope to break even. Looking at the schedule, a minimum of five drivers and buses are required. St. Jacobs is described as “Ontario's favourite rural destination”. Does GO Transit have special routes to service that community? No. Why does Niagara on the Lake deserve special treatment? WeGo provides better scheduled service to NOTL. Let’s stop the lunacy.

Your points are well taken, but where’s the justification for these operational decisions? And who vets these decisions? Route planners in the office don’t consult their most valuable resources, namely, the drivers. Last summer the planners blew it big time by cutting running time from the Route 12 schedule, even though EVERYONE knew of the MAJOR road construction through Stoney Creek. It was stressful for passengers and drivers alike. Planning by theory is fine, but ultimately it degenerates into real work. What looks good on a spreadsheet doesn’t necessarily work in the field.

We’re all shareholders in this corporation. No one let’s their teenagers joyride the family car around southern Ontario all weekend. Why should we condone these business expenditures?

matt said...

Every Richmond Hill GO train deadheads all the way from the Willowdale yard up to Richmond Hill in the morning, and then deadheads back downtown again afterwards. So GO already provides their holy grail of "two-way service", they just don't stop at any stations along the way...

TomW said...

@Chris P. Bacon: You've missed my point - you always get situations like these which seem weird in isolation, but are the best option when other things are taken into consideration. "Fixing" a once/week service may make things worse for daily services.

You're right that spreadsheet planning only takes so far. That's why you'll see GO tweak a whole bunch of times by a few minutes every time the new schedules come out - to reflect real-world conditions.

As for route 11... most people riding it are taking the train from Toronto, so GO gets a big fare per rider ($17.65 is the adult cash fare). Even if every bus equal deadhead time and revenue-earning time, it only needs about half a dozen riders on each trip to cover its marginal costs.

Chris P. Bacon said...

Why is it that “real-world conditions” were not taken into account before the last year’s Route 12 schedule was published? It took a year for the planners to correct their errors. Clearly there was no vetting of the tweaking that cut 10 minutes from rush-hour trips, nor the impact analysis of repeated Watch & Hold requests for train connections. Apparently, the feedback loop only measures negative input from passengers. Unfortunately, front-line staff must take the abuse, because it’s easier for customers to vent on drivers and CSA’s right then and there, rather than take the time to inform head office of the shortcomings of the planning department.

Regarding Route 11, let’s assume that all of the NOTL passengers are travelling from/to Union station. Let’s assume that of the $17.65 fare, $5.00 is attributable to Route 11 (the rest being for rail passage to St. Catharines). Let’s also assume the premise that “it only needs about half a dozen riders on each trip to cover its marginal costs”. The revenue then is 6 x 2 x $5.00 = $60.00. Drivers are guaranteed an eight-hour shift for this work. So, just on employee salary, this service loses money – big time.

Chris P. Bacon said...

Let’s look closer at GO Transit’s fares for Union Station to NOTL, i.e. adult single-ride = $17.65. Now consider the adult single-ride fare from Union Station to St. Catharines VIA station (the first leg of the trip to NOTL) and the bus trip from St. Cathatharines to NOTL; they are $18.70 and $6.50, respectively. Route 11 makes even less sense in that context.

Anonymous said...

@TomW @Chris P Bacon
What about the NF Train? It DH's all the way from Toronto on a Saturday morning to do the 08.30 back, completely empty.
How about stopping and picking people up. Especially knowing the first bus doesn't leave Burlington until 08.52, that's nearly 9am! Wow, the day is half way through.

Sol T Knuts