TTC Ponders 24 Hour Subway Service

TTC Commissioners directed TTC staff yesterday to investigate the possibility of operating subway service overnight instead of shutting service down between 1:30 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. The experimental service could be operated next year on the Yonge-University-Spadina line. The Toronto Sun has more details.

One of the arguments against 24 hour service is that shutting down the subway allows station and track maintenance to take place without disrupting passengers. However, Phillip Webb, who has studied this issue before, suggests that this maintenance period could be exchanged for occassionally shutting down sections of the subway for sixty hours over a weekend.

This question becomes moot in 2016 when a new signal system to be installed on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line becomes operational, allowing trains to operate “wrong way” on a single track, leaving the other track open for maintenance. Such operation is already possible on the Sheppard subway, but the demand simply isn’t there for all night service on that part of the system.

Staff is expected to complete its report early next year.


  1. It’s more revenue versus higher maintenance fees? The way I see it’d be nicer to have a 24 hour service. Toronto has confidence that drunk people won’t have an excuse for not having another way home. People who work the graveyard shifts will now have better accommodations for getting home. So I say go for it!

  2. It’s a good question, full of unknowns. I wouldn’t be surprised if early indications suggest that this is revenue neutral. There are benefits and drawbacks, and the weight that you give to certain benefits determines which option you value.

    – subway operation through the night (on one line, the YUS, to start with). Improved night access for party goers, graveyard shift workers, etc, especially between the downtown and the northern suburbs.
    – reduced night bus services. If this option is revenue neutral, or increases revenue, then further night services can be added, or even services at other times of the day.

    – sections of the subway line taken offline from 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning to 6:00 a.m. Monday morning. This means shuttle buses replace sections of the line. Significant inconvenience, possibly one weekend every three or six months? (As was noted, this question becomes moot when automatic train control in 2016 allows southbound trains to operate on northbound tracks and vice versa)
    – Could be an increase in cost, if personnel required to man stations and to operate the trains exceeds the number of people required to maintain operation on the Yonge Night Bus. This could be reduced if subway stations were operated as token-and-metropass-only entrance during the night hours (there is precident for this).

    On the last point, if we assume the subways run at 15 minute intervals (which makes sense given that this is the interval of the Yonge night bus), you’re looking at 8 trains, 2 crew members each, or 16 workers, plus one person to man the entry booths at each station. That probably exceeds the number of people operating the Yonge Night Bus by more than a dozen.

    You could cut this down to 7 or even 6 train crews if you shorten the Yonge subway operation between Finch and St. George only. You could probably cut things down to 5 if you cut back to Union, but St. George has better facilities, offers closer service to the Entertainment District, and offers a transfer-less connection to the Bloor-Danforth night bus.

  3. Is there enough demand on the Sheppard line to justify ANY service?

  4. would the mean running the the entire bus system through the night or maintaining/expanding the night bus system?

  5. A report about a year back revealed that the Sheppard subway was carrying about twice of what the buses that used to ply Sheppard Avenue carried, so there has been some ridership increases. The same report also noted that the line was operating at 50% of its capacity — so, arguably, twice what was needed, and this is not including what the TTC could do to improve capacity (double service, knock out the temporary retaining walls and operate six car trains, etc).

    The Sheppard Subway is carrying the same number of passengers as the Scarborough RT, and the Scarborough RT is operating over its current capacity. So the demand is there. Whether that demand was worth spending $925 million is another debate entirely.

  6. One other point to raise about night service is that the TTC might see a significant increase in ridership from early morning service. It was noted that the very first subway trains carry, on average, six times the number of passengers as the very last subway trains, and there has been talk about closing the subway earlier so that it can be opened earlier. Night service would allow early-morning commuters to take advantage.

  7. Maybe it’s worth a pilot project to see if it’d attract lots of new riders, because — with the possible exception of a 5:30am rush — the current overnight riders aren’t enough to justify a subway every 15 minutes. With one subway able to carry about the same number of people as 20 buses, the current overnight bus capacity on Yonge is equivalent to one train every five hours!

    The last time I took the night bus, traffic was so light that it seemed like it was moving almost as fast as the subway. I’d think adding more night buses would provide a bigger boost in quality of service. At 3 am, I’d rather get a bus right away than wait inside a deserted subway station for up to 15 minutes.

  8. would the mean running the the entire bus system through the night or maintaining/expanding the night bus system?

    No. The Yonge subway would likely replace the 320 Yonge Night Bus. The night service would either operate between Finch and Downsview, or perhaps Finch and St. Clair West or Finch and St. George. Connecting bus services, such as the Bloor-Danforth night bus, could enter the open subway stations for a transfer-less connection (like at St. George).

    Fewer night buses would be used with 320 Yonge Night gone, but this would be balanced off with the cost of subway power, subway crews, and manning certain subway stations (Bloor-Yonge would be one, because no transfer-free connections are possible between the Yonge subway and the Bloor-Danforth night bus).

  9. For subway wayside maintenance, track time is like gold.

    The existing nightly shut down allows approximately 26 work teams track access to replace rail, replace equipment, and perform major maintenance in a very tight timeframe.

    Additional station crews erect scaffolds, paint, replace lighting fixtures, and conduct major cleaning activities in station and platform areas.

    The nightly shutdown is too short for major work; therefore larger projects are generally performed on Sunday mornings when the subway opens later at 9 a.m. The major work is normally conducted beyond the normal quitting time for employees and some overtime premiums are often paid out. Sunday morning work often entirely at overtime premium rates for many employees.

    While closing the subway for 60-hour periods appears to be a good option, it would be difficult for maintenance managers to maximise the available time period. Work shifts maximising the available time period would likely result in extensive overtime premiums being paid out.
    Operating the subway all night may also tend to defer the breakdown maintenance and repair that should be addressed on an immediate, as soon as possible basis.
    The TTC employs most of the wayside work force on the nightshift (and has recently has moved lots of workers to nights) to make best use of the nightly shutdown time and to minimise the impact of maintenance operations on train movement and customer service.

    Improvements can be made but this is simply not a good idea and certainly not a revenue neutral idea.

  10. What about the advantage of buses being able to make stops wherever you request it? I’m specifically referring to the program intended for women travelling alone, but I assume some drivers extend that privilege to many other commuters if it seems appropriate.

    This safety measure would be impossible if you took the subway instead.

  11. Additional station crews erect scaffolds, paint, replace lighting fixtures, and conduct major cleaning activities in station and platform areas.

    There are TTC workers who clean, paint, and replace lighting fixtures? You wouldn’t know it…

  12. While the idea seems nice, it is such overkill as to be absurd. I think it could make sense to push back the last train another hour or so from Thurs-Saturday to better align the service with last call, but it probabably makes more sense to just improve bus service on the major routes. I know many people who always catch the last subway train just so they don’t have to worry about waiting half an hour for a bus. What about 10 minute headways for the Yonge bus instead?

  13. Exccuse my laziness. I’m just reposting this bit from my own blog

    I know all of the folks currently being interviewed in man-on-the-stree footage on the local news are thrilled with the possibilities but it’s just not good. Coming from NYC where the subway is a real shithole, to Toronto was a relative breath of fresh air. I don’t think Torontonians get how clean and tidy and safe their subway is compared to what a resident of NYC endures on a daily basis. And I’m convinced the reason it’s so clean is that it closes for that magical period of time overnight. It gives the TTC time to clean the cars, tracks and stations. The NYC system runs 24-7, though there are line-based interruptions for maintenance. But it never gets the regular, thorough cleaning that the system here undergoes. I know Toronto residents will tell me I’m crazy – that their system is filthy. I hate to repeat myself but they don’t know from dirty. Imagine the odor of urine, tracks filled with garbage, station trashcans spilling over with refuse – all the time – and that’s what you’ll get if the TTC decides to start running things 24-7. Gawker’s even introduced a Google Map-mashup to aid you in coordinating NYC smells with their respective stations. Do you want that sort of notoriety for Toronto?

    And I think some adjustment will have to be made for the inherent safety issues 24-hour service raises. It’s no secret that crime is more likely to occur at that late hour when fewer people are around and its easier to victimize someone. Are the police going to patrol trains and stations more frequently?

    I’m open to debate on this but it just smells – no pun intended – like a bad idea. I guess I don’t have enough faith that people won’t behave like total pigs with no time left to clean it up in the absence of the overnight maintenance period…

  14. It would also be an inconvience for people travelling above Finch station. It would mean that they would have to get off and wait for the bus to get up to Steeles, whereas the 320 bus goes right up to Steeles Ave.

    As one person already commented, the traffic at night time is so light, I get to my destination at Finch at the same amount of time as the subway.

  15. I’m not convinced that the overnight closure is the reason for the clean system. The Queen streetcar is a good example of this, where it can be downright filty post-rush and even well into the night, but anyone who has taken it in the morining will attest to the thorough cleaning. So there’s no reason why the trains can’t be cleaned the same way. I also don’t see why things like the garbage can’t be emptied out during the night–that’s when it is done anyway.

  16. New Train Service plans for Toronto to be Released

    A new DAY for City Hall

    Campaign Storefront:

    2797 Lake Shore Blvd W @ 3rd Street

    416 252 5757

    From: Matthew Day []
    Sent: Monday, September 25, 2006 4:52 AM
    To: the Office Volunteers
    Subject: New Train Service plans for Toronto to be Released


    Council Candidate Ward 6 Matthew DAY – Railway Commute across the Lakeshore
    Local to Downtown in under 20 minutes every 30 minutes

    ETOBICOKE-LAKESHORE, Monday, September 25 – Media representatives are
    advised that Matthew DAY, Council Candidate Ward 6, will be holding a press
    conference to release his plans to decongest the Gardener, the Lakeshore
    roads and the Lakeshore air. This will improve the lifestyle for the
    residents of the Lakeshore and beyond.

    This will change accessibility to and from the entire Toronto Lakeshore for
    commute at all times and for all purposes. It is like extending a new
    subway to a long established, medium density part of Toronto whose residents
    have never had this kind of mobility! With additional land development and
    better service, ridership will increase to 4.2 million, a 220% increase over
    today. This increase will eliminate 2.4 million car trips per year.

    The Lakeshore Local is a proposal to run a new, separate railway service
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    and it will kick start the re-development of vacant land. The Lakeshore
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    Date: Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

    Times: 10:30 a.m. HYPERLINK


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  17. First – some real thinking would go along the lines of building subway platform doors so that 4 or 6 car services could run (and have the handy side effect of preventing suicides in front of trains). Then Sheppard 4-car trains could be used for some/all of the Yonge night services at higher frequency.

    Second – this should be (but since it’s Toronto, wouldn’t be) an expansion of service, with the night buses re-directed to an expansion of lateral routes off the subway. Designing the bus route to take in part or all of the inter-subway-stop line would mean for instance a passenger from Union to Yonge+Glencairn could change to the bus at Eglinton and continue the rest of the way to Glencairn on the surface. That said, I’m not sure why we’re not doing that in the day time rather than running the Union-Steeles bus every 20 mins.

    Third – subway power contracts may vary, but generally power is cheaper at night. Diesel is the same price regardless of when a TTC bus burns it.

  18. MEDIA RELEASE from
    For release September 27, 2006
    WARD 6 Challenger Releases Plan
    for new Lakeshore Local
    Express Train Service.
    September 27, 2006: Toronto, Ontario. – As air quality and traffic congestion deteriorate in the Etobicoke Lakeshore area,
    Matthew DAY, WARD 6 challenger in the upcoming city elections unveils his proposed Transit solution for the Lakefront,
    and Toronto.
    “It isn’t necessary to spend billions of dollars on subway lines to bring fast efficient rail service to the Lakeshore area. All
    that is needed are a few kilometers of track to be laid on existing rights of way, some switching and signals, and we can
    eliminate over 4 million car trips per year in Etobicoke Lakeshore alone.”, states Matthew Day.
    The proposed Lakeshore Local is a new, City of Toronto operated rail service offering frequent service between Long
    Branch Go Station, and Union Station in downtown Toronto. There will be two new stations added to the existing Long
    Branch, Mimico, and Exhibition Stations. Lakeshore Local train service will use existing rail capacity to divert huge
    numbers of commuters from our congested roads onto clean, fast, and convenient railway services.

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