Interactive: Why your subway train was late

Watch above: Chances are most of the delays will be taking place during the rush hour. Mark McAllister reports. 

Sick passengers and door problems were the top reasons for Toronto subway delays last year, according to a Global News analysis of Toronto Transit Commission data.

749 of 5864 delays last year – about 13 per cent – were caused by various door-related issues: doors stuck open, doors stuck closed or crews unable to confirm the doors were properly shut.

Late or unavailable crews or equipment were also a big problem, accounting for 10 per cent of delays. Disorderly patrons and false alarms round out the top five.

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The TTC knows its doors are a problem.

“Doors and traction are the prime concerns on any rolling stock,” said TTC CEO Andy Byford.

The doors of the new Toronto Rocket trains were a particular problem, he said. But the TTC has worked with Bombardier to help fix the issue, he said, claiming the Rockets are now three times as reliable as they were a year ago.

The other trains have door problems too, of course.

“If people are leaning on the doors … if the rubbers don’t meet, the train thinks the doors are open, so the train won’t go.

“So it’s not actually a door failure, the door has done its job.”

Global News obtained a list of all subway delays from the TTC through a Freedom of Information request. We sorted detailed subway delay codes into more comprehensible categories and simplified station locations.

For example, although the original data separated injured customers who had accepted medical aid from those who declined it, Global’s analysis combined both groups under the heading of “Injured/Ill Customer.” And delays were classified with the closest station whether they were entering or leaving.

Rush-hour blues

Although the median delay is only 4 minutes, it can feel like hours when you’re stuffed in a crowded subway car. And you’re most likely to experience a delay when you’re most likely on the train – rush hour. Most delays happen between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

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“Clearly in rush hour, you have more people using the system so the trains are very, very full,” Byford said. “The slightest delay has a knock-on effect throughout the whole network.”

Location matters, too. Most trains are delayed near the end of the line – at Downsview or Finch stations, for example. But Eglinton Station takes the number-two slot.

It’s here that years of not updating transit technology comes back to bite the city.

“Eglinton is one of the areas that has the 60-year-old signaling that, frankly, should have been replaced years ago. So what are we doing about that? We’re replacing the signals,” Byford said. To fix similar problems around Davisville Station, he said, they tightened every bolt on the track.

The map below counts different kinds of delays for each station.

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Staff scheduling

The data reveals deeper issues with TTC service. Unavailable crews or operators are the third most-common reason for delays. And they’re far more likely to be unavailable over Christmas or in mid-July.

Byford wouldn’t say why this is.

“To attribute the delay of service on the line to the operator not being available is perplexing to me,” said TTC union president Bob Kinnear. Staff are required to check in at least 30 minutes before their shift begins, which in theory should prevent their absence from making trains late as managers have enough time to work out alternatives, Kinnear said.

He thinks this is more of a scheduling issue.

“July is a prime time for holidays, but we have schedules which accommodate, which let people have holidays when they most want them,” Byford said. “There’s no data-driven reason why Christmas should be worse than any other time of the year.”

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Kinnear isn’t so sure. Christmastime delays could be partially explained by the massive ice storm which shut down much of the city, making it harder for TTC workers (and everybody else) to get to work, he said.

“There were some challenges which I would acknowledge led to higher levels of absenteeism at that time.”

But, the TTC also runs on a reduced schedule over Christmas and in the middle of the summer. Kinnear isn’t sure whether this is the reason for these delays, but he said the schedule “might be reduced to a point where it doesn’t give them much flexibility for unforeseen circumstances, whether it be a spike in illness or what have you.”

Sometimes subway trains stop for less logical reasons. At least five times last year, people hopped down onto the tracks to retrieve their dropped bracelets, keys or gloves. Trains were delayed between 3 and 6 minutes each time. We recommend not doing this.

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And sometimes delays are sort of sweet. TTC staff reunited lost children with their parents or found bags people had left behind.

One train was delayed 12 minutes because the operator saw eight ducks waddling across the rails in front of the eastbound train as it approached High Park. Eventually the ducks left the track area through a hole in the fence.

While the ducks must’ve been pleased (or oblivious), the passengers likely were not.

And when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go: 122 delays in 2013 were due to TTC staff who were sick or “utilizing the facilities,” costing the system a total of 745 minutes last year. Perhaps better-scheduled bathroom breaks are in order.

Byford says the TTC is trying to reduce subway delays. They’re hoping to make the Yonge-University-Spadina line use only new Toronto Rocket trains by the end of the year, which should reduce crowding and hopefully associated delays such as people leaning on doors.

They’re also cleaning trains and station platforms more regularly, which reduces the amount of debris blown onto the tracks, he said. And this spring the TTC appointed a deputy chief operating officer formerly of the London Underground, Mike Palmer, whose whole job, Byford said, is “to obsess about getting this subway to work properly.

“He’s been here six weeks. So we’ll see.”

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Interactive – Why was your subway late?

The graphic below shows the most likely reasons your train was late, based on data from 2013.

So? Why was your train late? Tweet your result

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