With the King Street Transit Pilot coming to its official end this fall, we’re all taking stock of the project’s results.
Overall, the pilot has been a positive success. We know from data released by the City and TTC that the pilot has dramatically improved the transit experience for the (now) 80,000 riders on the 504 and 514 streetcars since the pilot rolled out in November 2017. We also understand that foot traffic along an expanded public realm has kept pace with seasonal norms, even during the coldest months. And, as Steven Hoffman of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research describes, the pilot also comes with health benefits.
- Flashback: Why we needed this pilot project–read “Fixing Toronto’s Worst Streetcar Commute” in CityLab.
We decided to do a quick calculation of the value of the time savings generated for transit riders, based on available data.
The Flipside to Congestion Costs
Why estimate the value of time savings? Time savings are a key aspect of detailed business cases carried out by Metrolinx that also look at new capital and operating costs, benefits/costs of time travel savings/increases, reductions in greenhouse gasses and other emissions, and job creation, among other indicators. In Toronto, congestion carries an estimated cost of $3.3 billion in lost time for Toronto commuters. Time savings are the flipside to this burden.
Currently there is not enough data on the King Street Transit Pilot to accurately carry out a full analysis in the style of a Metrolinx business case, but we can consider the pilot’s travel time impacts and come up with an estimate of the value of time savings resulting from the pilot.
For those interested in a much deeper dive about the impacts of the King Street pilot project, Steve Munro has been using vehicle tracking data to measure how things have changed.
Here are some of the facts we use in our analysis:
- All day weekday ridership is now 80,000, up from 72,000 pre-pilot
- Eastbound AM peak period ridership (at Spadina): 2,980
- Westbound PM peak period ridership (at Spadina): 2,100
- The pilot project has generally reduced travel times for streetcar riders
- The pilot project has improved streetcar reliability, reducing average wait times
Converting these outcomes into a dollar amount that represents the value associated with the time savings attributable to the pilot project is where things get complicated….
Data Knowns and Unknowns
In performing this analysis, we’re wanting for better and more data. We don’t know where passengers get on and off, how ridership varies throughout the day, or how ridership on the weekend compares to ridership during weekdays. Ideally, we would have data on the time, origin and destination of each trip made on the King streetcar; number of boardings and exits per stop, per direction, by hour of day; and/or hourly ridership by day and direction. The available data only considers overall weekday ridership, as well as the change in travel time for both the full route and the section impacted by the pilot (from Bathurst to Jarvis).
Some before-and-after data is also lacking. More things we don’t know (but wish we did):
- Average travel time between every stop on the line before and after the pilot project, and how this travel time varies with time of travel and by weekday vs. weekend
- Average wait time per passenger before and after the pilot project, and how average wait times vary with time of travel and by weekday vs. weekend
In terms of available data, this is what we’ve got:
- Average travel times for the pilot project area before and after the pilot project (ranging from a change of +0.1 minutes to -3.2 minutes)
- Changes to wait time reliability for the AM and PM peak periods (0% to 9% increase in the number of streetcars arriving within four minutes of the previous streetcar)
- Changes to overall route travel times for the AM and PM peak periods (+0.9 to -3.2 minutes).
This gives us just enough information to make an educated estimation of the pilot project’s overall time savings impacts. This is what we’ve assumed:
- Average travel time savings of 0.68 minutes per peak period trip. This is equal to half of the average (AM + PM, eastbound + westbound, May + June) savings for the pilot project area. Savings were cut in half to account for the fact that most users are not likely to receive the full travel time savings benefit.
- Average travel time savings of 1.0 minutes per trip for all other periods of travel. This is equal to half of the average savings for the pilot project area for all other time periods of travel.
- Average wait time reduction of 0.625 minutes for all trips. This is equal to the change in expected headway from operating 12 streetcars per hour to 16 streetcars per hour.
- 40% of daily traffic at peak vs. 60% during the rest of day (32,000 peak, 48,000 off-peak).
- 29% of weekday traffic on weekends (23,000). This corresponds with the ratio of weekend ridership vs. weekday ridership for TTC streetcar routes in 2017 (from the Ridership Growth Strategy 2018-2022 – Preliminary Report).
- “Rule of a half” is applied to the value of the time savings realized by new riders (see Metrolinx’s Business Case Guidelines).
While we don’t have all the data we want, the data above allows us to estimate the travel time savings for riders of the King Street Pilot, and with a bit more information, to convert these savings into a dollar value.
In order to convert time savings into a dollar value, we need to know how much time is really worth to a typical commuter. Metrolinx has come up with an average value of time that they use in their business cases: $17.36 for each hour of in-vehicle travel time. This means that saving an hour on your commute is perceived to be worth about $17.36.
However, not all time savings are created equally. Nobody wants a long commute, but people dislike waiting for vehicles even more than they do travelling in them. For this reason, Metrolinx has found that changes to wait times are worth 1.5x more than changes to in vehicle times.
Using these numbers, we can calculate the value of the total (estimated) time savings achieved by the King Street Transit Pilot.
Drum roll, please…
For existing users, the total annual savings add up to $10.9 million. For new users the savings total up to $0.6 million. This leads to a total value of $11.5 million in time savings per year.
Obviously, with our region and population growing, the cost of congestion will continue to rise, unless we can find ways to use our roads more efficiently. Almost any way you look at it, the King Street Transit Pilot has demonstrated positive results. We believe that Toronto City Council should make the project permanent, and expand it to maximize benefits to transit riders and the City.
Note: A full analysis would certainly factor in the impact of the pilot project on car travel times. Available data suggests there has been little impact on car travel times on adjacent streets—travel times have slightly improved in some cases, and slightly slowed in others (during construction season). But more data is still needed to fully evaluate the impact on drivers.