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Commuters board an eastbound King St. streetcar at Yonge St. on Dec 8 2014.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

With proof in hand that it can reduce the perennial rider complaint about being kicked off short-turning vehicles, the Toronto Transit Commission is hoping to roll out its new approach across the network.

The early results of tests, including with the crucial King Street streetcar, have been striking: Short turns are way down and on-time departures have risen sharply.

"It's a system approach – it's no one element," chief service officer Rick Leary said. "We have to help our operators. We have to help tweak our schedules. We have to make sure the equipment is reliable. And we have to make sure there's proper supervision out there."

The TTC plans to study the entire surface network to establish where such changes are needed. The cost to make fixes will be identified this year and become part of the 2016 budget request.

The TTC hopes the improvements will lead to less operator frustration, fewer collisions, less overtime pay and better customer satisfaction as riders come to believe they can rely on posted schedules.

"When you advertise something," Mr. Leary said, "make sure you provide what you advertise."

The interventions do not have to be huge, he said. In October and then again in January, the TTC made changes on the workhorse King streetcar route – which carries more people than the Sheppard subway – and the effect was soon clear: The number of short turns, which had ranged from about 300 to more than 600 a week, dropped to as low as 45. The rate of on-time departures jumped from less than 50 per cent – and less than 40 per cent some weeks – to more than 70 per cent most weeks.

The TTC has long known that riders hate being asked to get off a vehicle so it can make a short turn. But for years, the commission appeared unable to curb the problem.

And short turns are connected to another problem that also makes many transit riders fume: waiting for a vehicle and then seeing more than one come in quick succession.

This so-called "bunching" starts to happen when a vehicle takes longer to load passengers than the vehicle behind it. As the second vehicle starts catching up, it spends less time at stops – because less time has elapsed for passengers to gather – and moves even closer to the one ahead of it. Eventually, the vehicles are moving in lockstep.

That creates a big gap between them and the next vehicle on the line. The easiest way to fill the gap is to short turn a vehicle going the other way – evicting its passengers and sending it back the way it came.

These problems are known to cause TTC CEO Andy Byford great aggravation.

When Mr. Leary was hired as chief customer service officer, Mr. Byford told him, "If you do nothing else, I want you to fix bunching and gapping."

For the past half-year, Mr. Leary has been spearheading a pilot project aimed at improving service reliability. The King streetcar was an add-on, with efforts focused primarily on the St. Clair streetcar and the Dufferin bus.

These two routes were tackled by adding vehicles, devising a realistic schedule, emphasizing to drivers that short turns are a last resort, doing more rigorous maintenance and ramping up supervision.

Short turns on St. Clair are down to almost zero after being in the hundreds per week. The rate of on-time departures has climbed to more than 90 per cent most weeks. Short turns are down on Dufferin as well, and the on-time departure rate is expected to rise under a new schedule.