Reserved Bus Lanes: Eglinton East in Fall 2020, More to Follow (Updated)

Updated July 9, 2020 at 8:10 am: A table comparing existing and proposed stops has been added adjacent to the service plan map in this article.

Updated July 9, 2020 at 12:30 am: A section has been added at the end of the article examining headway reliability for 86 Scarborough and 116 Morningside just east of Kennedy Station, and at Guildwood. This section complements an observation by the City of Toronto about unreliable headways, and hence uneven loading, on buses running on Eglinton.

Headway management is at least as important as improved travel time for these routes. There is not much point in saving a few minutes riding a bus if the waiting time is unpredictable and the bus may be full when it arrives in a gap. This aspect of TTC service management has been a chronic problem that is always put down to “traffic congestion”. In fact the post-covid data show that even with the much less congested conditions, headways are still spread over a wide range of values. This is a problem that will not be fixed by painting the pavement red.

The TTC Board will consider a report on reserved lanes for BRT-lite operation on several corridors at its July 14, 2020 meeting. Although there was a political desire to get all of them up and running as quickly as possible at the June board meeting, the proposed schedule strings this out over a longer time.

  • Fall 2020: Eglinton East from Kennedy Station, Kingston Road, Morningside to UTSC
  • 2021: Jane from Eglinton to Steeles
  • 2022 and beyond:
    • Steeles West from Yonge to Pioneer Village Station
    • Finch East from Finch Station to McCowan
    • Dufferin from Wilson to Dufferin Gate
    • Lawrence from east of Victoria Park to Rouge Hill

A key point is that TTC expects to save money on reduced travel times. Whether this would be reinvested in service on the affected streets or elsewhere in the system is hard to know. Some of the reduction will come from the reserve lanes, but some will also come from the consolidation of closely-spaced stops.

Experience on King Street showed that the travel time savings, such as they were, were eaten up by operational changes that added more running and recovery time to schedules in an attempt to eliminate short turns.

Bus lanes on the Eglinton East corridor are anticipated to increase transit reliability and reduce transit travel time on average between two-to-five minutes per trip. These time and reliability savings present an opportunity to achieve operating budget savings of 500 fewer service hours per week, equivalent to about $2.5 million per year and a capital cost avoidance of seven fewer peak buses equivalent to approximately $6.3 million. [p. 4]

The problem here is that any kind of “savings” has an allure that is much stronger than service improvements. Buses will not run more frequently, although service might be more reliable if the worst of periodic “bad days” can be avoided with the reserved lanes. This is similar to the results on King where the reliability effect was much more important than the actual change in average travel time. Better reliability means shorter waits for vehicles and a better chance that loads will be evenly distributed.

However, King Street had the added advantage that the actual capacity of the route was increased by running larger vehicles as the new Flexitys replaced the smaller CLRVs, ALRVs and bus trippers on the route. A similar opportunity is not available, at least in the short term, on Eglinton. The TTC has no spare articulated buses, and only modest plans to acquire more in future years. (Note that changes in the overall fleet mix have effects on bus garages which must be modified to service the longer vehicles, or purpose-built with this in mind just as Leslie Barns was for the new streetcar fleet.)

Continue reading

HotDocs 2020 Part III

As I begin writing this post, we’re into the home stretch of HotDocs 2020 in the now all-so-familiar confines of our homes on screens a lot smaller than our usual cinemas. This brings some advantages including even more time to screen even more docs. But there’s the downside of missing the shared experience, the camaraderie of the line-ups, the quick snacks and occasional meals in favourite nearby restaurants that are as much a part of HotDocs as the movies.

Previous installments are in Part I and Part II.

Continue reading

Drifting Timelines on Metrolinx Projects (Updated)

Updated June 23, 2020 at 1:50 pm: The table of projects has been updated to include anticipated events, notably “financial close” dates, that were included in various project announcements by Infrastructure Ontario. Also Union Station Platform Expansion was described in the original version of this article as closing sooner than originally projected. This has been corrected to show a delay of roughly nine months.

Infrastructure Ontario recently released its Spring 2020 Update for P3 projects under its control including several Metrolinx projects. To date there have been three of these updates:

These updates include information on the project status, the type of procurement model, and the expected progress of each project through the procurement process. This provides “one stop shopping” compared to Metrolinx’ own site. As a convenience to readers, I have consolidated the three updates as they relate to transit projects to allow easy comparison between versions.

Some projects have evolved since the first version, and in particular the delivery dates for a few projects have moved further into the future. The “financial close” dates for some projects, in effect the point at which a contract is signed and real work can begin, has moved beyond the date of the next Provincial election. Whatever government is in power after summer 2022 will have a final say on whether these projects go ahead.

Subway Projects

Ontario Line

The Ontario Line was previously reported as a single project with a price tag of over $10 billion. In the Fall 2019 update, the intent was to have the financial close in Winter/Spring 2022 ahead of the election. In the Winter 2020 update, this changed to Spring 2022.

In the Spring 2020 update, the project has been split into separate parts to reflect industry feedback about the original scope.

  1. GO Corridor from Don River to Gerrard
  2. South Tunnels, Civil Works and Stations CNE to Don River
  3. Rolling Stock, System Operations & Maintenance
  4. North Tunnels, Civil Works and Stations

The GO corridor work will be done as a conventional procurement by Metrolinx and will be bundled with upgrades to GO Transit trackage.

The financial close for items 2 and 3 above is now Fall 2022, and for item 4 it is Fall 2023.

This means that an actual sign-on-the-dotted-line commitment to the project will not be within the current government’s mandate. Even the so-called “early works” comprising the southern portion of the route from Exhibition to the Don River is not scheduled to close until Fall 2022. The northern portion, from Gerrard to Eglinton will close in Fall 2023. This contract is being held back pending results for the south contract to determine the industry’s appetite for the work.

The southern portion, with a long tunnel through downtown and stations in congested street locations would start first. However, the line cannot actually open without the northern portion because this provides the link to the maintenance facility which is included as part of item 3 above although the actual access connection would be built as part of item 4.

An issue linking all of these projects is the choice of technology which, in turn drives decisions such as tunnel and station sizes, power supply, signalling and maintenance facility design. When the Ontario Line was a single project, Metrolinx could say that this choice was up to the bidders, but now there must be some co-ordination to ensure that what is built can actually be used to operate the selected technology. It is hardly a secret that Metrolinx is promoting a SkyTrain like technology, although which propulsion scheme (LIM vs rotary motors) is not clear. There are well-known problems with LIMs and the power pickup technology used on the SRT, and this would also be a consideration for the outdoor portions of the Ontario Line.

Scarborough Subway Extension

Like the Ontario Line, the Scarborough Extension has been split into two pieces. The first will be the tunnel contract from Kennedy Station to McCowan. This is now in the  procurement phase, and financial close is projected for Spring 2021.

The remainder of the project previously had a projected closing date of “Winter/Spring 2023”, but this is now just “2023”. With the tunnel hived off into a separate contract, it is reasonable that the remainder would have a later start date because the tunnel is a key component that must be in place first.

Metrolinx recently published a Preliminary Business Case for this extension. It includes the following text:

Kennedy Station Pocket Track/Transition Section

The Kennedy transition section extends roughly 550 metres from the east side of the GO Transit Stouffville rail corridor to Commonwealth Avenue and will include special track work and a pocket track to enable every second subway train to short turn to suit ridership demand and minimize fleet requirements, as well as lower operating costs. [p 24]

This turnback has been an on-again, off-again part of the project but it is now clearly included as a cost saving measure. With only every second train running to Sheppard/McCowan, the fleet required (as well as storage) would be within the system’s current capacity. This ties in with the timing of the T1 fleet replacement on Line 2 as there are enough T1s to run alternate, but not full service to Sheppard. This would be similar to the arrangement now used on the TYSSE where only half of the AM peak service runs north of Glencairn Station to Vaughan.

Richmond Hill Subway Extension

The Ontario government recently signed an agreement with York Region for the extension of the Yonge line from Finch to Richmond Hill. The status of this project is unchanged with an RFQ to be issued in Fall 2021, an RFP in Spring 2022 and financial close in Fall 2023.

Sheppard East Subway Extension

This project remains in the planning phase.

Continue reading

TTC Board Meeting June 17, 2020

The TTC Board met on June 17, 2020 with several items on their agenda. Chief among these was recovery plan for the transit system as the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown recede and transit demand builds.

Updated June 18, 2020 at 1:30 pm: Charts from the service recovery presentation that were originally taken as screen captures from the meeting video have been replaced with higher resolution versions.

CEO’s Report

Many of the usual metrics for system performance are meaningless in the Covid-19 era because service and ridership are completely different from original budget forecasts. Even the “on time” statistics fail because the TTC reports this relative to scheduled times, not as a measure of service reliability. Detailed ridership tracking was reported separately under the Covid recovery report (below).

CEO Rick Leary reported that modifications to the operator’s area on buses are in development including extension of the plastic barrier forward to the windshield and altering airflow within the cab to be a “positive pressure” area where air is always pushing out rather than being drawn in from the main passenger area.

As reported elsewhere, the TTC is taking advantage of lower demand to accelerate capital and maintenance programs. The northern part of the Yonge subway (Line 1) will be closed for various periods during coming weeks including:

  • Sat/Sun June 20/21 all day: Sheppard-Yonge to St. Clair for Metrolinx construction at Eglinton and track repairs elsewhere.
  • Thu/Fri June 25/26 all day: Finch to Sheppard-Yonge for maintenance including ATC installation.
  • Sat/Sun June 27/28 all day: Finch to Lawrence for maintenance including asbestos removal and ATC installation.

The TTC has not announced whether completion dates for the ATC project will be moved forward thanks to the extra work.

The rebuild of streetcars to correct welding problems and other retrofits will also be accelerated with 19 more streetcars available for maintenance. This will allow the entire fleet to come up to standard 18 months sooner than originally planned.

Reliability of the streetcar fleet continues to improve. There are two measures of this with one based on contractual requirements (failures due to manufacturing issues) and one based on operational behaviour (including all failures). The contractual measure is running at over 70,000 km mean distance to failure on a monthly basis with the 12-month average sitting just over 40,000 and growing. The operational measure is running just under the 35,000 km target.

In the subway, vehicle reliability is mixed. On Line 2 BD, the T1 fleet is running far above the target level with MDBF values in the millions of vehicle kilometres compared to a target of 300,000. On Lines 1 and 4, the TR fleet is not faring as well. The 12-month rolling average is above the 600,000 target for this fleet (which is younger and therefore is expected to perform better), but numbers for both February and April 2020 were below the target, particularly in April.

The reliability of the electric bus fleet is improving although it is not yet at the 24,000 km MDBF target. The BYD fleet was still not in revenue service within the period of the report, and so no reliability stats for these vehicles are available.

The hybrid bus fleet is running at or above 30,000 km MDBF while the diesel bus fleet is at or above 20,000. It is not clear how much of the improvement is due to inherent reliability as opposed to the sidelining of problem vehicles in the fleet.

Covid Recovery / Bus Priority Lanes

Please see my previous article TTC Preps For Covid Recovery for a review of the main part of this report.

The Board considered this report together with a notice of motion regarding proposals for five bus transit priority corridors. Please see my article Transit Priority Lanes Can Help, But They Are No Panacea and other related articles for background analyses of the potential benefits and limitations of priority lanes as a way to improve bus service.

Covid Recovery

New information was added to the original report showing how demand is building across the TTC network.

Bus riding has been growing from its nadir in mid-April. Although 70,000 more boardings per day may not be much on the usual scale of TTC operations, it is a very large growth on a base of 288,000 (blue line in the chart below). Across the bus network, the TTC is now carrying on average 30% of its former load, a key point in the recovery where capacity and distancing requirements vie with each other. There is a growing problem with overcrowding relative to the current standard with 12% of trips now running about 15 passengers per standard sized bus, and 1.5% above 25 per bus. The system cannot handle more growth without a combination of additional service and social practices, mainly masking, that will improve safety on more crowded vehicles.

More service on Jane today than in Feb

The map below shows where the “hot spots” were in the bus network in mid-May when total boardings were at 25% of normal, and 7.6% of trips exceeded the 15/bus loading standard.

By June, this had evolved with over capacity conditions on several major routes. Many extra buses built into the May schedules were dispatched to supplement regular service, and on the key routes shown below, the scheduled service will be improved effective June 22. The TTC plans to have more service on 35 Jane in late June than it did in February, although this claim does not take into account the 935 Jane Express buses in the “before” service.

Eventually, the TTC will return to “100% service”, but this will be based on the count of vehicles, not simply a return to original schedules. Some routes still have weaker demand, and buses formerly assigned to them will be used to add service on the busy lines. The express bus routes serving the core where demand is weakest will remain suspended.

The TTC’s plan does not address the issue of using its considerable pool of spare buses to push service beyond the 100% level, nor of the degree to which the streetcar network can be fully operated with that mode once various construction projects are out of the way.

Although TTC management did not say this explicitly in the discussion, the move back to 100% service appears to be contingent on funding from the provincial or federal government that will insulate the City from the extra cost.

Bus Priority Lanes

According to TTC management, “significant” work has already been done with their City colleagues on the bus lanes which were proposed in the Five Year Service Plan last December. Eglinton East is the top priority, and there will be a report on it in July 2020. It is unclear just how quickly we will see detailed proposals for other corridors, especially with a desire by some affected Councillors to have public consultation, and the very real possibility that opposition to these lanes will block their implementation.

The TTC does not help its own argument on this point.

Staff advised that the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside lane would save 7 buses overall for the routes operating in this corridor, and spoke first of this as a budgetary saving, not as an opportunity for improved service. This is exactly the same position staff took in the early days of the St. Clair proposal where residents and riders were dismayed that after so much upheaval there would be no improvement in service.

This position does not align with the statements by Commissioner Brad Bradford who spoke of “flooding the street” with buses taking advantage of the new transit priority, and while that may be a great sound bite, it does not reflect what the TTC is likely to do, or can do with limits on its fleet and staff constraining bus network growth. Moreover, a 7 bus saving is not a huge change at the scale of the full network. This is unsurprising given that the likely change in travel time is not going to bring as much saving as many think.

Bradford asked how the transit priority scheme would help in the Covid fight, and again staff’s response was lacklustre claiming that shorter travel times would reduce the time spent on board, rather than speaking to improved crowding conditions through additional service.

There is a stark disconnect between the hoped-for benefits of transit priority for riders and the manner in which the TTC appears poised to scoop any savings in the budget, not for better service.

Bradford spoke of the importance of the bus  network and the “underserved” neighbourhoods where bus lines run. It is odd for a TTC Commissioner to openly talk of “underserved” areas while the very Board and Council he sits on refuses to address the problem of bus route capacity.

The hoped-for September 1 implementation will be a stretch for anything beyond one corridor, and that with little more than paint and signs.

Commissioner/Councillor McKelvie proposed an amendment that the study of future corridors also include Lawrence East from Victoria Park to Rouge Hill. The report with this amendment passed unanimously.

Rider Attitude Survey

The Covid recovery report includes an extensive section on rider attitudes and the potential recovery of transit demand. I will deal with this in a separate article.

Streetcar Track Noise at King and Sumach

An ongoing issue at the intersection of King and Sumach has been streetcar noise and vibration ever since the Cherry Street branch began operation. Several issues contributed to this problem including wheel squeal on curves and noise from track switches tongues “slapping” in their castings as cars passed over them.

Various changes have been made to address components of the problem, but more work is pending.

  • With the removal of CLRVs from Cherry Street service, the noisiest cars were no longer making turns at King and Sumach.
  • A wheel lubricator was installed at Distillery Loop, although this is of no benefit for cars turning east to south off of King.
  • Wheel vibration dampening rings have been installed on 10 streetcars and these reduced noise on curves by 5-7 dBA. A further 60 cars will receive dampeners over 2020, and the rest of the fleet will be completed in 2021. Cars with these devices will be assigned to the 504A King route to the Distillery.
  • On board wheel lubricators are already installed on the first half of the fleet, and the TTC plans to add them to the remainder.
  • Curve track geometry has been adjusted, and will be further refined as part of the 2021 Capital Budget plan for track repairs.
  • Switch tongues that did not sit flush have been ground to reduce the slapping effect as cars pass over them.
  • A new design for flexible switch tongues is under review with plans to install one on the trailing eastbound switch where noise has been a problem. A trial installation is already in place at College & Lansdowne eastbound.

Although King & Sumach has been the focus of complaints and testing, many of these changes will benefit the streetcar system as a whole.

Waterfront LRT Design

The TTC Board approved a contract for $15 million for design work on the underground portion of the proposed Waterfront East LRT/streetcar extension. This work is being done jointly with Waterfront Toronto who are responsible for the surface portion of the route from a portal near Yonge Street to Cherry Street including a connection to the existing Distillery Loop.

This contract will take the design of the underground portion to 30% with a project cost estimate leading to a request for Council approval in the second quarter of 2022. Whether this project will actually proceed remains to be seen.

Part of the work will involve staging plans to determine whether and how the project can be built to stretch out spending based on the rate of growth of demand in the eastern waterfront. This statement was a bit puzzling considering the scale of changes required at Union and Queens Quay Stations including lowering the track elevation to provide more space for air circulation to meet modern fire code.

TTC Preps For Covid Recovery

Toronto and its transit system face a long climb back to conditions before the Covid-19 pandemic and the shutdown of much activity across the city. On June 17, the TTC Board will act on a report with several recommendation for the recovery path. Like so much in Toronto, the future is uncertain, but the TTC has a range of options on the table.

Compulsory Masking and Safety on Board

Anyone within the TTC system will be required to wear a mask or facial covering effective July 2 with only a few exceptions:

  • Children under two
  • People with an underlying condition that prevents wearing of a mask
  • People who are unable to put on or take off a mask without assistance
  • TTC employees working in non-public areas, or behind a physical barrier or shield such as in a  collector’s booth
  • People who must be accommodated under the Ontario Human Rights Code

The TTC will have a supply of one million masks to be distributed free of charge. This will be concentrated in lower-income areas of the city. The TTC will not bar access to those without masks, although social pressure from other riders may have an effect.

All vehicles are cleaned and disinfected overnight. Surface vehicles are disinfected at mid-day, and Wheel-Trans buses have added cleanings after carrying Covid-19 positive riders. Stations are cleaned and disinfected, especially commonly touched surfaces, two to four times daily depending on usage.

Vehicle updates under consideration include hand sanitizers for passengers, as well as ultra-violet disinfection and improved air filters in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

Effective July 2, front door boarding on buses will resume including payment by cash, token or ticket. Riders will still have the option of using rear doors, although this practice may be discontinued eventually. Such a move has a “catch-22” because stop service times will increase if all riders are forced to load through one door.

The TTC will distribute free Presto cards in areas where usage to date has been low, although this does not address the problem of how riders will load their cards given the scarcity of suburban locations to do so.

Presto Credits for Monthly Passes

For those who bought a March or April 2020 monthly pass, there will be a refund based on actual usage between March 18 and April 30. This will be applied as a credit on the Presto account by August 21 where it can be used either toward the purchase of a September pass, or for pay-as-you-go rides. This option allows for riders who will not, by September, be using the TTC enough to justify buying a pass.

It is recommended that a pro-rated PRESTO credit be provided to March and April pass holders based on their daily usage from March 18-31 and April 1-30, 2020. The pro-rated credit for March and April will calculate the daily rate based on the entire value of the pass, and will provide the credit based on the days the pass was not used. This recommendation ensures that requests are being responded to fairly to our customers, while also considering the current financial constraints the TTC is facing. [p 36]

There will be no refunds for May and beyond as, by that point, riders would have been well aware of their changing travel needs and had ample time to cancel any pass subscriptions in effect.

Continue reading

35 Jane Travel Times and Priority Lanes

On June 17, 2020, the TTC Board will consider a proposal to implement transit priority lanes on several corridors including Finch East, Steeles West, Dufferin, Jane and Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside. This article reviews travel times and speeds for the Jane Street corridor comparing November 2011 and May 2020 data with the underlying premise that the May data show the best case for congestion-free operation.

The proposal for Jane Street run north from Eglinton to Steeles. Roadway widths and adjacent land uses vary along the corridor, and the removal of traffic lanes will have different effects along the street. A related problem will be the provision for cyclists, if any.

Note: When this article was first posted, some charts erroneously had some data labelled as “April 2018” rather than “November 2019”. This has been corrected.

Travel Times Between Eglinton and Steeles

Northbound

As on Dufferin, but to a greater degree, Jane Street has a high PM peak travel time and an extended peak period. The difference between November 2019 and May 2020 is quite striking.

Looking at the weekly breakdowns, there is the same pattern here on Jane as on Dufferin – although May 2020 times are shorter than those for November 2011, they have been rising over the four weeks showing a growth in some combination of traffic congestion and stop service time.

Southbound

The southbound peaks are similar to northbound and the PM peak extends over a considerable period.

The weekly breakdown shows the same pattern with growth in travel times through May 2020.

Continue reading

29 Dufferin Travel Times and Priority Lanes

Route 29 Dufferin is one of five corridors proposed for rapid implementation of reserved bus lanes in a proposal that will be at the TTC Board on June 17. Others include Finch East, Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside, Steeles West and Jane.

In this article, I will review travel times and speed data for Dufferin comparing conditions in April 2018 and May 2020. (2018 is used because I do not have any more recent pre-covid data.) The premise of this comparison is that May 2020 represents conditions on the route with all or most traffic congestion removed revealing the underlying conditions that would apply in a best case transit priority lane implementation.

Dufferin Street is very different from the other proposed corridors because for much of its length it is only four lanes wide with houses and businesses fronting onto the street and little or no opportunity for widening. On the northern portion where the street allowance is wider, there is a combination of four through traffic lanes with bays for right turns and bus stops.

Creation of a reserved lane will involve both a reduction of capacity for non-transit traffic and removal of parking. Depending on whether the lanes are in effect only during peak periods or longer, parking will be a big political issue as it was for attempts to improve transit operations on streetcar routes.

Before the King Street Pilot was proposed, the City reviewed parking regulations on the shoulders of peak periods to determine whether they should be extended. (Full disclosure: I worked on this project as a consultant.) With the growth of traffic over many years, the peak had expanded beyond its traditional 7-9 AM, 4-6 PM periods. Travel time charts would clearly show two super-peaks on either side of the official two-hour period as transit vehicles were fighting peak level congestion when parking and turn restrictions were not in effect. From this study, many areas had their peak periods extended by 30 or 60 minutes on either side of the original hours so that the period could be as long as 7-10 AM and 3-7 PM.

There was a lot of push back on this scheme from local businesses who regarded parking as essential to their operations, and there were tradeoffs in the final scheme to limit the expansion of peak restrictions. For example, a proposed no parking restriction on Broadview near Danforth was changed to end at 6:30 pm instead of 7:00 pm. It is worth noting that on Queen Street in The Beach there are no extended restrictions and the traditional two-hour windows apply. It would be intriguing to know whether Councillor Bradford, the author of the motion, would agree to elimination of parking in his ward in the name of speeding up the Queen car.

Parking is already banned in some locations on Dufferin Street from 7-10 AM and 3-7 PM, but the traditional hours are more common, and some locations have no restrictions at all. There are many locations where motorists would routinely move into a “reserved” curb lane to access off-street parking and laneways, as well as for right turns.

There is also the question of how bicycles would fit into any new street design.

Overall, the challenges on Dufferin Street are not straightforward and, like the much shorter King Street Pilot, they will require detailed block-by-block review.

Travel Times Between King and Wilson

In the following charts, note that changes in travel times will be due to a combination of two factors: the level of traffic congestion and the time spent at stops loading and unloading passengers. Transit priority can reduce the effect of congestion, but stop service times are a function of service level and demand, and especially of the degree to which crowding prevents a speedy movement of passengers onto and off of buses.

Budgetary constraints drive the TTC to run as close to its capacity standards, if not over them, as a routine practice. The degree of crowding is only rarely reported, and the cost in terms of service delays is not considered. A vicious circle can develop where headways are widened and travel times stretched in response to this type of delay, but this reinforces crowding problems while providing a “no cost solution” so beloved by simplistic political analysis.

Continue reading

Transit Priority Lanes Can Help, But They Are No Panacea

At the TTC Board meeting on Wednesday, June 17, a motion by two councillor/commissioners, Brad Bradford and Jennifer McKelvie seeks to fast track the installation of five transit priority lanes that are part of the TTC’s 5-Year Service Plan.

They argue that buses are the workhorses of the transit system, and much can be done to assist with the city’s covid recovery by improving key parts of the bus network.

Bus service is already the workhorse of our transit system – moving over 260 million passengers a year and more people than any other transit mode pre-COVID. Buses have been critical in moving essential workers throughout the pandemic and they will play a critical role as ridership surges in the next stages of economic reopening…

This is a noble stance, one long overlooked by a political environment where promises of new subway lines a decade away take precedence over actually running better service now. However, there is a risk that the focus on buses will be undermined by expecting too much from comparatively simple interventions in how roads and transit actually work.

The bus priority transit corridors in the 5-Year Service Plan focus on parts of the city where our service has experienced more acute overcrowding during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically for suburban transit-reliant communities.

Overcrowding was a serious problem on the TTC before the pandemic, but one would hardly know this by the rarity of TTC reports on the subject. For years, transit service has been strangled both by a shortage of buses and garage space, but also by a lack of urgency, a sense that everything was just fine. That suited a fiscal plan that spent little on expanding the bus fleet and concentrated instead on replacing the oldest and least reliable buses while constraining operating costs.

The TTC faces a difficult choice in coming months: should it run as much service as possible in order to maximize the space available to those riders who chose to return to transit, or should it limit service based on financial pressures to minimize the ongoing loses in fare revenue? We know how much the TTC is losing, but there is no commitment from any level of government to sustain transit over the next year or more as demand recovers.

Improving the speed and service reliability will increase capacity on the system at no additional operating cost. Bus priority corridors may be a more cost-effective solution to current real-time responsive measures to address overcrowding, while also improving service. As the routes speed up, the number of buses required for standby decreases, thereby reducing operating costs.

This is a simplistic view which includes the unfortunate phrase “no additional operating cost”. This is the sort of outlook that bedevils attempts to improve transit, the idea that there is a “free” solution to our problems. However, there is an assumption that the capacity issue can be addressed simply by running buses faster, and that transit priority will provide what is needed. In fact, this is unlikely on the scale that is required.

A further conundrum lies in statements from Commissioner Bradford that the TTC would “flood” routes with service according to a CBC interview.

Bradford said flooding the five busy corridors with buses would help front-line workers — who don’t have the luxury of self-isolating — move more quickly between work and home. It would also make it easier to physically distance, since more buses would mean more elbow room between passengers.

A “flood” of buses is possible only if the TTC actually operates more service as the change in travel times from transit priority, by itself, will not achieve this goal. In the short term, the TTC has more buses because it is not running full service, but this will change as they ramp up to full pre-Covid levels on major routes. There are also buses from the spare pool which is quite generous thanks to the comparative youth of the bus fleet, but running service beyond the 100% level pushes up operating costs at a time when fare revenue is running well behind historic levels.

Since the travel and work restrictions of the Covid-19 era have been in place, we have seen a worked example of what a Toronto largely without congestion looks like. This gives us a chance to compare bus travel times and speeds for the old “typical” workday with many weeks of lower traffic and little congestion. That is likely to be a best case scenario because buses have also benefited from reduced demand and shorter stop service times. Even if traffic congestion is eliminated, higher demand will lengthen times at stops and this component of today’s savings will be lost.

Five corridors are proposed in the TTC’s Service Plan and in the Bradford/McKelvie motion:

  • Jane Street: from Eglinton Avenue to Steeles Avenue
  • Dufferin Street: from Dufferin Gate to Wilson Avenue
  • Steeles Avenue West: from Yonge Street to Pioneer Village Subway Station
  • Finch Avenue East: from Yonge Street to McCowan Road
  • Eglinton Avenue East/Kingston Road/Morningside Ave – from Kennedy Subway Station to University of Toronto Scarborough

What we do not have, and what the TTC has never produced, is a detailed review of these and other parts of the city looking at where and when congestion occurs, what the physical constraints to taking over road lanes might be, and just how much time might be saved by their implementation. These are key elements both in designing any priority scheme and advocating for it against the inevitable opposition of motorists, businesses and residents along affected streets.

In particular, if we are not prepared to give real transit priority at the locations and times when congestion is at its worst, and the effect of taking road space from cars will be severe, then this scheme will not succeed.

Continue reading

Evolution of Travel Times on 504 King in 2020

The reduced transit riding and auto traffic in Toronto during past months provides an opportunity to compare travel times during what used to be “typical” conditions with the situation when there is no congestion and stop service times might be shorter.

This article examines the 504 King route from January to May 2020. I plan to publish data for other streetcar and bus routes, but I am awaiting the May data extract from the TTC’s new Vision system which tracks all buses and a substantial portion of the streetcar fleet. (In May, the King route operated substantially with cars using the old CIS system from which I have already received data, and so there are enough data from that route to represent its operation.)

504 King operates with two branches: 504A from Dundas West Station to Distillery Loop, and 504B from Broadview Station to Dufferin Loop. Only trips late at night after service to Distillery and Dufferin Loops ends make the full trip between Broadview and Dundas West Stations. For this analysis, I have split the route in half at Yonge Street to measure travel times to that midpoint from the outer ends of the lines.

The change in travel times is quite obvious looking at month-by-month averages. In the charts below, travel times are averaged for all weekdays in each month, grouped by hour of departure from Danforth and Broadview. (The screen lines at terminals are located far enough from the loops to avoid including queuing times to enter crowded loops in the measured travel times to and from Yonge.)

January and February (red and yellow) are the highest because they represent normal pre-covid conditions. During March (green), the amount of transit riding and traffic began to fall as offices closed and non-essential travel was reduced. The King car was particularly affected because it serves the business district. April and May (light and dark blue) represent a “new normal” for travel times.

Note that in these charts, the Y-axis does not begin at zero so that the spread in the data values is clearer.

(A full set of PDFs of these charts is at the end of the article.)

Although the monthly averages show a clear pattern, the weekly values change within the two broad bands of pre- and post-covid conditions. Note that for this chart there are no data for the week of April 20 because streetcar service on Broadview north of Gerrard was suspended for track repairs.

Continue reading

HotDocs 2020 Part II

This article continues my reviews of films from the HotDocs 2020 festival. Part I is here.

Festival screenings run to June 24, and I will add reviews here as I work my way through the list. There is no way to see everything, but in these days when we have lots of free time, one can try.

Because the originally planned ten-day festival has run its course, the audience awards have been announced. The full list is on the HotDocs site and some of the top-rated films were already on my “to see” list. Those I have seen so far and reviewed in Part I are:

  • There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace (Number 5 in top 5 Canadian films, number 15 in top 20)
  • The 8th (Number 5 in top 20 films)

The top-rated film was The Walrus and the Whistleblower which aired recently on CBC and is available free on CBC Gem. For what my two cents are worth, I will review it later in the festival.

Continue reading