Do We Run Buses on Lawrence?

I received the following email (which also went to all of the TTC members, the Star and the Sun).  The text is uncut.

Congratulations TTC Commissioners!

As you know, Canadians are an easy going people and it takes a level of incompetence rarely seen in the annals of the race that gave us the Challenger explosion, The Iraq War … the French, to get Canadians to the point of rioting!  Congratulations!  You came awfully close!  And, you did it without any effort at all, hell, without being aware of it.  Let me clue you in:

Today, January 30th, 2007, at sometime before 8:30 a.m., a #52 bus left the Bathurst & Lawrence bus stop, heading for the Yonge Street Subway station.  It was the last bus to reach Yonge street for quite some time.  Another bus got there shortly after 8:30 when I arrived on site.  But it was short turned.  It dropped people off then went (I suppose) in the other direction.  Then, at around 20 to 9, another bus came.  It short turned too.  Then at some time around 9 (I stopped pulling out my PDA to check the time, because I was getting afraid of frost bite), another bus came.  It also short turned.  Let me re-iterate here folks.  Number of buses going east? ZERO.  Number of buses short turned? THREE.  I heard one fellow exhort us to, if a fourth bus came that was short turning, rush the bus.  People were shouting at your poor driver on the third short turned bus (and she remained calm and professional).  Really, I was half way hoping that there would be another short turn bus, because really, those 40 people, waiting, would have rioted.  

You came so close.

Finally, after 40 minutes of waiting (for me, others were before me), a bus came that was going to Yonge.  Of course it was so packed that only five people could get crammed on, and that was only because the bus driver was willing to break every safety rule in the book, people standing in the stair wells, way past the white line … man, I’ve been riding the TTC for 35 years, I’ve been on crammed buses going from the EX after a baseball game, and they weren’t crammed the way this one was.  I don’t know whether you’ll reprimand this driver for breaking all these rules, I hope not.  His tolerance for cramming his bus beyond what was safe helped alleviate the tension for those left behind.  

Another 20 minute wait and a bus came where there was a little bit of space.  We mostly got on by cramming, and by standing in the stairs, past the white line.  Over an hour wait folks. 

This is NOT an acceptable level of service.  I would suggest that you find the person responsible for short turning THREE BUSES IN A ROW.  Send him or her for a cerebral MRI.  This person can make medical history by being the first person with only their brain stem functioning, the rest of their brain is obviously dead, and yet, they are able to hold down a job!

Which is more than I can say for those who, through economic necessity, must take your transit system to work.  I see people who I know are single mothers calling into work and pleading for understanding as THEY ARE AN HOUR LATE.  Can I emphasize that again.  ONE HOUR WAIT TIME FOR A BUS!  Time they are going to be docked, or have to make up, or perhaps even lose their jobs over.  Geeze, do you even care?  Does anyone even care?

Apparently not.  This route has been a problem for aeons.  No new buses are ever added to the route.  No movement is made towards putting express buses on the route (as has been proven effective on the Sheppard route, which isn’t even as LONG as the 52 Lawrence route).  Putting a short overlay route so that there are a couple of buses running during rush hour ONLY between Lawrence and Lawrence West (so that when a jam up happens in Etobicoke, Service can continue on the east end of the route).  Oh no.  For a decade this route has sucked, and I’m sure that it will continue to do so.  But when I hear that a riot has broken out, I’ll be assuming that it has started there.  And I’ll probably be right.

So congratulations on that.

Finally, I am pleased to note that tomorrow will be the last time I will be travelling that route, as I am switching jobs and can now afford to drive my car to work.  Congratulations on that too … ten years ago I was a staunch defender of the TTC.  Now, I can’t bear the thought of having to use it.

Frank Cameron
Former TTC Patron

For those who are interested, the schedule on the TTC’s website claims that service eastbound on Lawrence at Bathurst is “Frequent Service” (better than 10 minutes).  The TTC Schedule Summary shows that the headway is every 5’45” in the AM peak, and every 9’00” Midday.  For the interval in question, we are probably in the transition between the two.

This is a classic case of managing product, as another reader put it, rather than managing service.  Buses on time are more important than buses serving passengers.  I myself have seen other instances of short-turns that prevent vehicles on major routes from reaching the subway, one of their major destinations and sources of load.

I believe that a fast, fast response to this is easily available to the TTC:  close employee parking lots and make the people who manage the service use the service.  For extra spice, take away their employee transit passes and make them pay for what they’re providing.

Of course, we all know that if the TTC had exclusive lanes on Lawrence from Yonge to somewhere west of London, they would only have to short turn half of the buses rather than all of them.

Yes, friends at the TTC, there are lots of services that run reasonably well a reasonable amount of time, but there are major screwups like this too often.  I hear about them, other transit advocates and journalists hear about them, and the Commissioners hear about them.

Is this a new phenomenon?  No.  Many, many years ago when Gordon Hurlburt was Chair of the TTC, he was unable to board the Sheppard East bus westbound at Leslie.  After several full buses passed him by, he walked to Yonge Street.  It happened to be the day of a TTC meeting, and he was much displeased.

Some time passed, and the staff delivered up a report that went roughtly like this:  “We have received a complaint about overcrowding on the Sheppard East bus.  We have consulted our records and can find no evidence of such problems on the date in question.”  Hurlburt took up smoking again soon after.

Alas, things have not changed much.  Only now we acknowledge that nobody can get on and blame in all on traffic congestion.

Wednesday is budget day (I will write on this after the meeting and the debate), and I’m sure we will hear all about how we have to hold the line on fares and taxes — miraculously providing much-needed service to those who can’t afford a fare increase while insulating car drivers and their three-car-garage taxes from undue increase.  This sort of outlook, common at TTC budget debates for years, must stop.  Transit is vital to our city, and it has fallen badly into disrepair.

Given our priorities, we will keep the Gardiner standing at whatever cost it takes, while transit services wither for lack of capital and operating funding.

17 thoughts on “Do We Run Buses on Lawrence?

  1. “Buses on time are more important than buses serving passengers.”

    Here is another example of that, one of the worst I’ve ever heard : short-turning buses on 124 SUNNYBROOK.  It only tzkes 20 minutes to do a round trip on good days, and yet they still short turn!

    Here is the scenario according to one driver I knew (now retired) who used to be a regular on that route.  First, some background : the eastern terminus of this route is heavy-laden with campuses. You have Sunnybrook’s mega-hospital, the old Chriopractic college [now demolished to make way for condos] and the old CNIB are a stone’s throw south, a Salvation Army retirement home, Glendon Campus of York University, patrons from Crescent School and the Granite Club who do walk south to Bayview and Lawrence to catch the bus, and finally, the massive Toronto French school.

    ALL of this gets bypassed when they short-turn the 124 SUNNYBROOK (usually due to heavy traffic during the rush hours on Bayview, especially during snow storms) along the old counter-clockwise looping of the original 52 LAWRENCE bus at Bayview/Dawlish (in the old days St. Leonards/Mildenhall).  Are the folks at transit control old fogies still thinking 1960’s traffic patterns?!?!

    This driver who told me this would tell the other two (during rush) to ignore transit control, screw the schedule and operate between Sunnybrook and Lawrence Stn. as a load-and-unload shuttle, and worry about getting back on schedule (when there are only 2 buses) AFTER the rush.  Otherwise, the ONLY bus that would actually do the whole run would never be able to handle the crush.

    Oh, by the way, West of Mildenhall, where they are so concerned about keeping the schedule on time are massive single family houses, most of the owners driving to and from work.

    As insane as that scenario is, I saw it happen too, too, too frequently.

    Steve:  For what it’s worth, the operation of peak trips via Mildenhall will be abandoned for a six-month trial effective February 18.


  2. Steve, I have a somewhat related question which I’m hoping you can answer.

    A few months ago, I decided to leave my car at home and start taking the TTC to work every day.  I travel from Coxwell/Cosburn to Kennedy/Sheppard.  My trip to work in the morning is surprisingly good.  The 70 O’Connor bus is always on schedule, as is the subway.

    The 43 Kennedy bus is the worst part of the trip (not enough buses heading to Steeles, and too many half-empty ones heading to STC), but it is tolerable.  My problem is on the way home.  I generally leave anytime between 4:00pm and 4:45pm, during which time there are four buses listed on the schedule for 43 Kennedy.

    What I’ve noticed is that almost every bus I’ve taken seems to be ‘ahead of schedule’, even though they appear to be arriving at the bus stop on time.  What is happening is that most of the drivers sit and wait for several minutes at various locations along the route, such as Progress, Ellesmere and Lawrence.  Then, when the bus finally moves, it travels at a painfully slow speed of around 30km/h!  Traffic congestion is not the issue here, because cars are whizzing past us both when the bus is stopped and when it’s crawling along.

    I could understand if the odd bus was ahead of schedule, but this happens to me almost every day (I’m not exaggerating), and it’s very frustrating for everyone on the bus.  Could it be that the TTC has alloted too much time on the schedule, thereby forcing drivers to slow down and stop completely several times in order to adhere to it?  If so, this is another example of the way the TTC ‘drives’ its passengers away.  It’s bad enough to stand outside and wait for a bus.  Once you’re on it, you want it to MOVE.

    Steve:  There is a problem all over the system matching scheduled running times to actual conditions on routes.  Tightening up running times is something the TTC rarely does, and I suspect that this comes partly from the premise that everything is congested and needs more, not less time.

    Operators are instructed not to “run hot” so that service actually runs close to schedule.  What is needed is a regular review of operations at the “micro” level on routes to determine where there are places that we could provide better service by running the existing buses faster and  hence closer together.


  3. I’ve had my issues with the Lawrence West bus as well, and have waited in vain for a westbound bus at Avenue and Lawrence several times in the PM peak. I often find myself giving up and waited for a 61 (which is often held up by rush traffic as well) or even walking to Bathurst.

    Part of the problem is that there’s the 58 Malton, which only goes west to Lawrence West, then returns. Only the 52 goes west, even though ridership isn’t much different east and west of the Spadina subway. So if the TTC is short turning buses at Bathurst or 52s at Lawrence West, it defeats part of the purpose as there’s 58s doing the same thing, and picking up many of the passengers who would other wise take the 52 (who are riding up to Scarlett).

    Although at Wilson, both routes (96 and 165) run the full length from York Mills to the split off at Weston Road. Sometimes it is very fustrating to be standing up on the westbound platform, and see 3, 4, 5 or more 96s and 165s pulling in eastbound without even one short turning to relieve the ever-growing crowds for a westbound bus.

    There’s logic to deciding short turns, and it is too bad it isn’t used half the time.


  4. Funny – the same thing happened to me yesterday morning at Queen’s Quay waiting for a 510 Spadina streetcar. We waited at the stop for almost 40 minutes because I can only imagine that all the southbound cars heading to the Quay were short turned at King.

    Oh, and when I arrived at the stop, the platform was already packed which probably means people were waiting even longer.


  5. [This comment has been edited only to correct spelling so that the writer’s intent will be read clearly.] 

    You say you’re not against automobiles and roadways, and yet your last comment certainly shows that you are anti-road…

    [The reference is to my remark about the Gardiner being kept up at all costs.]

    I think balance is most important.  Freeways get traffic out of streets so that pedestrians don’t get struck by high volumes of cars.

    If there was no Gardiner, Lakeshore Ave would be even less safe to cross or walk along and many parallel streets would have even higher volumes.

    Furthermore, You would see 18 wheelers and other heavy duty vehicles running down streets which belong to calmer traffic and pedestrians.

    Finally, Crossing an 8-10 lane Gardiner Blvd is a bigger barrier to the lake then walking under it.

    Instead be creative like London’s Westway and build retail and other stuff underneath it.

    Sorry for being very much off-topic but your last remark struck me!

    Steve:  The point I was trying to make is that Councillors will bellyache endlessly about the cost of building and running a transit system, but they will fund retention of the Gardiner because they are terrified it might fall down.  The transit system might not “fall down”, but the ongoing effect of not maintaining and expanding it is hurting everyone.  We have created a mythical funding problem because the Feds, who never were historical partners in this area, are not coming to the table with buckets of cash.  A great excuse to do nothing while we wait for money that will not arrive in the amount and for the purposes we really need. 


  6. I’m still struggling to understand whether the systemwide problems with bus bunching and excessive short turns are truly the result of insufficient funding — the responsibility of politicians — or whether the TTC simply has poor management practices and plain old poor managers.  Could things be better with the funding and infrastructure we currently have, if only more talented people were at the helm?

    In my current private-sector job, I’ve seen my share of co-workers have their employment terminated for poor performance of their duties.  Does/can this ever happen at the TTC?

    Steve:  TTC’s route management suffers from two interlinked problems.  First, there is a focus on keeping buses on time both to keep operators happy and avoid overtime, and from the premise that if buses are on time, they will be giving predictable service.  However, when there isn’t enough service on the street in the first place, buses will always be overloaded and run late triggering short turns, and the vicious cycle continues.

    Lest I appear to generous to the TTC, there is poor management of short-turns in that they occur in senseless places from a customer service point of view, and there is poor management of vehicles re-entering service in the overall flow.


  7. Funny – the same happened to me last night. I was trying to get to a grocery store on Parliament before it closed, and was waiting at Yonge for a 506 Carlton Eastbound (there was a few sale items there…I know I could have gone to the Dominion in the basement of College Park).

    I had been waiting for about 15 minutes, when I saw 2 streetcars westbound bunched together (albeit one was short turning at Bathurst). I was getting nervous that I’d get to the store when it closed. I saw a eastbound streetcar at Bay, but I knew that by the time all the bodies along the way had been alighted and boarded – I’d miss my chance to buy groceries (plus a half hour blown!) When a cab rolled by that took interac – I hailed it. As we rolled down to Parliament, I saw another 2 streetcars back-to-back westbound (which would have been no more than 5-7 minutes from the last back-to-backs that crossed Yonge).

    I thought there might be a problem on the line – so after buying my groceries, I rode the 506 to Coxwell. Nothing that I could see along the way that would hold up traffic so pathetically. Did the streetcars meet up at Main St, so the drivers could chat, and then they decided to roll out together? I’ve seen it on the Dufferin bus, so I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised. Anyhow I wanted to take the line supervisor outside and pelt him/her with my groceries.

    I’ve supported public transit passionately after living in Europe, but the TTC is seriously causing me to consider getting a small car (smart fourtwo or autoshare for example) and dropping my MDP subscription – since I don’t have time to waste with this line management chicanery.


  8. Steve wrote: “because the Feds, who never were historical partners in this area, are not coming to the table with buckets of cash”.

    While I agree that this is true, it disillusions me to see the lack of creativity with TTC management. For example, not to rehash the Bombardier subway deal for its own merits, but that whole story is an excellet example of the TTC’s lack of creativity.

    The TTC and the City should have put their own funding issues first and announced they would go with a lower bid that was offshore, but would reconsider a Canadian firm if they could get the same deal. This would have OTHER groups lobbying for both federal and provincial funds on their behalf. Instead, the TTC goes with a higher bid (real or perceived) that puts more strain on their already-tight budget up front, AND makes it harder for them to go to the province and feds with hat in hand (“you don’t *really* need the money, since you can choose to go with a supplier that cost XXX more?!?”).


  9. [Response to Wayne’s comment]

    I usually find that your only bet is to sometimes just walk to King, rather than waiting.  At leased the walk warms you up, and yet you still get there faster.


  10. “Buses on time are more important than buses serving passengers.”

    Sometimes I get the impression that if one northbound 25 bus arrives at the Don Mills station and there is an earlier one still sitting there, the drivers don’t appear to like it if I switch from the one behind to the one ahead.  It’s as if my staying on the trailing bus is part of their load management plan, like I’m a commodity that is being shipped somewhere at their convenience.


  11. “Given our priorities, we will keep the Gardiner standing at whatever cost it takes, while transit services wither for lack of capital and operating funding.”

    I can’t decide if that’s better or worse than Pittsburgh, where the city, county, and state administrations are in just about round-the-clock negotiations to keep the Penguins hockey team in town past this summer, but nobody’s interested in doing what it would take to not cut transit service by 25% in July.


  12. A number of objects moving at random will tend to form clusters.  As do transit vehicles.  People have noted this in these threads, and obviously vehicle clustering can greatly reduce the service level on a route.  Here are a couple of possible remedies.  Other readers should be able to come up with others.

    Within the subway, all trains are stopped at the nearest station so that they hold their position when there is a stoppage anywhere on the line. This technique could also be used on bus or streetcar lines provided reliable vehicle location and communications is available.  The good part is normal service can be restored faster after the blockage is cleared.  The bad is that people get anoyed in a vehicle stopped for no apparent reason.

    Steve:  This is possible and necessary on the subway.  Surface routes don’t have the option of stopping every time something happens five km down the line.  Indeed, it is far preferable to assume that a delay will be relatively short and adjust the service later, rather than throwing the whole line out of whack.  On the subway, this approach is necessary to prevent dangerous overcrowding at stations where, otherwise, trains might continue to pour passengers into a crowded space much like the sorceror’s apprentice.

    When 2 vehicles come together, rather than short turn one of the trailing vehicles, move the local traffic to the second vehicle and run the first vehicle non-stop to the next major stop.  This should work particularly well on St. Clair between the two subway stations.

    Steve:  The TTC used to be good at this, but it depended on having route supervisors (or Inspectors as they used to be called) who had a good feel for the line and enough service to give them the resources to manage a delay.  Actually, it is much, much easier to run the first car empty as an express and let the following vehicles take the passengers.  This avoids having to sort out which passengers on the “express” want to get off somewhere in between.  However, TTC practice is (or was in the days of Inspectors) to run the “gap car” to the end of the line and short turn the runs behind it.  This inevitably causes a parade because the gap car is packed, and riders don’t trust that the following cars will actually go to the end of the line. 

    I expect other persons can come up with other techniques that the TTC could implement within their current constraints.  Of course any such processes would need to answer the question “How do they improve the user’s perception of the system?”.

    Steve:  Whatever scheme is used, riders need to feel that the TTC is actually trying to make things better for them, not just pitching them out in the cold to suit some unseen plan.


  13. Thanks for your response Steve.  I think tightening up running times is something the TTC desperately needs to do on many, many bus routes.  I’ve been to Ottawa dozens of times, and the buses there seem to ‘run hot’ almost all of the time.  In fact, I’ve never been on a bus there that crawls along like so many do here in Toronto.  In Ottawa, buses travel at the speed of traffic.  Here, they travel much slower.

    I’m hoping Mr Giambrone has been experiencing these types of annoying problems as well.  Having a TTC Chair who doesn’t own a car and relies upon the TTC is great, because it could potentially result in some long needed improvements.  I guess we’ll soon see if this is true or not.

    Steve:  There have already been some amusing incidents where Chairman Adam is out waiting at a TTC stop with a growing crowd of would-be passengers and emails in (he’s an avid Blackberry user) to staff saying “where’s my bus”.  Now if only we could get the rest of Council and maybe the minions at Queen’s Park to do the same …


  14. Like Wayne, I too had a similar experience with the 510 the other night – I missed a southbound car to Union Station, and then had to wait 20 minutes for the next one, as the next 10 cars that passed all turned at King! I know that some of those were scheduled, but the supervisor (who was on the platform at Spadina Station giving these ridiculous orders) was clearly not paying attention to who was where and doing what, as he could have at least turned some of them at Queens Quay and helped the customers south of King.


  15. “There have already been some amusing incidents where Chairman Adam is out waiting at a TTC stop with a growing crowd of would-be passengers and emails in (he’s an avid Blackberry user) to staff saying “where’s my bus”.”

    Do you know what e-mail address he sends to? I’d buy a blackberry for that ability.

    I’d like to respond to Gordon, above who says a number of objects moving at random will cluster.  The problem is, buses aren’t supposed to be moving at random.  The TTC brags that they know where every vehicle is at any time.  If that’s true, then they must also know where their vehicles are not.  They are not travelling east of Bathurst in the above case.  Why doesn’t their system monitor that?  If they have a big map of the routes like they want us to imagine, why aren’t they monitoring that a stop east of Bathurst hasn’t had a bus at it in over an hour?  Then they could contact the ‘inspectors’ (or whatever they’re called) who seem to always be at Lawrence west, and say “Boys, put down the Timmies, and send a bus through to the end”.

    There’s a complete breakdown in the system, and the management of the system when stuff like this happens.  And it does lead to frustration and aggression.  After a decade of horrifyingly bad service, regular customers are getting ready to riot on that route.


  16. I know exactly which day you write about Frank. That morning I placed 3 phone calls to their complaint department – stressing there had been NO buses eastbound to Yonge in quite some time.

    Apparently the supervisor on that route doesn’t know East from West and after watching at least 5 buses go Westbound to Lawrence West Station – he sent three back eastbound and short turned them all at Bathurst.

    The problem with all of this is that it is a daily occurence and becoming quite aggravating. Between the elderly, infirmed etc that have to stand in the cold, nevermind myself, and trying to get on a packed bus on route that holds two high schools, I am leaning towards buying a car.

    I will not be at the mercy of the TTC and them constantly crying foul of having no funds, not enough buses and whatever BS excuses they use.

    Really it’s like being held hostage when I need to get to work I don’t feel like travelling out of my way on a seperate subway line because their service is so unreliable I can’t get to a Yonge line subway.

    The following day after this disaster, I overheard an eldery man with a heart condition say he waited 1 hour and 45 mintes. He couldn’t walk to the subway due to his heart.

    It’s disgusting. TTC doesn’t give a darn either way.


  17. “Having a TTC Chair who doesn’t own a car and relies upon the TTC is great, because it could potentially result in some long needed improvements.”

    I’d say the best part is that he sees the system at its worst, not just its best.  He doesn’t just ride the subway, he doesn’t just ride during rush hours when service is more frequent and inconsistent service is more easily hidden.  As a non-car owner, he rides during the off-peak and sees what it’s like to wait 10 or 15 minutes for a streetcar that a rush-hour-only rider might see every 3 or 4.  He’s probably had to wait for a streetcar at 11 in the evening for twice the supposed average headway only to see 3 of them arrive at once, after half a dozen potential fares have given up and hailed cabs. 

    He’s probably been on a bus that craawwwls along and stops for green lights because there’s too much time scheduled.  And when he rides in the peak, he enjoys the better headways, but he also enjoys overcrowding and having to wait for 3 trains before getting on one with room.  Basically, he probably experiences all the same things that drive your average, everyday rider nuts.


Comments are closed.