I received a comment from Karem Allen in Durham that belongs in its own thread:
A friend asked me if I knew why there would be an empty bus following closely to a full bus and my anwer was — so the empty one would be able to jump ahead and pick up riders.
He told me at one time they could leapfrog and be able to help the other drive but are now strangled in policy.
He told me that if a Driver gets 2 early’s in a month he is suspended. So instead of jumping ahead and taking the riders and let the full one continue the empty one will hang back so as to not be early and of course the stop is empty of people.
Is this still in force?
I did not think buses were on a schedule to be early anyways.
There are a few things going on here worth talking about.
First of all, there is nothing wrong with buses playing leap-frog to handle passengers when they are bunched. This can even out the load and the buses actually make better time going down the street. Sometimes, however, the following driver will let the poor sod in the first bus take all the load. Not fair, but it happens.
Having said that, the TTC does have a fetish for on time performance that can have bizarre results from the customers’ point of view. This is driven by a measure, reported monthly to the Commission, that was introduced by former CGM David Gunn: what proportion of all trips operated within 3 minutes of their scheduled times. This sounds laudable, but like many corporate targets, it skews the very process it is intended to measure.
On routes with frequent service, customers don’t care about the schedule, they care about service reliability. The schedule is important from the drivers’ point of view because they like to get off work on time, but that doesn’t create a requirement to be +/- 3 minutes over their entire shift. However, if the staff are going to be measured on keeping buses on time, then that’s what they do. Vehicles will be short-turned. Drivers will dawdle along a route that has too much running time for the prevailing conditions.
Once upon a time, Inspectors (now called Route Supervisors) would, among other things, space out service by holding vehicles that had bunched up, or where they knew a gap was coming down the line. Unfortunately, the information displays the drivers have from the central monitoring system tell them only how they stand relative to the schedule, not relative to vehicles ahead and behind them. Indeed, if the goal is to stay within 3 minutes of schedule, holding a car to space service may actually violate the goal even though it would provide better service.
The situation Karem describes — the penalty for running ahead of schedule — has been perverted into an operating practice that works against both the schedule and the provision of good service.
For several months, I have been working on an analysis of the operation of major routes using data from the TTC’s vehicle monitoring system, CIS. There’s a lot to dig through, and developing the programs to automate a lot of the analysis took up a lot of my spare time. I don’t want to prejudge this effort, but two major points are starting to emerge:
- Service is not managed well. Yes there are short turns and attempts to fill gaps, but there is an overarching problem that vehicles don’t run on time even on days where traffic is light. Christmas Day was particularly illuminating in this regard. On a route with frequent service (say every 8 minutes on a holiday), a variation of +/- 3 minutes makes a huge difference in the gap riders see between cars, and makes the service feel unpredictable even when it should run like clockwork. Achieving the ontime goal is a snap, but the quality of the service can be appallingly bad.
- Congestion does exist and certainly has its effects. However, it is important to distinguish between congestion that can reasonably be anticipated (it happens in the same place at the same time most if not every day) and random events caused by accidents, local construction projects, etc. The TTC uses congestion as a catch-phrase to describe all of its problems, and I am not convinced that it is the only problem.
If any TTC operators who read this feel like commenting anonymously, I will be happy to post your feedback here. In particular I would like to know how the desire for on-time performance is actually being implemented on the street and if the practices, including disciplinary ones, are counter-productive.
Sunday, March 4, 2:26 pm. Here is a feedback I received.
As a T.T.C. operator for 18 years, I can tell you that there is a big bone of contention from the drivers about C.I.S. and its accuracy. Besides the use of the trump unit, we are expected to know our timing points as well. However in many cases the timing points do not mesh with what is being displayed on the trump unit. You can be on time according to the timing points but the trump will often say that you are early. Conversely, sometimes the trump will say you are on time but you know according to the timing points that you are early.
There are many spots along the various routes where you will be driving along on time and suddenly the trump will jump 2 to 3 minutes. Before you know it, you receive a call wondering why you are early. When you point out the fact that the unit jumped, you are told not to go by it as you should know your timing points! Yet they will beep you and tell you to ease back according to what they see on the screen even if you know that you are on time according to the timing points.
This leads to many disagreements between the drivers and the supervisors monitoring the line through the C.I.S. If we are more than 3 or 4 minutes early we get told to ease back as we may be creating a gap behind us. However if we are more than 3 or 4 minutes or more behind schedule we rarely hear from the supervisors.
In many cases when we are running very late, we have to call C.I.S. and ask if we are going to be turned in order to get back on schedule.
You are right to point out that the drivers don’t seem to pass each other as much any more (unless it’s a line with very frequent service or the lead bus is extremely late). Years ago, on a line with a 5 minute headway for example, if you passed a bus that was a 2 or 3 down and as a result became early yourself, the supervisor allowed it and asked the next bus behind to move it up a bit to fill the gap. Now with the rules the way they are, there have been many times when I am 3 minutes early and will not pass the bus in front of me that is late for fear of being “documented”.
Usually it is 3 times of being documented and it is in to see the divisional superintendant and it goes on your record. I know it is frustrating to the public that we often drive slow or kill a few lights but that is what is expected of us.