How Many People Will Fit on a Bus?

Many discussions here lately have included comments about building networks of “bus rapid transit (BRT) as the truly low-cost solution to our transit woes.

Meanwhile, the TTC regularly trots out a chart showing the relative capacities of various modes.  This appears most recently in the Environmental Assessment materials for the eastern waterfront projects.  One of the many appearances can be found in the presentation materials for the West Donlands public meeting held last week.  (Warning:  this file is over 11 mb if you are on a slow link.)

The TTC claims that buses can handle demands of 6,000 per hour or more.  Let’s do the math.

The TTC’s standard for vehicle loading for low-floor buses is 55.  Yes, it is possible to pack more people on the bus, but this makes stop service extremely difficult because people cannot move around on the vehicle.  Also, this is an average load and some buses will be more crowded than others.  For 6,000 passengers per hour, you need to operate about 109 buses per hour, or one every 33 seconds.  Even if we scale up to articulated buses with 50% more capacity, the headway would still be well under one minute.

Such a headway is totally impractical except for one condition:  a line-haul operation where everyone gets on more or less at one place and everyone is going to the same destination.  A good example would be the proposed BRT service from Downsview Station to York University.

If buses have to actually stop along the way to let people on and off, the frequent service requires lots of station capacity and passing lanes so that the inevitable express trips can get around the “locals”.  Traffic lights (yes there will be traffic lights even on a BRT line) typically cycle every 80-90 seconds, and for obvious reasons it is impossible to give every bus an immediate green. 

The effect will be to platoon the buses in groups of two to four, and all of the facilities along the line have to take that into account.

If we are trying to do this in the middle of an arterial road such as Finch or Jane, things get quite messy.  Even at 3,000 per hour, the bus headway would be below the level we have ever operated bus service in Toronto.  I won’t say anything about the noise because, of course, these will all be “silent” hybrids.

The TTC claims that the projected demands in the waterfront corridors are in the area where buses and streetcars overlap.  I beg to differ.  These are local services that will make frequent stops, not an express BRT route.  The TTC’s claims are highly misleading and give the impression that buses are a viable option when, in fact, they are not.  Serious bus traffic jams would result.

This ties back to the Transit City proposals and discussions of alternatives to the Spadina Subway extension.  We cannot provide the capacity we seek in the new LRT corridors with a bus-based network. 

14 thoughts on “How Many People Will Fit on a Bus?

  1. There are many examples of packed low-floor buses operating on busy routes with frequent stop service. The 43 in the AM is one of many (and in both directions too, thanks to the subway at the south end and two highschools at the north end).

    Dwell times at many stops are prolonged because it takes so long for people to squeeze their way to the doors when exiting. If you add to this a driver who refuses to proceed if passengers are standing beyond the white line, people get literally squished like sardines. On some occasions, a driver will let people board via the back doors, but the standing room at the rear of low-floor buses is so narrow due to the double forward-facing seats that it’s very difficult to move around when someone needs to get off. Presumably, this seating configuration was designed to get people to go to the back of the bus, but once you have people standing there as well, it really slows things down.

    So in a nutshell, low-floor buses on high volume routes is a recipe for disaster, whether there is a ROW or not. LRT is the way to go.

    Steve: There is a proposed revision to the seating layout at the back of the low floor buses with two rows of single seats facing each other across the aisle. This looks roomier on paper except that when people actually sit in the seats, the aisle is constrained by their feet, backpacks, shopping, etc.


  2. Why didn’t the TTC order any artics?

    Steve: There is an RFP on the street right now that includes articulated buses as well as regular 40 footers. The following text is taken from the TTC’s Materials & Procurement website:

    Proposal No. P32PY07710
    Date Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2007

    Proposal Close Date: 2:00 p.m., Thursday, May 24, 2007

    Addenda Issued to Date: None

    Description of the Work:

    The Work consists of the supply of 102 inch wide forty foot low floor and/or sixty foot articulated city buses with long life structures for delivery commencing in 2009 and to be completed by the end 2010. The Proponent may choose to offer proposals for either one or both Bus configurations. The base order may consist of up to 210 forty foot or 150 sixty foot articulated or any combination thereof as determined by the Commission. The proposed Bus(es) shall be offered with both a Clean Diesel and Diesel-Electric Hybrid powertrain.


  3. Like the idea of the TTC having a good diverse balance of transit options. This would include the LRT network, the Subways and future extensions, the RT planned extension and BRT where needed. The LRT plan is by far the best transit plan I have read about. I went to the TTC meeting at City Hall after this announcement and the councellors had such enthusiasm for this plan that it was contagious.

    Mississauga has plans for a BRT system and if this plan could be married to the TTC plan it would only strengthen the TTC high ridership numbers and get a lot of idling cars off the QEW and Gardiner Expressway.


  4. My thinking about the BRT was that the express buses would work in tandem with the local buses, so that on the express lane we could, say have an articulated bus every 60 seconds during rush hour. Assuming a non-sardine loading standard of 1.2, we could maybe fit 68 passengers on the bus at once, for a stop thoroughput of 68*60 or a maximum of 4,080 people per hour, say at Senlac and Finch eastbound.

    Limited and local could still operate in the regular traffic lanes, even at their current frequency. It would be an astounding sight, for sure, and most assuredly would have a lower capacity than light rail, but it would be much cheaper and avoid the dreaded Sheppard local rider effect – assuming that frequent service on the Finch rail line would be accompanied by local buses running every 20 minutes or more. Do you know what the transit mode share is for trips on Finch? Experience suggests it would be very difficult to achieve greater than a 70% transit share.


  5. The presentation is hard to follow in this format. It’s not clear what the numbers in the graph mean. This aside, there’s very little difference between streetcars (in the current form in Toronto) and buses in terms of capacity.

    The TTC’s busiest streetcar route is King. The recent report on this routes operations from March 21 2007 shows that the busiest hour of operation is between 8am and 9 am – with 3450 passengers in the core (between Dufferin & Parliament) with BOTH direction counted. This is the segment with 2 minutes headways.

    This works out to 57.5 passengers per vehicle/ At any particular point, the ridership is lower because riders don’t all ride the full distance between these two points.

    The 2-way ridership for each overall peak is about 9000 on a stretch of 5.6 km.

    In comparison, Montreal’s bus service along Park which has about 9000-10000 riders in each rush hour (heure a pointe) on about 6.4 km. This is with service frequency of about 3 minutes with low floor buses. This works out to about 80 passengers per bus. Obviously, people are getting on and off – so there aren’t 80 passengers on for the entire length. (STM plans for 65 riders on the LF buses during peak.)

    Both routes are very busy and noted for being crowded – but the achieved capacity is comparable. If anything, the bus does better. Although the bus is slightly smaller, Montreal buses can pass one another and avoid being bunched up as badly as streetcars. The TTC streetcars bleed capacity by being bunched and in the ensuing short turns.


  6. Thank you for the information. I wonder if stop times could be reduced by somehow setting up a “fare paid” area which people could enter via turnstile or some such arrangement prior to boarding. It seems to me that I saw pictures from some South American city where this is done. I can’t remember its name and don’t know details of how it physically works. But something like this would surely be needed to keep even rail vehicles moving along, if we are talking about the kind of passenger volumes referenced above.

    Steve: The important change is to all-door loading and proof-of-payment fare collection. This requires roving fare inspectors and vehicles that are not so overcrowded it is impossible to get through them to check fares on a random blitz.

    I believe the system you are referring to is in Curatiba. An important distinction is that any kind of pre-paid area takes up street space, and that is usually at a premium for any mode.


  7. I never knew, until I started reading your blog, how backwards-minded the TTC is in many regards. I always thought it was almost all government cutbacks to blame for erratic streetcar service and conservative-minded design choices. I would assume this is also the case with much of the public.


  8. Speaking of articulated buses, I’ve seen that the Viva ones don’t do well at all on a snowy hill. They crawl up-hill or don’t move at all as the tires spin and the bus sort of jack-knifes. Is this a particular problem with Viva models or something inherent in articulated buses?

    Steve: Jack-knifing is a common problem for artics with a “pusher” engine and drive configuration. This can only be avoided by having the front half of the bus powered so that the back half follows as a trailer rather than trying to push the lead half.

    This would actually be easier to implement with a hybrid artic if all wheels were powered and the engine was only used as a generator, not for direct motive power.


  9. I think that articulated buses should be seriously considered for Toronto’s highest volume bus routes. However, this should not preclude the construction of LRT on routes which are too busy for articulated buses alone, such as Eglinton; rather, articulated buses should only be considered an interim solution for those routes until LRT is approved and built.

    The TTC should implement a Proof-of-Payment system on major bus routes and all streetcar routes. This should be a real POP system, not the one used on Queen. Hopefully, tokens and paper tickets will be gone by then, replaced by magnetic and/or smart cards even for single fares; otherwise, passengers would have to take a transfer before boarding a bus or streetcar inside the fare-paid zone, and machines on board the vehicle would need to dispense a paper slip upon depositing a token.

    Could the magnetic readers currently used for metropasses at subway stations be adapted to single-use and 10-use cardboard farecards as an interim measure until a smart card system is implemented, so that new readers are only needed on buses and streetcars?

    Furthermore, I would place fare vending machines at major stops so that people don’t have to line up at the front doors to pay cash fare to the driver, and so that they can conveniently buy 10-ride farecards.

    Steve: The metropass readers now in place are “read only” — they only read the data on the metropass so that it can be verified to unlock the turnstile. They have no capability of updating te fare media to keep track of how many fares have been consumed. This also requires some sort of standard about whether a fare is a new fare, or a transfer. For this to be manageable, a “fare” needs to translate to a limited time pass, say two hours, so that the fare machines would only count a new fare if the timestamp of the last validation was beyond the two hour limit.


  10. I think the alternative streetcar/LRT configuration (pg. 14 of the report) is interesting, with rails in the curb lanes. However, this would work in the ‘burbs where parking lots are everywhere and driveways’ entrances are well defined and spaced. In the urban core, where buildings front very close to the street and parking spaces line the curb, it wouldn’t work. They should lose that picture for Cherry street, but keep it for when they’re talking about Don Mills, N. Jane, Finch and Sheppard East.

    Steve: Actually, I think it will work on Cherry because the sidewalks are wide enough that people won’t feel trapped between the streetcar and the buildings. Also, this will continue the design we will see on Queen’s Quay “around the corner” and up Cherry.


  11. In responce to J Albert, it should be noted that Parc is wider than King in many places and, from my personal experiences of having lived near both streets, less congested during rush hour.


  12. J Albert: you seems to have left out other details such as

    (a) du Parc being a 6-lane boulevard,
    (b) the rush hours-only 535 Cote-des-Neiges buses contributing to the bulk of the transit capacity along that corridor,
    (c) the rush hour bus lanes on du Parc, Rene Levesque, and Cote-des-Neige, and
    (d) the fact that 9000 to 10000 peak hour riders represent the entire Cote-des-Neige/Rene Levesque/du Parc corridor (i.e. sum of 2 of the busiest bus routes in Montreal).

    I’ve lived in Montreal for years and had taken the 80/165/535 buses regularly. Comparing them with the 504 King car is like comparing apples with oranges.


  13. In reply to P. Ouimet-Storrs:

    (a) Park is six lanes only in the stretch that goes by the mountain (where there aren’t many passengers dropped off or picked up during weekday peak). North of Cote St Catherine, it’s a five lane road – and then narrows to 4 lanes for a stretch. Neither Park nor King has much in the way of private vehicular traffic (see our gracious host’s discussion a few weeks back) in the a.m. peak – so the width of the roadway is moot for what is being dicussed here.

    (b) (d) The 9,000 – 10,000 includes the combined peak route 80-535 on the Park leg only. (With the overall route peak is much greater (overall weekday ridership for the 165-80-535 is about 71,000 on an 18 km route. (This work out to 20 million riders on this route alone per annum – more than just about any LRT system in North America.)

    (c) King has lane restrictions just as well as Park has.

    King and Park are both city streets served by frequent surface transit. In both cases, transit has a very high market share in terms of serving personal transportation needs. If you want to call one an apple and the other an orange, that’s up to you. (Which is which?)

    Steve: The lane restrictions on King have never been enforced. Between illegal parking in the curb lane, and traffic that drive in the “transit lane”, often because it has no place else to go, the King Street transit priority scheme has always been a joke. However, for a long time, just putting up signs and praying a lot is what passed for “pro-transit support” in Toronto.


Comments are closed.