How Many Buses Will Fit on the Street?

Many discussions, both on this blog and in some of the Environmental Assessment meetings regarding new transit services, raise the question of a bus route’s capacity.  In the previous post, I looked at the question of vehicle capacity and the number of buses we could fit on a typical street or right-of-way.

Robert Wightman raised the question of services on some particularly well-used streets in days long ago when “frequent service” really meant something, specifically Eglinton Avenue East from Yonge Street. I dug out the schedule summary from January 1968 and compared it with today’s offering. (Regular readers will know what’s coming here.) The service today is much worse than in 1968, but at least some of this can be explained by shifts in riding patterns.

34 Eglinton East:  Back in 1968, there were 26 buses per hour on this route compared to 15 today.

54 Lawrence East:  In 1968, there were 15 buses per hour compared with 10.7 today. 

Several factors affected these routes over the years including the Bloor-Danforth subway (which only ran to Woodbine in 1968) and the Scarborough RT.  These provide a much more convenient trip downtown than riding all the way to Yonge Street.

56 Leaside:  This route once served a thriving industrial area in the Eglinton/Brentcliffe area and operated 24 buses per hour.  This is now a large mall and parking lot with some nearby residential development.  The route operates 2.6 buses per hour today. 

Another factor affecting this route is that in 1968 it ran down Pape to Pape Station.  Heavy service in this corridor is now provided by the 25 Don Mills and 100 Thornliffe Park services, and the 56 Leaside goes to Donlands Station.

51 Leslie:  In 1968, this route operated 3 buses per hour, and by 2007 we are all the way up to 4.

61 Nortown / 105 Mt. Pleasant East:  In 1968, Nortown was a trolley bus route operating from Doncliffe Loop on Mt. Pleasant to Roe Loop on Avenue Road.  This now operates as two separate routes with the 105 covering the east branch.  In 1968 there were 20 buses per hour, and now there are only 4.

This route suffered partly from competition of the Yonge Subway once Lawrence Station opened, partly from gentrification and increased car ownership in North Toronto, and partly from the TTC’s death of a thousand cuts that made the service not worth waiting for when people could walk to an alternate route sooner than the bus would show up.

11 Bayview:  The Bayview bus used to go to Eglinton Station rather than to Davisville, and there were 10 buses per hour.

100 Flemingdon Park:  This route did not exist in 1968, but in 2007 4 buses per hour run over to Eglinton Station from Don Mills.

Adding this all up, we get the following service levels:

On Eglinton from Yonge to Mt. Pleasant:

1968:  98 buses/hour   2007:  40 buses/hour

On Eglinton from Mt. Pleasant to Bayview:

1968:  78   2007:  36

On Eglinton from Bayview to Laird/Brentcliffe:

1968:  44   2007:  34

At this point, we are down to service levels comparable to today.  Note that the extremely frequent service only operated for one km from Yonge to Mt. Pleasant, and to a lesser extent to Bayview, a further 1 km east.  From Bayview east the 1968 service is only slightly better than today’s service (40 buses/hour) on Finch East.

Although in 1968 all services ran local, not long thereafter, express operations were implemented on the most frequent routes to deal with congestion problems.  The only express stop between Bayview and Yonge was at Mt. Pleasant.  Express buses would, of course, pass by the six local stops and vehicles serving them.  The street was full of buses as anyone like me or Robert Wightman, who grew up in that neighbourhood, can tell you.

The section of intense service was quite short and there was only one express stop where every bus would try, sometimes four deep, to pull up to the stop.  Current TTC practice require all buses to pull up to the stop for safety reasons, and the type of operation we saw on Eglinton 40 years ago would not be allowed today unless there were a very long, dedicated stopping area at the express stop.

Eglinton East in 1968 was able to operate extremely frequent bus service only because the buses had two lanes in which to operate and much of the service didn’t have to stop.  Buses could pass each other if necessary (a discussion of why they don’t do this today leads us into the peculiarities of TTC line management).   With only one express stop, Eglinton from Bayview to Yonge was in effect a line-haul operation, the classic Bus Rapid Transit implementation — an express link terminating in a multi-bay transit mall.

This is a very different situation from what we will find on the Waterfront or Transit City lines. 

The areas to be served are or will be developed with housing that will yield many would-be riders at every stop.  Express service will be out of the question.  Moreover, if buses are confined to a two-lane right-of-way on very frequent headways (such as those required to serve the waterfront plans), they will not have much freedom to go around each other at stops because so much traffic will be coming the other way.

If we are going to discuss bus options on major transit corridors, let us be honest about the infrastructure needed to handle them.  Adjusting this discussion for the capacity of articulated buses raises the line somewhat, but doesn’t eliminate the basic problem that extremely frequent “bus rapid transit” cannot provide local service.

4 thoughts on “How Many Buses Will Fit on the Street?

  1. But it can provide for a more flexible service. What’s wrong with articulated buses running express in one dedicated lane as rapid transit and other smaller buses running local in mixed traffic, with clearly marked stops? The long haulers take the express, the others take local. This is something LRT and one track (or trolley buses) can’t do.

    I remember buses on Finch doing skip-stop and leap-frog in the morning AM in the late 80s when the high school crowds ramped up, and it worked really well.

    Steve: One significant problem is that transferring between the local and express services is difficult since they will stop at separate platforms (one at the curb, one in the reserved lane). If the development pattern is not concentrated at major nodes, there will be many riders whose origins and destinations are a long way from the express stops.

    Also, during some off-peak periods, there is probably no need for separate services. This would require extra “local” stops within the right-of-way.


  2. Wow. Those are some very impressive numbers. Was anyone in the late sixties talking about building a subway under Eglinton? All I’ve ever read about was proposed subways under Queen back in those days, but it seems that an Eglinton line would have been feasible back then too.

    Steve: Eglinton was a proposed corridor for a GO Urban line (what eventually became the SRT) in the early 70s and the idea of an elevated down that street was not exactly popular. By 1990, the Peterson subway proposal included an Eglinton subway, but only west from the Allen Road.


  3. Calgary has been flirting with Bus Rapid Transit for a while. But the City finds BRT works only in limited capacities. It doesn’t work well for cross city travel.

    It works quite in areas where there is limited group of people traveling. For example in to Mount Royal College.

    Calgary used BRT in the West Side of the City. It opened 2 years ago, but we are now removing the BRT and replacing with an LRT.


  4. Steve

    “a discussion of why they don’t do this today leads us into the peculiarities of TTC line management”

    Would this be the same line management that short turns the 4th streetcar in a pack of 4 instead of the first streetcar. Thus leaving the passengers of the last streetcar stranded to wait for the next streetcar, which is now hopelessly delayed as it picks up all the folks that didn’t get on that 4th streetcar in the first place!

    I recall years ago watching the buses on Spadina leapfrog up the street in the chaos that Spadina was in those days before the return of the streetcar reservation!

    IMHO St. Clair will be a far more pleasant drive once the R-O-W is complete!

    Steve: Actually, it was once standard practice not to turn the first car, but to turn the second or third one, and certainly not the one at the end of the queue. The gap car would be turned on the way back, but at least the folks who have been delayed the most don’t get turfed off.


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