Analysis of Transit Route Operations

Over the next month or so, I will be posting a series of articles here about the operation of surface routes and will concentrate on lines in the King and Queen corridors.  This analysis will look at the way the line actually operates — how the vehicles move around (or not) — as opposed to the question of whether service is adequate to demand.  These topics are related by the long-standing question of why service is so bad:  congestion, number of vehicles, operational screwups, or some other factors.

This work arises from the TTC’s oft-cited claim that they can only improve transit service with exclusive lanes.  That is a self-defeating position because the TTC will never get reserved lanes on most transit routes.  Rather than figuring out how a route might be improved, the TTC claims its hands are tied.  This is not a useful stance, but it’s sadly typical of an organization whose first response to criticism is (a) you’re wrong and (b)  someone else is responsible.

I remember the initial reaction to the Transit’s Lost Decade report that I did with Gord Perks (then at TEA).  The TTC huffed and puffed and said that service had not been cut so badly and how dare we say things like that … then there was a little pause … and finally they realized that this was just the ammunition they needed to beat the drum for better funding.  Suddenly then-CGM Rick Ducharme was quoting our figures as an example of how badly the system had deteriorated.

Service on major routes was cut through the 1990s by from 25 to 40 percent, and only recently have we seen some of this restored despite ongoing ridership growth.  One major constraint is the size of bus and streetcar fleets that declined to match the lower levels of service.  This only affects peak service capabilities.  Another change has been in the operator workforce through a combination of re-sizing to current service levels and of work rules restricting the length of the work day.  (This is due both to Provincial labour standards and revisions to the collective agreement.)

Traffic congestion is a problem in many areas, and the length of the peak period has definitely grown longer over past decades.  However, is congestion the only reason service is bad, or are other factors at work?  Are there problems with regularity of service and line management?  How often is scheduled service cancelled?  How often are there major blockages (especially a problem for streetcars) as opposed to random events, delays at busy stops for overcrowded vehicles and general congestion?

How effective is the TTC’s current vehicle monitoring system, CIS (Communications & Information System), in tracking vehicles and how well is the service managed?  The TTC is seeking information for a possible “next bus” announcement system.  Will this be compromised by an attempt to recycle decades-old CIS technology?  Will it include features needed to properly manage and report on actual service and operations?

In Setember 2006, I asked the TTC for sample data from CIS in an attempt to learn how vehicles actually behaved on various routes with the hope of identifying problem areas both for congestion, where it really exists, and in line management.  CIS is incapable of reporting on vehicle loads, and its data are not fine-grained enough to allow reporting on stop service times in most cases.  Therefore, my analysis has to concentrate on vehicle movements.

Through the fall, I worked through various sample sets of data refining the process of converting it to various usable formats, and by the end of the year had a workable version.  Based on this, I have obtained CIS data for all streetcar routes plus a number of major bus routes for December 2006.  This month contains a variety of days with good and bad weather, pre-Christmas shopping and a holiday week.

The King route received the first detailed analysis, and I will present excerpts from this here over the next few weeks.  I have begun work on the Queen line (and related routes Lake Shore, Downtowner and Kingston Road) and will comment on these as well.

All of the posts will be linked via their own topic “Service Analysis”.

Please stay tuned.