Buses vs LRT: “And”, Not “Or” (Updated)

Updated September 6, 2010 at 4:50 pm:

Anna Mehler Paperny of the Globe and Mail writes about the difficulties of getting around on a bus network where service leaves much to be desired.

The better way? Don’t get Janet Fitzimmons started.

The East Scarborough resident lives less than five kilometres from her work in the Kingston Road-Galloway Road area. But the bus ride takes a good 40 minutes – once the Lawrence Avenue bus comes, if it isn’t full. If the weather’s nice, her commute is faster by foot.

“But I’m lucky: I’m able-bodied and healthy.” And, she adds, “my commute isn’t bad for Scarborough.” A colleague of hers takes three buses to traverse what’s barely a seven-kilometre direct trek.

Meanwhile, Tyler Hamilton of The Star tells of the travails of attempting to use service on Kingston Road in The Beach.

Last Tuesday I needed to head downtown – Bay St. and King St. – for an event. […] It was rush hour. I seemed to have plenty of time, so I decided to take the 503 Kingston Rd. streetcar route. Checked the schedule. Walked to my stop and arrived what I thought was 10 minutes early.

No streetcar. Twenty minutes later, no streetcar.

This is rush hour, remember. Finally a bus that would take me along Queen St. arrived and the driver encouraged me to get on. “The 503 won’t be coming. Take Queen St.,” he says. “It will get you close. Hop on.”

I hop on. A man sitting across from me leans over and says, “TTC, eh… it means take the car.” I offer a forced chuckle. The bus drives along Kingston Rd. for five minutes and then reaches Queen St. “Time to get off,” the driver says. Huh? I join a herd of passengers exiting the bus. Apparently I should have known about transferring onto a Queen St. streetcar.

Confused, I wait. I wait. I don’t see a streetcar. I see a cab. Hail it. It will be worth the $20 at this point – enough money, mind you, to drive half a month in my Honda Civic.

I share my frustration with the cab driver. “The TTC is good for the cab business,” he replies with a smile.

Of course, a regular rider would know that there is no such thing as a 503 car, at least not until September 7 when streetcar service returns to Kingston Road.  The scheduled bus service is every 12 minutes on the 502 and 503 providing a supposedly blended 6 minute headway.  Take the first thing that comes along if you’re going downtown.  If it’s a 502, change to the King car at Broadview if you want King rather than Queen Street.  This is the sort of survival tip a regular will know, but a novice won’t.

By the way, the streetcar services will run every 15 minutes, with an allegedly combined service of 7’30”.  Don’t hold your breath.  A big problem with both of these routes is that they are short-turned and wind up missing the very customers they are intended to serve.

Add to this the appalling off-peak service and you have a recipe for driving away customers.  The 502 bus or streetcar is scheduled every 20 minutes, but only a few days ago I waited 36 minutes for one to show up.  I had not just missed one, and so the gap was easily over 40 minutes.  By the time we reached Queen Street westbound, we had a light standing load even on that wide headway, and we had also passed two eastbound 502s.  That’s right:  3 of the 4 buses on the route were east of Coxwell.  This is called “line management”.

The real irony is that the 12 Kingston Road bus comes and goes at Bingham Loop every 10 minutes.  There is better service east of Victoria Park than west of it on weekdays.  Evening and weekend service on the 22A Coxwell is better than on the 502.  This is one of the few places in the TTC where weekday service is worse than at any other time, and that’s assuming the weekday service is vaguely on schedule.

An important part of improving bus services generally is that the TTC must stop thinking of the outer parts of lines as places where short turns and unpredictable, infrequent service are acceptable.

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