Analysis of 29 Dufferin for March 2012 — Part I: Headway Reliability

[Apologies to those of you who are pining for even more articles on the Queen car.  They will show up in due course.  I have been diverted onto Dufferin by recent events.]

Service on the 29 Dufferin bus has been a burning issue for decades.  Buses run in packs, they arrive full of passengers, and the advertised service bears little resemblance to what riders see  on the street.

Recently, this was the subject of an article in The Grid by David Topping.  In it, the TTC’s Brad Ross trots out many of the usual explanations of why service is unreliable.  In deference to Brad (who is really a nice guy), I don’t want to spend an article eviscerating his comments line by line.  I will leave readers to contemplate information in this and following articles and make up their minds.

What riders see is “headways”, the time between vehicles, as well as the degree of variation in that time.  If the TTC says a bus will appear every 5 minutes, and the service manages to achieve this, more or less, most of the time, then a rider will consider this “reliable”.  Even on a wider advertised headway, if buses appear at roughly the expected interval, riders know what to expect.

However, if the headways vary widely from the scheduled value, this makes a service unreliable and riders must, at a minimum, build in additional travel time to account for the possibility of a long wait.  Moreover, at the end of the wait, they may be faced with a jammed bus they cannot board.  There might be another one (or two) right behind, but that makes no difference to the length of the wait, and those buses might not be going to the rider’s destination.  Providing frequent service “on average” is not what riders want to see.

In this article, I will review the actual headways provided by the Dufferin bus at various locations during the month of March 2012.  Although this is technically “winter” (most of it), 2012 was a balmy year and the route operated without the kind of severe weather delays we have seen in 2013.

In future articles I will turn to running times and the effects of congestion on the route’s ability to maintain regular service.  I will also look at a few days’ operation in detail to see exactly what was going on.

The information used for this analysis comes from the TTC’s GPS-based vehicle tracking system which reports the position of every vehicle every 20 seconds allowing fine-grained resolution of movements at any location.

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New Stop Poles and Maps for TTC Surface Routes

The TTC is experimenting with changes to its signage for surface stops with trial installations on the 94 Wellesley bus route.

TTC’s Chris Upfold presented the new designs at the February 25th Commission meeting using a short PowerPoint which I have excerpted here.

The rationale for the new design is that existing stop poles are inconsistent in their display of information and format.  This is no surprise given the evolution of stop treatment over the years, and the application of overlay stickers as needed to reflect changing services.

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TTC Meeting Preview: February 25, 2013 (Update 2)

Update 2 on Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 10:00 am:

Additional information from presentations and debates at the Commission meeting has be added to this article.

The Toronto Transit Commission will meet on Monday February 25, 2013.  This month’s agenda is a tad on the thin side, but there are some reports of interest.

  • CEO’s Report (updated)
  • Status Report on TTC Accessible Services
  • Second exit planning & consultation / Response to Ombusman’s report
  • Leslie Barns connection to Queen Street
  • Accommodating strollers
  • Purchase of 126 articulated buses (updated)
  • Amending the Automatic Train Control System contract to include Spadina/Vaughan extension (updated)
  • Update on Bus Servicing and Cleaning Contract (new)
  • Deputation by Merit OpenShop Contractors Association of Ontario (new)

There was also a presentation on new shelter maps and stop poles.  This item is likely to generate a strong response in the comment thread, and I will create a separate article for it.

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Queen Street and New Streetcars: Less Service, Fewer Stops, Wider Gaps?

The Beach Metro Community News reports on a recent meeting to discuss traffic problems on the east end of Queen Street.  Some comments echo the type of remarks one hears elsewhere in the city about increased traffic from redevelopment, the absolute essential nature of parking to prevent business bankruptcies, and the need to rebalance road space to serve all travellers, including cyclists, not just motorists.

Most troubling are comments by the TTC:

TTC’s Manager of Planning Mitch Stambler talked to the residents about plans to change the Queen Street route. With the new streetcars being introduced next year, two or three of the stops will be eliminated, said Stambler. This is a result of the length of the new streetcars.

Stambler also admitted that less streetcars will run along Queen Street because of its increased capacity. Cost of operation and studies related to ridership will dictate how many and how often the new streetcars will run.

One resident who lives at the east end of Queen Street expressed concerns with streetcars stopping idle near the Neville loop. Stambler said he hopes that with the decreased frequency of the bigger streetcars the issue will be eased.

The TTC has been inconsistent in statements about how the new cars would affect service.  Initially, the idea was that larger cars would provide more capacity, badly needed on many routes including Queen.  A few years later, thanks to the penny-pinching budgets of Mayor Ford and TTC Chair Stintz, the idea of actually improving service capacity vanished.  Indeed, the TTC has already relaxed its off-peak loading standards for streetcars to allow more standees in a bid to save on operations.

Add to this the highly irregular headways on Queen and other routes, any proposal to run fewer streetcars can only mean one thing: service, which declined substantially when headways were widened for the 75-foot long articulated light rail vehicles (ALRVs), will get even worse with the new larger low floor cars (LFLRVs).

The TTC likes to talk about how running fewer cars will improve service by reducing the bunching inherent when cars are scheduled more frequently than traffic signal cycles.  This does not, and has not, applied to Queen Street for many decades.  Indeed, the TTC tries to make virtue out of wider headways by generalizing an hypothesis originally developed for a simulation of operations on the busy King streetcar downtown during peak periods.  There is no comparison to the Queen car in The Beach.

As for stop spacing, there have been many comments on this site about the excessive number of stops on Queen and other routes.  Among the most likely to vanish are the Sunday stops especially if any special sidewalk treatment or fare machine installations would be required.  (All of the Sunday stops on Roncesvalles came out as part of that street’s redesign.)  Some other stops are simply too close together, and these are often leftovers of historical traffic patterns dating back to the 50s and beyond.

With all its emphasis on “Customer Service”, the TTC owes streetcar riders in Toronto a clear statement on its intentions for service with the new cars.  Moreover, as a long series of service analyses here have demonstrated, the TTC must aggressively improve its line management to ensure that the headways it advertises are actually delivered to customers.  No more excuses.  No more “mixed traffic, congestion and TTC culture”.  No more bogus stats that use averages to hide the widespread TTC failure to deliver reliable service.

[Thanks to James J. for sending me the link to this article.]

Getting to the End of the Line: Short Turns on the Queen Car

This article continues the series on 501 Queen car operations in November 2011 by looking at the level of service operated beyond common short turn points on the route.  This should be read in conjunction with the previous articles on the route’s headways and running times.

The TTC has a target for headway “punctuality” of ±3 minutes of the scheduled value, and a target that this should be met 70% of the time.  In practice, the space between many vehicles exceeds this target, sometimes quite substantially, but much is hidden by averaging of values over multiple locations, times and days.  Riders, however, experience service at specific times and locations, and averages are cold comfort when they find themselves in the 30% of service that does not meet the target.

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Running Times for the Queen Car: The Long Ride from Neville to Long Branch (Update 2)

Updated February 16, 2013 at 11:00 am:  The graphs of average trip times have been revised to show the data in two ways — grouped by calendar week, and grouped by day of the week.  The commentary has been updated to reflect this change.

Updated February 14, 2013 at 6:40 pm:  Graphs showing the average values of trip times in hourly blocks have been added to this article.  This consolidates information from the scatter diagrams showing values for individual trips, and simplifies comparison of averages to the scheduled times.

Recently, I wrote about the reliability of headways on the Queen route during the month of November 2011.  That article was intended both to confirm the erratic nature of service well-known to riders of the line, and to put in context the TTC’s own “punctuality” claims and targets.

A common rejoinder from the TTC is that services operated in mixed traffic are subject to unpredictable delays causing not only bunching, but also such a variation in running times that short turns are an inevitable result.  Operators, on the other hand, complain that scheduled running times are less than what is needed for a car to actually traverse the city, and late running is built into the timetable.

This article reviews data from the service operated during November 2011.

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Metrolinx Meeting Preview: February 14, 2013 (Update 2)

The Metrolinx Board meets on February 14 with an agenda that, as usual, features a rather long private session followed by a shorter public one.  There will be brief updates on GO Transit and the PRESTO farecard project, a Customer Service Committee update, and one substantive item – updates to the regional plan, The Big Move, and feedback from the public consultation sessions now in progress.

Updated February 15, 2013 at 9:10 am:  Notes from discussions at and after the Board meeting have been added to this article.

Update 2 at 12:45 pm:  The date for Board approval of the Investment Strategy has been clarified.

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Service Changes Effective Sunday, March 31, 2013

The TTC budget provides for a spring and a fall round of service improvements in 2013.  In the “March” schedule period (which actually starts at the end of the month), service hours will increase by about 1%.  After a dip for the seasonal reductions over the summer, the September budget includes another 1% increase with a few smaller increments in October and November.

Almost all of the current round of improvements are in off-peak periods because of the limited number of spare vehicles for better peak service.

2013.03.31 Service Changes

Service Changes Effective Sunday, February 17, 2013

The February schedule period brings only minor changes to TTC service.

The 192 Airport Rocket will be rerouted northbound to use Highway 427 rather than Highway 27, and buses on this route now have luggage racks opposite the rear doors.  For more information on the background to these changes, see TransitToronto’s article.

The schedule for 38 Highland Creek will be revised to minimize layovers at the loop at UTSC and resulting conflicts in bus traffic.

The schedule for 41 Keele will be revised to remove some of the additional running time provided for construction delays at Finch West Station.

The 123 Shorncliffe route’s crew break and relief point will be moved from Sherway Gardens to Kipling Station to reduce time lost by these changeovers.

The schedule for 90 Vaughan will be revised to shift some layover time from the north to the south end of the route to avoid having buses blocking traffic at the north loop.

The following routes have running time adjustments.  These consist of changing layover times into driving time with no alteration in scheduled service:

  • 49 Bloor West
  • 54 Lawrence East
  • 168 Symington

The following routes have time point adjustments that are meaningful only in the sense of measuring whether a bus is “on time” at intermediate locations along the routes.

  • 25 Don Mills
  • 26 Dupont
  • 34 Eglinton East
  • 100 Flemingdon Park
  • 30 Lambton
  • 56 Leaside
  • 51 Leslie
  • 67 Pharmacy
  • 53 Steeles East
  • 112 West Mall
  • 95 York Mills

Service improvements are planned for many routes effective March 31, 2013.  These will be covered in a separate article.

Waterfront East Update: February 2013 (Updated)

The Waterfront Toronto Board met on February 6, 2013, and received a presentation on the transit options under consideration for Queens Quay east from Bay to Parliament.

Updated February 7, 2013 at 1:20 pm:  The presentation materials from the February 6, 2013 Board Meeting are now available online.


When a transit line to the eastern waterfront was first proposed, the cost estimate was considerably lower than today.  Waterfront Toronto has only $90-million left in the account for this project because some of the originally intended funds have been redirected to the Queens Quay West project now underway.

Coming into 2012, the project estimate had grown to $335m broken down as:

  • $112m for changes to the Union Station loop
  • $156 for the tunnel on Queens Quay from Bay east to Freeland
  • $66m for the surface portion from Freeland to Parliament

This number is now felt to be low because, somehow, the TTC has acquired a new “mandate” to relocate all utilities under its rights-of-way and this will push up the cost of the surface segment.  (As an aside, I cannot help wondering how much of this is gold-bricking by utilities who seek to renew/replace their existing plant at the transit project’s expense.)

Because Waterfront Toronto does not have full funding available for this project, they are looking for an interim solution that would improve transit in the area for the next 5-15 years.  The criteria fall into four groups:

  • quality and capacity,
  • ability to be implemnted,
  • costs and benefits, and
  • operations and neighbourhood impacts including traffic.

The options under study are not screened out just because they exceed $90m as it could be worth finding additional funds for a better solution.  Broadly speaking, the options fall in three groups: under $90m, about $150m and about $250m.

“Operational” evaluation will include consideration for effects on both the Ferry Docks and on the proposed new bus terminal (tentatively planned by Metrolinx as part of a development northeast of Bay & Lake Shore).

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