This is the first of a series of articles to review service on a number of routes both in the suburbs and downtown. There are three sets of data for November 2011, March 2012 and May 2013. The first two were selected to show the effect, if any, of service cuts implemented in February 2012. All three months had fairly benign weather and this would not have much effect on service. (The winter of 2011-12 was particularly balmy in Toronto.)
Our old friend the Queen car comes in for lots of abuse on this site and elsewhere that transit riders and critics (not necessarily the same group) congregate. For a change, I thought it would be interesting to review a very long bus route, 54 Lawrence East, to see what its service looked like.
Lawrence East is actually longer than Queen (Long Branch), although it operates at a higher speed overall. The express service has a substantially higher scheduled speed, but does not run on the congested inner section of the route.
54 Lawrence East operates three services:
- 54 Eglinton Station to Orton Park (between Markham Road and Morningside)
- 54A Eglinton Station to Starspray
- 54E Lawrence East Station to Starspray Express (peak only, express west of Markham Road)
Peak hour headways are shorter on Lawrence East than on Queen due in part to the size of the vehicles. Although Lawrence East has a 3’00” combined AM peak service, this is only actually available at the few stops between Lawrence East Station and Orton Park served by all three branches. Each of these operates on a 9’00” headway providing an average 4’30” headway over much of the route where only two of them are available.
During off-peak periods, half of the service operates to Orton Park and half to Starspray.
If we are to believe the common wisdom about transit routes, Lawrence East should have more reliable service because it operates in a relatively less constrained environment than the Queen car. In fact, actual service on Lawrence East suffers many of the same problems of bunching and uneven headways differing substantially from the advertised schedule.
Comparing the two routes:
Queen Lawrence East Round trip length (km) 48.88 54.90 Round trip time (mins)* AM peak 180+6 168+3 PM peak 190+15 175+4 Scheduled Speed (km/hr) 16.3 19.3 Local 16.3 19.3 Express 25.7 AM peak frequency 5'10" 3'00" Vehicle type ALRV 40' Bus Design load 108 53 Route design capacity/hr 1254** 1060 East of Humber 1254 West of Humber 627 Lawrence E Stn to Orton Pk 1060 W of Lawrence E Stn 707 E of Orton Pk 707 * Trip time shown as running time + recovery time ** 501 service supplemented by trippers, plus routes 508 & 502 September 2013 schedules
Scheduled service levels for the three months reviewed here were:
Weekdays AM Pk Midday PM Pk Evening Early Late Nov. 2011 3'00" 6'00" 3'20" 10'00" 11'38" Mar. 2012 3'00" 6'50"* 3'20" 10'00" 10'00"* May 2013 3'00" 6'22"* 3'30"* 9'10'* 10'00" Saturdays Morning After Evening Early Mid noon Early Late Nov. 2011 & Mar. 2012 15' 8' 7' 15' 15' May 2013 15' 8' 7' 10'* 15' Sundays Morning After Evening Early Mid noon Early Late Nov. 2011 & Mar. 2012 15' 10' 8' 15' 15' May 2013 15' 8'* 8' 10'* 15'
(*) Midday service was cut in February 2012 with the system-wide reduction in Service Standards. All improvements were in response to growing demand. The PM Peak headway was increased slightly in February 2013 to add running time without adding vehicles to the route.
What Lawrence East does not have is chronic short-turning that deprives the ends of the route of service as on the Queen car. Some outbound Starspray trips short turn at Port Union, and some inbound trips (mainly in the peak) turn back east from Bayview without serving Eglinton Station. Neither of these is as common as short turns at Kipling, Roncesvalles or Woodbine Loop on the Queen car.
The first and most striking fact about the Lawrence East bus is how unreliable its headway is. This statement applies to all locations, directions and hours of service. On the outer end of the route, beyond the Orton Park turnback, there are extremely wide swings in headway values. Bunching is endemic on this route.
These charts show the actual headways at various points along the route for the first day of each sample month. The format of the charts is:
- Each page contains data for one location with time reading left to right, and length of headway plotted vertically.
- Each dot represents one bus and the time (headway) since the preceding bus passed this location.
- Service from all three branches is plotted together.
- The trend line is interpolated between the dots as a best fit showing the overall progressing of headway values through the day. This line tends to stay near the scheduled headway although the actual values vary widely around it.
- Dots near the X-axis (zero value) represent vehicles operating very close to the one immediately preceding.
The spread of the dots around the trend line shows the range of values that riders actually experience. The horizontal scale lines are six minutes apart, and this is the range within which the TTC aims to have all of its service (±3 minutes of the scheduled headway). It is quite clear that the data points are spread considerably wider than a six-minute range, and much of the service does not operate anywhere near the target headway.
Service is uneven westbound from Starspray at all hours, especially evenings (and weekends as we will see later). A review of the details (not shown here) reveals that operators are inconsistent about the location of their terminal layover, and the headway leaving Starspray is uneven because they may lay over somewhere further west. That, would explain things if headways were even west from Port Union, but they are not. The Port Union data is less scattered than at Starspray, but there is still a very wide range of values.
Further west, the Markham Road page is the first to include the Orton Park service. Headways here are not as extended as further east, but they are still quite uneven showing that there is no attempt to merge westbound services to provide a truly blended headway. The situation continues westbound at Kennedy indicating that no attempt was made to even out headways westbound from Lawrence East Station. Many vehicles run in pairs (zero or very short headways), and the pattern continues west to Eglinton Station.
The situation eastbound is no better with uneven headways leaving Yonge Street and continuing all the way to the eastern terminus. As with the westbound service, there appears to be no attempt to smooth out headways either eastbound from Yonge or from Lawrence East Station, both locations where spacing service should be relatively easy.
The 2013 example shows somewhat less widely varying headways, but this could just be the chance of having a “good day”. To look more closely, we have to examine month-long information.
Monthly Headway Summaries
The format of the Monthly Headway charts is:
- There are eight charts showing various subsets of the data.
- The first five show weekdays in each of the five calendar weeks (or partial weeks) in the month.
- The sixth chart contains the data points of all weekdays with no trend line.
- The seventh and eighth charts show data for Saturdays and Sundays.
- The only statutory holiday falling in the subject periods is Victoria Day 2013, and it is included with the Sunday data.
- There are separate trend lines for each day’s data. These are the same lines that would appear on the corresponding daily charts shown above.
The locations are shown to illustrate the route at specific points:
- Port Union: At this point, the inbound service should have passed whatever layover points the operators may choose on the outer end of the line, and the service should be regularly spaced. Most of the time, it is not.
- Markham Road: The Orton Park 54 service has now joined in to the route, and service should be evenly spaced between the 54 and 54A braches. Most of the time, it is not.
- Kennedy: The service has just left Kennedy Station, a point where any headway irregularities could be ironed out. They are not.
- Bayview: The service is well on its way to Eglinton Station. Headways are all over the place reflecting the cumulative effects on the run in from Scarborough.
- Yonge: This shows the headway leaving Eglinton Station eastbound where one might hope for regularly spaced service. Most of the time, it is not.
- Don Mills: We are now in the main portion of the route heading through North York into Scarborough. The service is not regularly spaced because it left Eglinton Station that way.
- Midland: This is just east of Lawrence East Station, and the data include (during peak periods) the 54E express trips. Headways continue to be scattered.
- Kingston Road: By this point, the 54E trips are making local stops, and the plot shows the combined service heading out to Starspray.
For the weekday plots, note how the trend lines all lie together on each week’s set with few exceptions. Although the individual data for each day may vary, the overall patterns do not. This indicates that the amount of service operated was generally the same for each day (buses/hour and distribution of headways around averages) even though individual vehicle spacings might vary.
Saturday trend lines stay together too, although they do spread apart inbound in some cases. This is common on charts where there are fewer data points to “nail down” the trend line, and fewer data points are needed to pull the line far from its typical position.
In all cases, the clouds of data points around the trend lines are quite wide, certainly well above the ±3 minute target range. This shows up most notably in the all-weekday plots.
Over a period from November 2011 to May 2013, the nature of service on 54 Lawrence East has not changed much. It is irregular and unpredictable beyond the information a savvy rider would pick up from NextBus.
In the next article, I will turn to the question of running times between points on the route and the degree, if any, to which “congestion” plays a role in the erratic nature of the service.
[Methodology: Background information on the techniques used in this analysis is available in a technical article: Methodology For Analysis of TTC’s Vehicle Tracking Data.]