The TTC has posted a new report on its Customer Service page which displays the route-by-route on time departure scores for the past three years. Reports of this nature were promised in the “Customer Charter” but have been missing since the first quarter of 2015.
There is no explanation of what these scores actually mean, although this can be gleaned from the comparable system wide-scores in the CEO’s Report.
This KPI measures adherence to scheduled (59 seconds early to five minutes late) departure times from end terminals. [p. 38]
The overall values for the bus and streetcar systems (from the CEO’s Report) are shown below.
The bus system does somewhat better than the streetcars, but on time departures still sit in the 80 percent range, and trends for the past three years follow a similar pattern.
For the streetcars, barely half of the service is “on time”. The real problem for both modes is the definition of what is measured, where this is taken, and over what period.
When there is a six-minute window in which a vehicle is considered to be on time, but when the scheduled gap between cars anywhere below about 9 minutes, then pairs of vehicles can operate across a route and still count as “on time”. For example, if departures are scheduled at 12:00 and 12:09, but the actual times are 12:05 and 12:08 (one five minute late, the other 1 minute early), it does not take long for this to coalesce into a pair of vehicles. For a 6 minute headway, the pair can leave a terminal together and be “on time”. That the TTC cannot achieve better stats even with such a generous metric for streetcar lines which tend to have frequent service is a bad starting point.
The next problem is that this measure is taken on an all-day basis and only at terminals. There is no breakdown of whether service is more or less “on time” during peak periods, midday, evening or weekends, not to mention that service once vehicles leave a terminal can be nothing like the terminal departures. This was shown in my recent analyses of service on 505 Dundas and 505 Carlton bus operations, and there are similar problems throughout the system. Most riders do not actually board at the terminals, and so the gapping and bunching they experience is worse than that reflected in the official stats.
Finally, “on time” is a meaningless metric for riders on frequent routes where the schedule per se is of little interest, only that a bus or streetcar appear “soon” and that there is room available when it does. The word “they” should never apply to transit vehicle arrivals, but this is all too common as every route analysis I have performed (many published here) show where bunching is common even on wider scheduled headways.
At the individual route level, the picture is rather gloomy as one can see in the detailed report. Note that for best viewing, this pdf should be downloaded and then viewed at a magnification where the details are clearly visible. The sample page below shows the problem of viewing at too small a scale. Fortunately the level of detail in the pdf is such that magnification retains the fine details.
Here is the graph for 7 Bathurst at a higher magnification:
The green line shows the 90% target, the blue line shows actual values and the red line is a linear trend. This is a route which through schedule changes has managed to improve quite a bit, notably from early 2017 onward.
The percentage figures show annual values for routes over the past four years. Few routes hit the 90% mark (unsurprising given system averages), although many show ongoing improvement.
The streetcar routes are particularly bad, although as noted above, it is really less a question of on time departures than of regular vehicle spacing for routes with frequent service. Some values shown below are quite striking:
- 501 Queen: At 35% in March 2018 although it has bounced back to about 60% in April.
- Low values on 502 Downtowner and especially on 503 Kingston Road. Until recently, 502 operated weekdays until about 7 pm, and 503 was peak only. They have now reversed these roles. The concept of “on time” is entirely foreign on these routes as anyone who attempts to use them will attest. Pairs of vehicles separated by wide gaps are quite common.
- 509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina share trackage but tend not to be “on time” if only because conditions at their terminals force cars to queue up.
- 511 Bathurst has always run off schedule with a few bursts of “on time” improvement.
- 512 St. Clair in 2018 is particularly bad, and as a route with an entirely private right-of-way, this cannot be explained away by that catch-all excuse “congestion”, especially for all-day stats.
One has to ask just how meaningful these numbers and charts actually are, but collectively they suggest that line management is far from a TTC priority no matter what they may say about the importance of “customer service”.
There are various ways to measure service quality, and each scheme tends to focus on specific effects, usually those that were an issue when the metrics were created. For example, in a headway-based metric, two vehicles travelling together cause more riders to wait a long time, and they tend to be crowded on the first vehicle (lest the second be short-turned). The actual experience for the average rider is miles away from the calculated average headway and loading factor. Indeed, the second (and third etc) vehicles in a bunch are almost “not there” because they contribute so little to overall service quality. Nothing in the TTC metrics picks this up, and even what is measured is generally at the “best” points on the route, the terminals.
Another problem the TTC faces is that the quality of line management varies greatly by time of day and day of week. Evenings and weekends, especially those with statutory holidays, tend to have ragged service.
By chance, the problem of late evening service came up on May 30-31, the day before I wrote this article, in a Twitter exchange where a rider complained to the TTC about bunched service on 512 St. Clair. I browsed other routes, and found that the 512 was not alone with this problem. The maps below are snapshots from NextBus.
For those who wish to display such maps, the URL is
Replace the route number with the route of your choice.
This is at 12:43 am May 31 on St. Clair when there are supposed to be 10 buses in service. Three of them are at Yonge Street, and two are together between Dufferin and Lansdowne. One is not visible possibly having signed off of the vehicle tracking system for a layover.
Here is 506 Carlton at 12:47 am. Three buses are clustered eastbound at Coxwell, and there is no westbound vehicle between Victoria Park Station and a point west of Bathurst. Three vehicles are at High Park Station.
Here is 501L Queen (the Long Branch shuttle) at 12:51 am. There are supposed to be five buses on this service, and three of them are at Long Branch Loop.
Finally, here is 511 Bathurst at 12:49 am with three cars at Bathurst Station. This is supposed to be a service every 6 minutes with 8 cars.
This type of situation is common and it speaks to an abdication of responsibility for headway management during a period when reliable service becomes more important for travel late at night.
The TTC pins its hopes on the new VISION vehicle monitoring and service management system, but as any IT professional will tell you, the greatest technology is useless if the organization does not believe in using what it has to actively manage its business. TTC service quality is the Achilles’ Heel in any attempt to “sell” transit as an alternative.
In coming weeks I will turn to several of the major suburban bus routes to review how reliably they operate.
Ostensibly, the TTC Board should have, as one of their functions (the PRIMARY function?) the role of acting as advocate for TTC passengers – you know, the actual users of the system…. Given the makeup of the current Board, however, where some of the members have displayed an “I-don’t-give-a-sh%$-about-transit-but-hey-it’ll-look-great-on-my-résumé-during-the-next-election-(provincial-or-municipal) attitude towards doing anything pro-transit and pro-passenger, especially if it is going to cost money (pet projects excepted).
For my money, the only two members I would possibly trust are Vice-Chair Alan Heisey and Joe Mihevc, partly because I am not familiar with all of the members and partly because I am only too familiar with some of the other members!
But, let’s look back at the issue at hand, which is “How to Run a Transit System that is Never Consistently on Time but About Which We Will do Nothing but Wring our Hands and Blame, um Traffic and, um, Whatever Else We Can Think of….” I’d like to point out that, if in the springtime after the thaw the Mayor announced a big “We’re gonna fill all the potholes around the city” initiative, in particular where residents could phone 311 to report a pothole on their street or during their commute, the Public Works crews would be working 24-7 for a month so that the streets were pothole-free. But there’s no way for the public to complain about the fact that they regularly wait 20 minutes on a 10-minutes-or-better route or watch 2 buses show up caravan-style before they can get to the stop and then wait 20 minutes for the next bus (or 2 buses, caravan-style) to show up. Or watch jam-packed-full buses bypass them because of bad spacing and high demand.
I confess, Steve, that I have not yet dug into your documents in “magnified” detail but, just looking at the visible Monthly On-Time Departures March sheet for the indicated bus routes, there are more Red X’s than Green Check Marks overall. Back to my example, if only 75% or 80% of reported potholes had been filled, can you imagine the angry phone calls coming in from the public? And if you were a business owner, where is a 75% approval rate seen as good enough? Wouldn’t you be asking why the other 25% of your customers are not happy and work to resolve those issues?!?
So, back to the Board and being advocates: Board members should be grilling TTC staff and DEMANDING clear explanations for “bad” performance, i.e. “Why are transit vehicles not leaving stations/turn-around points when they are scheduled to?” Or “If ‘traffic’ is heavy and vehicles are not able to progress at their regular speed, why are we not holding back vehicles to prevent bunching thereby avoiding big gaps farther along in time along the route?” Or, “Why are two different Bus Routes that share the same street space arriving at a shared stop at the exact same time, instead of being slightly staggered to pick up passengers who may arrive in the intervening interval?”
The Board members also need to demand:
Oh, and they need to stand up to the rest of Council and tell them to get stuffed when Councillors balk at the idea of spending money to buy buses and streetcars to expand fleets, build bus garages to expand capacity and expand – or just maintain reasonable – service to benefit those taxpayers who use the transit system.
Steve: Two observations.
First, when Rick Leary, now acting CEO, was hired by Andy Byford, his explicit job was to clean up surface operations. Part of that exercise included changing the metrics, and even then, the organization cannot hit the targets.
Second, today I waited for the Bathurst Bus southbound at Davenport just after 3 pm. There was a big gap and then two buses came together. Plus ça change.
The only metric that seems potentially meaningful, to me anyway, from the route-by-route report is “Current Status.”
88.4% of routes, or 138 out of a total of 156 routes measured have a current status that is identified as unfavourable.
This seems fairly concerning to me but, without a route-by-route qualitative analysis, I do not know specifically why it is concerning and/or how, specifically, the concern(s) can be resolved.
The “Ongoing Trend” tells a different story, of course, but a three-year historical trend line; i.e. transit service already delivered, is not incredibly relevant for current customers if most of the buses and streetcars are running late in March 2018 (and possibly also on June 1, 2018).
Overall, the emphasis really does seem to be on reporting, rather than taking it one step further and forecasting.
By forecasting, I mean, at a high level, what tactics will be deployed on a route-by-route basis to bring the 138 routes that are currently unfavourable into line?
On a practical matter, having a measurement called “Mixed,” is not really necessary. If an organization draws a line is drawn in the sand, in this case 80%, it can either “Meet (= 80%),” “Exceed (> 80%),” or “Fail (< 80%)."
"Mixed," by contrast means nothing but, if determined to use it, sure, it can mean -2.5%. But how on Earth can +2.5% by "Mixed." Surely, +2.5% must be "Favourable!"
That 47 Lansdowne has a favourable ongoing, 3-year trend is baffling to me. Maybe they forgot to measure the B and C branches.
Steve: The TTC has taken to reporting three-year trends lately to smooth out variations which for some metrics, such as vehicle failure rates, can bounce around a lot because the number of failures per month is low, and a small change makes a big difference in the metric. However, a three-year trend in service quality is meaningless, and it masks seasonal fluctuations and events such as construction projects. If anything, the blue line (current values) should be prominent and the trend line should be backgrounded.
As a more general observation, the TTC really does not seem to understand how to choose or present data regarding service quality meaningfully.
Though the information presented is not a surprise, this was one of your most depressing posts for quite a while. Not only has the TTC set up the ‘on time’ metrics to (as you point out, again) be virtually meaningless to ‘the man on the bus’ (or, in our case, waiting for the next pack of buses to arrive) but they then cannot even meet their own VERY low bar. Yes, buses and streetcars are held up by traffic and accidents etc etc but the %s shown are really dreadful. It CAN be done better!
Compiling all this data is worthless. Because nothing is done to ensure proper operation of the service. I still maintain On Street supervision to see what is actually taking place is sorely lacking. Archaic practices prevail simply because they have “always done it this way.” The 3 minute plus/minus On Time is one example. Gaps and bumper-to-bumper buses are far too prevalent.
Last Saturday I was at Doors Open and returning home I travelled by subway from Union Station to Eglinton West Station. Checking posted schedule for 32A westbound it indicated “10 minutes or better”. BTW No on site Supervisor. Buses came and went in both directions for branches and other routes, short turns, A “Sorry ….” bus. About 15 in total. More than 30 minutes went by before a 32A westbound arrived. THREE buses bumper-to-bumper. First one loaded all 32A waiting passengers PLUS many more waiting for any 32 as it had been a while with no 32C or 32D resulting in SRO. Stop after stop the first bus struggled to handle waiting passengers. For MILES all three buses were bumper-to-bumper and none made an attempt to get ahead of the first packed bus until near old Kodak when the two almost empty buses passed the first one. No call to first bus from Transit Control to check on what was happening. This is just plain STUPID!
Steve: But don’t you understand? It will be impossible to run good service on the 32 until Crosstown construction finishes, so why should we bother to try?
Yes, indeed. Why bother? it will only be a few more YEARS, assuming of course it is completed On Time! LOL
I truly feel sorry for all those small business owners (99% of total businesses) who are suffering and have failed.
On another recent occasion mid-day on Eg West I counted 13 buses eastbound before ONE came west!
In addition, the 32 will be a significantly altered route once the Crosstown opens…and if the Crosstown West gets built as hoped, the line as we know it now will basically be gone…so why bother trying to fix something that will just disappear in a few measly years? Besides, the worse the 32 looks today, the better the Crosstown will look tomorrow (er, in 2021). Think of the first report after the Crosstown opens and the jump is those on-time and customer satisfaction metrics!
Steve: You do realize, I hope, that my comment was in jest as a satiric view of a typical TTC response. Ah yes, customer satisfaction metrics. Andy Byford’s holy grail of transit management.
As was mine, at least an attempt 🙂 maybe it was not clear.
In all fairness though, it is hard to find the line between seriousness and comedy when one reads that a departure from a terminal that is 5 minutes late is considered “on time”…
Those nifty green/yellow/red ‘dashboards’ are much loved by management-by-numbers types. However the problem can be that the dashboard can be made all green while making service worse for users.
Take 123 Shorncliffe, a route with which I’m reasonably familiar. It went from a dismal 50% on-time service in 2015 to a stellar 91% on-time service in 2016. Break out the champagne, right?
Well, not so fast — literally.
I don’t have a very good collection of service summaries, but I do have one from 2013 and one from 2017.
In 2013, morning peak, the Long Branch-Kipling branch was scheduled for 49 minutes plus five minutes recovery, with a route average speed of 22.6 km/h.
In 2017, the morning peak Long Branch-Kipling branch (a slightly different routing, but the two routings should in theory be interchangable) is scheduled for 58 minutes plus 10 minutes recover time, at 19.3 km/h. You can see similar running time increases for midday and afternoon peak.
This leads to the situation where the bus either runs very slowly, or seems to run at normal speed only to take a five-minute break, midroute, at Sherway Gardens.
Now it is true that the 123 had too many big gaps and short-turns for a route that mostly goes through suburban industrial/commercial. However, this was only at certain times of the day, or during holiday shopping season.
No worries, the TTC applied its simple solution of “increase running time”. Instead of 50% on-time operation, which at least was quick once you got on the bus, it’s now 100% leisurely operation.
Steve: This is a big problem across the system, and it compounds when the layovers inherent in padded trip times come to be expected even when schedules are adjusted to reduce them, or when buses are late. Operators think they are owed the breaks. There is no question that they deserve rest breaks, but there are other ways to handle crewing to achieve this without driving every vehicle at a walking pace.
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