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.