Why Can’t I Get On My Bus?

Recent years brought much hand-wringing from TTC Board members and management about falling ridership numbers. One oft-cited source for this is the combination of fare evasion and the under-reporting of fare payments by Presto. These are linked in that the multiplicity of fares and rules create situations where a rider can validly enter a vehicle without showing a pass or tapping a card. Indeed, there are a number of cases where Presto users are explicitly told not to tap to avoid double charging by software that cannot distinguish many types of valid transfer movements.

Riders, on the other hand, might be forgiven for wondering whether there is enough service actually on the street to carry them. There are two aspects to this problem. One is vehicle bunching, a topic I will explore in coming weeks in detail for several major suburban bus routes, and the other is the actual amount of service.

An important factor in the provision of TTC service is that, in general, it lags demand growth rather than leading it. When the buses and streetcars are full, the TTC runs more of them provided that there is headroom in the budget, enough vehicles and enough operators to actually field more service. City Councillors have a fetish for controlling headcount, and this is one major problem at the TTC – more service requires more drivers (not to mention other staff), but increases to the approved staffing levels are only grudgingly approved. The other big problem for both the streetcar and bus fleets is that the TTC does not have enough vehicles thanks to constraints on capital spending and increases in garage capacity.

I wrote about the TTC’s capacity crisis in an earlier post, but here I will turn to the long-term trends in service provision. This is of particular interest in an election year when competing claims will be made about the actions and policies of current and previous administrations.

All of the charts included in this article as well as the underlying data are consolidated in one PDF linked at the end.

All data here comes from the TTC Scheduled Service Summaries. An archive of these is available on this site.

Scheduled Fleet Capacity

When tracking and comparing capacity for the bus and streetcar fleet, simply looking at the number of vehicles or the distance they travel is not enough. Other factors are at play including the capacity of each vehicle type, and the degree to which schedule changes are in the peak of off-peak periods. Maintenance factors come into play as well because the size of each fleet is larger than the scheduled service.

As a starting point, I converted the scheduled service to a fleet capacity by taking the “standard” vehicle as “1” and scaling up for larger vehicles. Note that the intent is only to track the ratio within each mode and the associated routes, and therefore a basis of “1” can be used for both fleets.

  • Standard 12m low floor bus: 1
  • Articulated low floor bus: 1.5
  • Canadian Light Rail Vehicle (CLRV): 1
  • Articulated Light Rail Vehicle (ALRV): 1.5
  • Flexity Low Floor Streetcar: 2
  • Bus running on a streetcar route: 0.7

Therefore, for the purpose of the chart which follows below, if a Flexity is scheduled to operate, it counts as twice the capacity of a CLRV. One immediate problem with this is that the TTC does not actually operate as many ALRVs as the schedules call for. Recently, although nearly 30 ALRVs are supposed to operate at peak, one is lucky to find a dozen of them on the road. Conversely, where a conversion of a route from old to new streetcars is in progress, there may be more Flexitys in service than scheduled. Similarly, one can find cases where bus trips that are supposed to be provided by longer artics are actually operated by standard length vehicles. The discrepancy between TTC schedules and the real world cannot be helped, and we must take the scheduled numbers as the intended service for an historical review.

To put this in a political context, in January 2007 David Miller beginning his second term as Mayor. He was replaced by Rob Ford in the election in fall 2010. John Tory was elected in fall 2014. The effect of a new administration is not visible in the January schedules which are generally in place before the election is determined.

The increase in bus service capacity in 2009 is the result of the Ridership Growth Strategy which changed the crowding standards to allow for less crowded vehicles. There is some growth in off-peak streetcar service capacity, but little for peak periods because there were no spare vehicles.

Peak capacity on the streetcar network begins to grow in 2013 with the substitution of buses on Queens Quay during its reconstruction while the displaced streetcars went to other routes. A few years later the arrival of the first Flexity cars and the continued substitution of buses on streetcar routes allowed more service to be provided on the streetcar network. The 514 Cherry route began operating in June 2016, but its requirements were absorbed within the available fleet.

Peak capacity on the bus network has not grown much in recent years. The downturn in January 2018 was caused partly by the opening of the subway extension to Vaughan and partly by changes in TTC spare ratio policies that reduced the number of vehicles available for service.

The big changes in recent years came in the off-peak period when there are spare vehicles in both fleets to provide better service.

In brief, there has been little improvement in the peak capacity operated on the TTC network for several years. For streetcar routes, there is some improvement, but for bus routes, not much for almost a decade.

There are a few caveats that must be included here:

  • The bus fleet capacity has not been adjusted for the migration from high floor to low floor buses which reduced capacity by up to 10%. This was already well underway in 2006, but there were still over 800 high floor buses in scheduled service in January 2006. Conversion to low floor buses represents a loss of a substantial capacity which is not reflected in the chart above.
  • In the mid 2000’s, the TTC operated more contract service than they do today. The decline in buses running outside of the city boundary is around two dozen (AM peak) counted as fractional vehicles where the service inside of Toronto is part of TTC routes that continue to exist. The capacity of these vehicles is included in the total.
  • These numbers represent vehicles in service. TTC maintenance practices have increased the spare ratio in recent years causing the total fleet size and garage requirements to rise while the actual amount of service does not. Some recent bus purchases made in the name of service improvements actually went into enlarging the pool of maintenance spares. These spares do not contribute to in service capacity and therefore do not affect the charts.
  • As traffic congestion increases, routes overall slow down, and the amount of service (counted as passenger kilometres) a vehicle can provide goes down. More buses are needed to carry the same number of trips. This factor is not included in the charts which only look at how many buses are in service, not how far they actually carry riders. The net effect is that service from a rider’s point of view does not go up as fast as the fleet capacity. Although this varies by route, there is a system wide effect that slower travel times “eat” buses and streetcars that might otherwise be adding to service.

Average Vehicle Mileage

From the TTC’s Annual Report, one can obtain both the year-end fleet sizes and the mileage operated by each vehicle type in the last ten years. [See TTC 2017 Annual Report at pp 64-65.]

If one looks only at the kilometres operated per vehicle, this does not tell the whole story.

The streetcar fleet operates on slower routes than other modes, and even if vehicles are in service for the same number of hours, they accumulate less mileage. This is further complicated by the number of out of service streetcars that count as part of the active fleet and dilute the total mileage on a per vehicle basis.

Bus mileage per vehicle is climbing because of utilization. With the growth in off peak service, more buses run longer hours and thereby accumulate more kilometres for the fleet.

Subway mileage has fallen because the fleet is now larger than required to operate current service. There are more T-1 cars than needed to run Line 2 BD because some of this fleet was originally planned for use on the Vaughan extension and on Line 4 Sheppard. There are more TR cars than needed to run Line 1 YUS because some of the fleet needed to provide more frequent service after automatic train control implementation have already been acquired. If the fleet were sized to current requirements, it would be smaller, and the mileage per vehicle would be higher.

RT mileage is strong because a small fleet which is going through a major overhaul causing a shortage of trains runs all day long on a route with widely-spaced stations.

For modes with fleets of differently sized vehicles, one vehicle kilometer does not represent the same amount of service for each type. An example of how this can be misleading is that when the TTC replaced its 8-car Gloucester trains on Line 1 YUS with 6-car H trains, the subway mileage went down, but the service provided was the same or slightly improved.

Raw fleet and mileage counts should not be used as direct measurements for service provided to riders. They measure fleet utilization and overall service characteristics, but not service quality or quantity.

Buses on Streetcar Routes

The issue of buses substituting for streetcars is an ongoing problem especially in recent years as the old streetcar fleet’s reliability falls. Although new Flexitys continue to arrive and enter service, this is partly offset by the retirement of old streetcars. Construction projects trigger replacements, but where the TTC would have in past years only used buses to serve the affected area, they now convert entire routes as a way to reduce streetcar requirements. The offsetting problem is that this reduces the buses available for service on that network. (From a budgetary point of view, this actually saves the TTC money because there are fewer total vehicles in service than would be the case if streetcars ran on all of their routes and the maximum number of buses served the bus routes.)

The early years of this chart are dominated by the St. Clair streetcar project. This began with bus substitution on the short section between Bathurst and Yonge, but then moved on to the west end of the line.

In 2013-2014, Queens Quay was under construction with buses replacing streetcars for the duration.

2015 saw the beginning of bus trippers operating on streetcar routes with 20 buses assigned to 504 King. The number on King dropped off as more streetcars became available to operate that route, but bus substitutions on other major routes more than made up for the decline. There will be a slight drop in September 2018, but the bigger change awaits the arrival of more new streetcars. There is also a major construction project planned for 2019 that will affect the west ends of 501 Queen and 504 King, and so the need for buses on streetcar routes will not really disappear until late 2019.

The linked set of charts and tables includes a detailed breakdown of where buses have been allocated over the years.

Scheduled Bus Fleet

The chart below shows the evolution of the scheduled service from high floor to low floor vehicles and the arrival of articulated buses in the fleet. These are vehicle counts, not capacities, although with standard sized buses dominating the fleet, those numbers are close together. Also, this chart includes buses operating on streetcar routes.

Scheduled Bus Fleet Capacity

The number of buses in service converts to an effective peak service capacity at almost a 1:1 ratio. The differences between the charts above and below are:

  • The chart below does not include the capacity of buses operating on streetcar routes.
  • Each articulated bus above counts as 1.5 buses in the chart below.

What is quite visible here is that the capacity of the peak service actually operated on bus routes (as opposed to any other change such as the size of the fleet) has not changed very much over the past decade. A few improvements are expected in fall 2018, but the details for all of them are not yet available.

In any event, the biggest constraint on service is the lack of garage space. This will be partly relieved when McNicoll Garage opens in 2020, but current plans do not include any new garage after that until the mid 2020s. This will limit the growth of bus service for many years to come.

Scheduled Streetcar Fleet

Over the past decade, the number of scheduled streetcars has declined as old cars wear out and are retired. Recently, Flexitys are replacing old cars, but they are barely keeping up with the loss of vehicles. A further problem, as noted above, is that far fewer ALRVs are actually available for service than are scheduled. The result is that service operates with the smaller CLRVs, although at least the TTC has now built the 501 Queen schedule to take this into account. All the same, the replacement of 20 ALRVs by CLRVs represents the loss of 10 CLRV’s worth of capacity (20 ALRVs are equivalent to 30 CLRVs). This is not reflected in the charts because they deal with service as scheduled not as operated.

Conversely, the number of Flexitys in service is now growing beyond the scheduled level and this benefits routes, notably 504 King, which can receive more capacity than is actually planned.

The reduction in streetcar numbers is offset in part by buses (yellow below), and by the contribution of the larger Flexitys (green) to the fleet. The total scheduled capacity of vehicles operating on streetcar routes is rising although this must be tempered by the fact that the ALRV numbers (purple) are greater than what is actually fielded by the TTC.

The Details

The full set of charts as well as the numbers behind them are available here:


The last four pages include the numbers, and also have information for two dates not included in the charts:

  • November 2017 is the last month before the Vaughan subway extension opened. It shows a larger number of buses in service than January 2018 because of the net effect of service changes. The bus count is expected to rise again through fall 2018 with service improvements for which all details have not yet been announced.
  • September 2018 will see a change in streetcars operating on bus routes compared to January 2018. The updated numbers are included for reference.

There are two tables each spread over two pages. One is for the AM peak period, and the other for weekday midday service.

5 thoughts on “Why Can’t I Get On My Bus?

  1. The wasted space in low-floor bus has bugged me for a long time. No one wants to stand in the raised section at the back of the bus because it’s cramped, there’s no way to get out, and those stairs seem to create a psychological barrier or something. I noticed that the Germans have a newer design for low-floor buses that seem to solve a lot of those problems. If you look at photos of the newest Citaro buses, they are low-floor from front-to-back (they just raise the seats at the back instead of raising the whole floor). Instead of the whole back of the bus being filled with equipment, only half of the back of the bus is filled with equipment. You get (half) a back window again! And they threw in a third set of doors in the back, so it can unload faster, and so you don’t get trapped if you move all the way to the back of the bus. I wonder if the TTC can get the manufacturers to incorporate some of those improvements in the next round of bus purchases.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. We still have politicians (who don’t use public transit) who insist that less is more. Save money by filling the buses with as much of the lower classes as possible, don’t get more buses.

    The TTC is still influenced by the old Ford mayoralty administration.

    Steve: There is also an ongoing practice of stretching headways to make longer running times rather than adding more buses.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A long ongoing annoyance that will not go away is the fleet of “Sorry…” buses that roam our streets. These buses are ALWAYS empty! Why? The purpose of having buses on our streets is to provide a service, a ride. It is NOT to wear the rubber off the tires! Yet, today (2.15pm) I see THREE “Sorry route” buses pass (within a few minutes) about 8 riders waiting to make a transfer. WTF! 20 minutes later still no in-service bus!

    The practice of sending empty buses deadhead (empty) to the end of a route is a WASTE of money and pisses off people for no good reason. It is much like the 2 hour transfer that the TTC stubbornly refused to institute for DECADES! ALL buses should be IN SERVICE beginning at the FIRST stop after leaving the garage. PERIOD.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Raymond wrote: ALL buses should be IN SERVICE beginning at the FIRST stop after leaving the garage. PERIOD.

    I have mixed feelings on this. There are numerous situations where the need is to get buses to a particular location to cover needed service, and that should preclude picking up waiting passengers along the way.

    However, there are times when this is not the case, but the issue becomes one of a bus serving a stop that is NOT going to the place or places where buses serving the stop are supposed to go.

    When a bus is going out of service and is returning to the garage, this is somewhat more feasible, though it does require passengers to know roughly where the garage is. For some people, this could mean they could get a one-seat ride to their destination where it may not ordinarily be. In Melbourne, trams ending service to return to a depot do so in service signed as route “00” with the depot as its destination.

    Buses in Pittsburgh going to a garage are signed with the name of the garage they are heading to, though I can’t say if they run in revenue service. I can’t think of why a bus needs to be signed with the garage name, unless there was a need for the public to know where it was going, such as flagging it to stop to pick them up, but I really cannot say.


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