Express Buses: Real Change or Photo Ops?

Among the accomplishments listed by CEO Rick Leary in his recent presentation to the TTC Board was the implementation of an Express Bus Network. With the exception of one route, all of this is now in place.

Despite the attention this receives as an “accomplishment”, the fact is that almost all of this network is nothing more than a rebranded version of the “E” branches on various routes it replaced. The list linked below shows the history of express service headways including the “before” values for affected routes.

20182019_ExpressNetworkService

The only new services are on 902 Markham Road, 929 Dufferin, 937 Islington, 952 Lawrence West, 984A Sheppard West (to Weston), 985B Sheppard East (to Meadowvale) and 989 Weston. Most of these are peak only additions. That was the intent of the Express Bus Network Study in the short term.

The real challenge for the TTC and for Council will be whether they will build on this as the study proposes for 2019 and following years. This includes both additional service and transit priority measures.

New and improved services were proposed in the study. Many changes listed for future years have already been rolled out. Some of the new services were obtained by removing buses from existing local branches of the routes. What remains are the changes that require the TTC to operate more service.

Transit priority measures include both traffic signal priority (something that benefits both local and express buses) as well as “queue jump lanes” at selected locations. Whether any of these will be built soon, if at all, remains to be seen.

There is a larger issue in that many routes that do not include express service also encounter traffic delays. The focus should not simply be on the express routes, but on the network as a whole wherever there are bottlenecks.

12 thoughts on “Express Buses: Real Change or Photo Ops?

  1. What bothers me about the re-branding exercise is the lack of differentiation between all-day, everyday express services (like the Airport and Highway 27 routes), routes that run at most times (like the 939 Finch East, which runs at all times except late evenings), and rush-hour only routes, like the re-branded Keele and Steeles East express buses. At least regular local routes are differentiated based on limited or full service operation and whether they offer 10-minute service.

    Was it to show “mission accomplished” on route maps for the benefit of politicians?

    Steve: I have to agree that this is more a political exercise than one in bringing net new services. Members of the Board have raised the issue of express buses for years, but as implemented, this gives the impression of far greater change than actually occurred. That’s blatantly political.

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  2. Hi Steve,

    I was really wondering about this Express Network change and I’ve noticed (at least on some routes), there’s not much improvement. I’ve talked to many people about the “985A” and I’ve been keeping up with that route – and it seems like the old 190 was a lot better. With the change to artics (even on weekends), and with less run time, I’ve found that the 985A is actually much worse than the 190. Since the change, it’s been very infrequent and bunching a lot. Sometimes you end up waiting 20-25 mins and it’s simply faster to take the regular 85/A/B and then any bus off of McCowan road to get to STC. It was only since recently they added an extra artic bus on weekends and during the daytime on weekdays, but it’s a shame they really cut back that service, then want to rebrand it when the 190 was just fine.

    Also – for the 913 Progress Express – I commented on one of your articles when that service first came out. I emailed transit planning to change the route (to cut straight through Progress Ave to Grangeway/Consillium and make the left turn there, just like the 51 GO bus has for years) instead of turning off of Progress onto Corporate Drive, again onto Consillium to end up connecting back to Progress (making a pointless circle and not stopping at Corporate, Lee Centre, 88 Corporate, 100 Consillium Place). They told me in spring they will officially change it (after the new TTC board was elected). They didn’t change it in documents (as on TransSee it still shows the 134 routing) but everyday I’m noticing operators are actually now just cutting straight through Progress Ave (which is great!!) – Just wanted to update you on that. What baffles me is that transit planning never thought of that to begin with.

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  3. Are there still plans to rename 186 Wilson Rocket to 996 Wilson Express? I think the TTC forgot about that.

    Steve: Yes. Look at both the map and the list of proposed changes.

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  4. I think whether local or express we need to see a review of surface stops on the bus network as was done for Streetcars with some rationalization and some relocation to make things function better.

    Is there any indication of a such a systemic review on the horizon?

    Steve: There was supposed to be something for buses, but I suspect that was said to quiet down criticism of the streetcar changes. There has been no sign of a bus stop consolidation program which, I expect, would run into a lot of flak from Councillors who have the Mayor’s ear (unlike the streetcar routes with those pesky downtowners).

    Also from the compare to streetcars file, a comprehensive review of parking restrictions (or the lack of them) that impede efficient bus service. Not so much an issue in the suburbs, but some ‘core’ routes would really benefit from an extra hour of restriction on the morning or evening periods. (Danforth, east of Main can be gridlock for services, particularly as far as Victoria Park).

    Any notion of this being reviewed?

    Steve: I know that City Transportation was planning to look at the major suburban routes too, but they seem to be preoccupied with King Street these days. Also, there are some locations of significant congestion where getting rid of parking on the shoulder peak won’t solve the problem, or parking isn’t the issue.

    Last thought, what clear, simple actions can the TTC take to reduce the bunching/gapping issue at the systemic scale?

    Clearly this is not about ‘recovery time’ on most routes.

    Are we limited entirely to ‘active management’ by supervisors or transit control?

    Or could there be passive measures at terminals or additional key points where a bus could be held, or expressed to even-out service?

    Steve: Step one is to admit that they have a problem, something they seem incapable of. Service metrics are designed to make it easy to show service runs “to standard” and they don’t even hit those targets. A big problem is that the concept of “on time” is far too generous and there is no enforcement of headways even from terminals, let alone along routes. Every service analysis I have run shows this problem even on days with perfect weather and no traffic or special events to muck up service.

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  5. Hey Steve,

    Any idea if the 929 Dufferin Rocket will ever have service 7 days a week? It’s supposedly a Tier 1 service and was wondering about that? Thanks.

    Steve: I suspect that the fact its implementation was brought forward a few years has screwed up the “tier” concept a bit.

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  6. It would be better if 900 series were only for all hours all days (or at very least 5 days all hours) and XX-E used for rush hour only express.

    I recently heard an operator answer a customer (mid-day) saying take 989 Weston Rd Express. Even employees don’t know when 900’s operate.

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  7. Interesting to see that the maps mention that existing premium express services would be phased out if the express network is successfully implemented.

    Also, I await the signal priority on highway 427, as indicated on the map.

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  8. Steve, you’ve mentioned in the February service change post that the 7 Bathurst articulated buses are phased out from service for a refurbishment program lasting till 2020. The original express bus plan focuses on converting to articulated buses on current corridors before implementing service along new corridors. However, it seems the TTC has gone the flip direction and have introduced new service first. Do you infer that the conversion to articulated buses will occur past 2020, if at all?

    Steve: I suspect that when the Express Bus plan was written, the planners did not take into account the timing of the major rebuild which hits all of the artic fleet more or less at once because the buses are all about the same age. What is more troubling, however, is that we have yet to see any concrete plans for improving service on these corridors or of expanding express operation to other routes. BTW this does not always work out as one might hope. For example, service on Bathurst is not particularly frequent, and headways at local stops would become even worse if some buses were repurposed as expresses.

    When the Express Network was first proposed, there was a sense that it would be an overlay onto and additional service on the affected routes. Instead, most of the “change” was to simply rebrand what was there. This is a good example of a plan that turned more into a press release than real improvements for riders.

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  9. I’m being a bit lazy: is the Mount Pleasant to core express bus still as a double fare/costlier trip? If there’s really interest in lessening the problems of Yonge and Yonge/Bloor, having as many people as possible diverted seems to be well worth it, right? though of course buses aren’t the same as trainloads, just in an overload, every bit of reduction counts I think.

    Steve: Yes, the 141 Mt. Pleasant express is still a premium fare service. To replace one subway train’s worth of riders would require about 50 buses which we don’t have, and which would have a capital cost of about $50 million, considerably more than one subway train, plus the operating cost. This is a total non-starter.

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  10. A couple things have annoyed me with the changes. One of them is the fact that several of the runs already existed yet are just being renumbered (for example 188 Kipling South to 944, or the airport express run) just to confuse passengers (like they did a few years ago with the rest of the bus numbers – don’t ask me which two branches of the 123 run to Long Branch, one is the ‘C’, but the other one is? I have to check that one.)

    Another thing is that they do not change between which is an “all day” service, a “peak service” or “seven day a week” service. There are three versions of express services.

    The third is that some of the routes are not that much of an improvement. For example, it isn’t always a lot faster taking the 188/944 Kipling South Express over the 44 Kipling South. Depending on traffic, changes to the driver (always done at Evans Ave. within walking distance to the Queensway barn instead of the new driver running deadhead to the end of the route.) While that is more practical for the drivers, it slows down the run for the passengers (and guess what – it was as slow as the 44 then.)

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  11. Operator changes are done at a “relief point” that is closest to the Operator’s Division (Garage/yard). Operators are paid “travel time” to get to the relief point – TTC tries to minimize the amount of travel time that they have to pay. This why you will see relief points midway along many routes. For example: 68 Warden at Comstock/Warden, 54 Lawrence East at Warden/Lawrence, 95 York Mills at Ellesmere/Markham, etc. Doing the relief at the end points (terminals) would involve paying much more travel time to Operators. Travel time is covered in the TTC/ATU 113 CBA in a fairly extensive section. Travel time is also different between week days and weekends due to different levels of service at those times.

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  12. Someone asked me if there ever will be a 907 route (according to TTCs numbers, that would mean Bathurst Express), I remember reading your reply somewhere but can’t seem to find it now. Can you refresh my memory as to why the TTC won’t put an express bus service on Bathurst?

    Steve: On 7 Bathurst at its most frequent (PM peak) it has an artic bus scheduled every 8’20”. The “local” headway that would be left over after an express route split would easily be 12′ if not worse, and the express buses would not come very often either. That’s why there’s no 7E today, and no 907 in the cards. Even on the 2026 map in the Express Bus Network Study, Bathurst is shown only as a “potential” route.

    For reasons passing understanding, this report is not linked from TTC’s Planning page which still points to an older report listing then-existing services, but it is available via the agenda of the Board meeting where it was introduced, if you know where to look.

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