41 Keele Update: October 2019

In a recent article, I reviewed the operation of the 41 Keele bus and compared its behaviour in April 2018 with the service in September 2019 running an “improved” schedule. The results were not exactly impressive and the route continued to have quite irregular service, particularly when one looks at the middle of the route rather than at the terminals where the TTC actually measures it.

For the September 2019 analysis, my ability to plot service behaviour at and near terminals was limited by the nature of the data provided by the new Vision tracking system. The data were stop based, rather than a continuous stream showing vehicle movements along the route. (The contrast to the old monitoring system, CIS, was explored in a separate detailed article.) The TTC is now providing Vision data in continuous location format, and this greatly improves the resolution of vehicle locations for the October 2019 analysis.

The data may be better, but I cannot say the same for the quality of service. Although the TTC implemented longer scheduled travel and recovery times (make up time at terminals to compensate for variations in congestion enroute) in September, the reliability of service continues to be poor compounding the longer scheduled waits between buses.

Service reliability improvements – the program for continuous monitoring and improvement to schedules to better match observed operating conditions …

This is a buzz phrase seen routinely through 2019 in service change announcements, but it almost inevitably means stretching the existing buses on a route over a longer round trip time while making headways (the time between buses) longer to compensate rather than adding more vehicles to a route. In some cases, there were routes that simply did not have enough time in their schedule for actual conditions, but this tactic has become a “magic bullet” that is supposed to fix service quality.

But that bullet is made of tin, not silver.

Through all of the charts in this article, it is important to remember that the TTC’s Service Standard, measured at terminals, is that all service should be within a six-minute window of “on time” to the schedule. However, the typical pattern is for over 50% of all trips to show headways ranging well over 6 minutes. The target level of service reliability simply cannot be met. This is with the new, “improved” schedules.

The missing piece in TTC service is the recognition that left to their own devices, vehicles (and their drivers) will not run on time or on a reliable headway. The situation is made even worse by a policy of limiting short turns while doing little or nothing to break up bunches of vehicles. TTC management pats itself on the back because the quality metrics it reports every month look good, but they mask service that can be appallingly bad.

This is not exactly a new situation at the TTC. I remember nearly 40 years ago when the then head of Planning was reported to be shopping around for awards the TTC could win, the better to buff the image of management. This was the same person who introduced “tuning service to meet demand”, a phrase that sounds good to the bean counters, but actually means packing as many riders on buses and running as little service as possible. Managing the service was not part of the program.

A major problem with TTC statistics is that they are reported on an average basis consolidating data from several days and times of the day. This masks behaviour at the fine-grained level riders experience. They do not wait for the “average” bus, but for the next one that shows up. Telling them that on average they have acceptable service is cold comfort waiting in a gap of over 20 minutes for two buses to appear. That might be “every 10 minutes” on average, but that is not what they see. The same is true of vehicle loading with uneven headways leading to uneven crowds, and the bus that arrives in a gap is often full, assuming one can even get on.

The first request of a deputation from Keele bus riders at the September TTC Board meeting was that 41 Keele be made part of the “ten minute network”. This might improve service slightly, but if the buses on the route are not much better managed, that “ten minute” headway will include many much wider gaps and pairs of buses running together.

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