TTC Express Bus Services: December 2019 Update

In a recent review of the TTC’s 2020 Service Plan, I was not very kind about the photo of an Express Bus on the cover page considering that many of the “Express” services were little more than rebranding of what already existed. These were not the net addition to the network contemplated by the TTC’s Board when it asked management to create this network. Simply renumbering routes and giving them a common brand is not much of an “accomplishment” worth such prominence.

This article updates a previous review to determine just how much of the Express Network really is net new service. The table linked below compares services as they existed in April 2018 with those scheduled for the November-December 2019 period, and includes the intervening changes to show how service has evolved.


The following routes are identical in service levels to what existed in April 2018 before the 900-series routes came into being.

  • 903 Kennedy to STC (SRT bus supplement)
  • 927 Highway 27
  • 944 Kipling South
  • 945 Kipling
  • 986 Scarborough

This list is shorter than it was in the fall of 2018 because, at that time, many running times and headways had not been changed under the rubric of “service reliability”. These changes aim to match scheduled trip time with actual operating conditions, but in many cases this is done by stretching the scheduled interval between buses, not by adding more buses on the same headway.

The TTC claims that this simply gives riders the scheduled service they would have seen anyhow, but this is tough to credit given (a) the variation in TTC headways generally and (b) the fact that almost-worst case congestion conditions do not affect all trips equally, but all trips are scheduled to longer running times and headways. (TTC designs its reliability improvements to the 95th percentile of observed travel times.)

The following routes have less frequent service in December 2019 compared to service offered in April 2018. For details please refer to the PDF linked above. Some changes are as small as 15 seconds, others are over 2 minutes.

  • 924 Victoria Park
  • 925 Don Mills
  • 935 Jane
  • 941 Keele
  • 953 Steeles East
  • 954 Lawrence East
  • 960 Steeles West
  • 985A Sheppard East to STC
  • 996 Wilson

The following route has improved service in December 2019 compared to April 2018.

  • 913 Progress

The following routes have changes for the better and for the worse depending on the period.

  • 900 Airport Express
  • 905 Eglinton East (Note: Service was cut on this route for the summer of 2019, but the fall schedules did not bring a return to the previous level of service.)
  • 939 Finch East
  • 984 Sheppard West (Yonge to Sheppard West Station)
  • 995 York Mills (Less frequent peak service. Midday service added April 2019.)

Seven new routes were created for the Express Network. In all cases, the total of local and express buses was greater than the number of local buses before the change, although local headways were widened.

The following are new routes created for the Express Network have retained their initial service levels.

  • 902 Markham Road: Created September 2018.
  • 929 Dufferin: Created October 2018.
  • 952 Lawrence West: Created October 2018.

The following are new routes whose service has been cut since they were introduced.

  • 937 Islington: Created September 2018. Headways widened for reliability in May 2019.
  • 984A Sheppard West to Weston: Created September 2018. Headways widened for construction and reliability in September 2019.
  • 985B Sheppard East to Meadowvale: Created September 2018. Headways widened for reliability in January 2019 and September 2019.
  • 989 Weston: Created October 2018. Headways widened for reliability in September 2019.

The pattern here is clear in that the majority of the express routes have received widened headways to improve service reliability, according to the TTC.

The TTC publishes neither crowding nor reliability statistics along its routes. Therefore we do not know whether these services can potentially attract riders, or are on the cusp of needing more service, but do not receive it thanks to budget constraints. The 925 Don Mills is already scheduled over the capacity service standard for the AM peak and weekday midday periods.

No improvements to the Express Network appear in the 2020 Service Plan.

The 2021 Plan proposes some improvements, subject to budget considerations, including:

  • Express service on Warden and on Kennedy
  • Extended hours on Steeles East
  • Reroute the 905 Eglinton East via Morningside to replace the 116A service

12 thoughts on “TTC Express Bus Services: December 2019 Update

  1. It was fascinating to scrutinize your PDF (I concentrated only on weekdays). The numbers certainly tell a tale. What I’m frustrated by is that my math/statistics ignorance prevents me from turning the numbers into collective Cost and Suffering Indices. However, it does seem that TTC are making a muchness of nothing. Did TTC do any timed testing or did they just throw it into the pot on a presumption, a hunch?

    Steve: They are supposed to be using travel times from their new vehicle tracking system, the same source I have used for recent bus route analyses. I am planning to do an article (or two) comparing the travel times the TTC allocates to the real world they claim to be providing for.


  2. I’m guessing that with “real” transit priority traffic signals and “real” transit reserved lanes, that less vehicles would be needed? Didn’t happen with the King Street project, they needed more vehicles.

    Steve: A few things about King. First, there was (and still is) a lot of latent demand and that accounts for some of the extra vehicles.

    Second, the “route reliability” program caused vehicles to be added to the route in order to lengthen running times, but with little or no change in headway. Council was told this was an improvement, but it wasn’t. What happened was that more cars got longer layovers at terminals.

    Third, only a short portion of the route was changed and from a scheduling point of view only a few minutes were saved. What did happen was that travel times across the core became a lot more reliable, and so overall service improved. Speed is not the only metric that should be used, although people who drive a lot tend to think that way. This says something about political priorities.

    Yes, some short turns were avoided, but at a substantial cost and little improvement in overall reliability. However, because TTC management gets a gold star for “on time performance” at terminals and minimization of short turns, the new schedules make them look really good.


  3. I took the 952 once (and only once) from the airport. It was a joke. Somewhere around Dixon and Martin Grove (we weren’t on Lawrence proper yet), we caught up to a 52 bus. The operator on the 952 never bothered to leap-frog the local bus, so the ‘express’ service was anything but.


  4. A note about the “leap frogging” with the 52 and 952 (and same with others). Unless you know for sure you are stopping at all (not just some, but all) of the same stops as the bus in front of you, you can’t pass another vehicle on another route. What if someone gets off that first bus at that stop and wants the express bus that now zoomed past? Express buses still have to sit in traffic and I’m sorry people have issues seeing that too.


  5. Oh, please, no one is suggesting the they believe the 900 series helicopters over traffic or otherwise “has issues” with traffic.

    The lay person’s understanding of express is (not unreasonably) “get on this bus and reach your destination faster than on a local.”

    Travelling nose-to-tail behind a local bus and/or never passing the local is not getting you to your destination faster than the local would.

    As to your example, what incentive would that person on the 52 have to get off and jump on the trailing 952 if the 952 will never pass the 52 in front of it?


  6. Hi Steve, based on your analysis, it seems that many of the TTC’s express bus routes are express in name only. Therefore, would it be better to just shift all the express buses onto local service and have more frequent local routes?

    Steve: There is a difference in travel time, although it varies depending on which part of the routes one is comparing, plus the effect of time lost waiting for an express that could have been spent on a local bus that came first. I’m planning to do a comparison of local and express services when I get data for a variety of routes.

    Also, I recall an article where you mentioned that most/all of the downtown express routes are unprofitable, hence the extra fare required. I was wondering why they haven’t been canned yet?

    Steve: They all exist because of political pressure. Attempts to get rid of them in the past hit a brick wall.

    Has the TTC ever considered doing a dial-a-ride service using sedans instead of buses on its less frequent routes, as is the case with YRT?

    Steve: Two points here. First, there was a trial of dial-a-ride decades ago in the York Mills area, and it didn’t go well. Second, there is a basic question about how much a ride should be subsidized. This overlaps into the area of Uber and similar services. It’s ironic that Uber is highly subsidized by its shareholders, and could well not be economic if riders had to pay the full cost of their travel, let alone a profit.


  7. “A note about the “leap frogging” with the 52 and 952 (and same with others). Unless you know for sure you are stopping at all (not just some, but all) of the same stops as the bus in front of you, you can’t pass another vehicle on another route. What if someone gets off that first bus at that stop and wants the express bus that now zoomed past? Express buses still have to sit in traffic and I’m sorry people have issues seeing that too.”

    The ability to pass the regular service is the whole point of an express service. The person who gets off a local just after the express leaves needs to wait for the next express, just like the person who gets to the stop just after the bus leaves needs to wait for the next bus.

    This is why the TTC can’t run express rail service on its existing infrastructure — there is only one track in each direction. In cities which do run express rail service, there are additional tracks for the express service.


  8. What I hate is when the Local Bus passes the express at a stop. I have to get off half way between express stops. Express bus it at stop and local bus goes around it.


  9. Last week I decided to wait for two minutes on Dufferin at Davenport, letting a local bus go by, because I “not unreasonably” thought that I would get down to Queen faster on the Express. We trailed the local bus the entire time. I’m glad I had my blood pressure meds on me.

    Southbound from Davenport, the (EXPRESS) v. (Local) stop listing is comical, and an Express bus could *easily* leapfrog the one-two stop(s) even if only to land at the next express stop:


    In review
    a) we followed a local bus, slowing/stopping [but not boarding/alighting] at every stop
    b) the travel time was identical (shadowing)
    c) the express bus doesn’t need to stop at Bloor and twice at Dufferin Mall … walk or use the local (I mean four back-to-back stops shared with the local service, less than 200 m apart)?
    d) an express bus could be forgiven for *choosing* COLLEGE or DUNDAS, not serving both (College would be the better of the two)

    With this level of Express service, we should start Express Streetcar services; no need to worry about getting around the local one that is in front of you, just glide through the stop! Tremendous service.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Back in the ’70s I interviewed the general manager of Calgary transit about the new LRT line that was being built beside the McLeod Trail. He said the running time for the buses had nearly doubled so they were buying buses to store passengers, not to carry them. I always thought that was a good description of the situation, and it still is.


  11. Hi Steve, I have a few points regarding the routes I’m more familiar with taking, which are the 903, 954 and 995. To begin with, although scheduled service on the 903 is the same as it was when it was the 131E, to your knowledge is there any change (for better or for worse) since the route was effectively broken into two during peak periods into the 903 and the 131 becoming only a local bus route up to Old Finch. Does the 131 or 903 run any smoother or with more consistent headways since this change occurred?

    Steve: 903/131 are not routes I have tracking data for and so I cannot say.

    Secondly, from personal experience I can say that the 954 isn’t much more effective than if they had a normal 54 Lawrence East bus operating east of the RT station only. It runs express only until Markham Road which means it skips only around 10 stops. Considering with most trips, many of those stops aren’t stopped at anyways, how much time is it saving by skipping maybe around 5 stops or so? And as others have commented here as well, sometimes it won’t pass a non-express bus either. It’s also mind boggling how some stops are served by the 54A, 54B and the 954 and there can still be 20+ minute wait times for a bus of any branch.

    Steve: I plan to review the Lawrence East service in coming months.

    Finally, scheduled service on the 95 during midday is at 20 minute headways east of Ellesmere Station. Sunday headways east of Ellesmere Station on the 95 are sometimes more frequent than weekday periods at any time. I remember also reading somewhere a while back that an express service from UTSC to STC was ruled out for whatever reason. I can say that even though the 95 has poor headways, the 38 Highland Creek may be the worst in terms of crowding between the two. Which brings me around to my point of how feasible or useful it would be to have the 995 or a branch of the 95 enter Scarborough Center Station on its way along Ellesmere? And has there ever been a proposal looking at splitting the 95 at Ellesmere Station or anywhere else, since it seems like headways on either side of the station are vastly different during certain periods?

    Steve: In a draft map of possible service changes in Scarborough to better address travel demand, there is a 938 Express from STC to UTSC. This map did not make it into the final version of the Service Plan and I don’t know the status of the 938 as it is not mentioned in the final version anywhere.


  12. In the late 90s/early 00s, when I was living at Port Union and Lawrence and going to Ryerson, the odd time that I took the subway and RT to Lawrence East in rush hour (I usually took GO, or just took the 54 all the way from Eglinton), I’d always take whichever came first, the 54A or E, as they usually ended up taking about the same time. The E skipped the handful of stops between the RT and Markham, but then the A tended to skip more stops after Markham, so it pretty much balanced out.


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