This article is the second part of a series on the TTC’s 5 Year Service Plan & 10 Year Outlook.
Just after I posted the article, the TTC replied to several queries about its content. This article has been updated to incorporate additional information.
- TTC’s Service Plan 2020-2024: Too Much Gloss, Not Enough Substance?
- 5 Year Service Plan & 10 Year Outlook (Board Report)
- Next Stop, Even Better 2020-2024 & Beyond
Requests for Service and Route Changes
Returning to past practice, TTC staff will report annually to the Board on requests for changes in the network requested by, among others, Councillors, community groups and employers, as well as changes triggered by events such as new rapid transit lines or staff-proposed area restructuring (such as the recent updates to routes in the Junction).
There has been a backlog of such requests, and the report contains a long section detailing them. Unfortunately, it is not indexed nor arranged in route order. For the benefit of readers, I have created a summary sorted by status and route number. Page numbers refer to those within Attachment 2 to the Service Plan.
The requests range from substantial route changes to minor items such as stop eliminations. There has been no filtering on the external support for some of these ideas, and some proposals have more a sense of tinkering by individuals rather than true community input. But they’re all there. Some make it to “recommended” status, subject to funding. Some are on hold pending other changes such as the opening of the Crosstown which will affect many routes. Many are not recommended for various reasons, mainly low potential demand or violation of network design principles to serve a specific locale.
The list contains several entries where the underlying complaint is crowding. Proposals include route changes to redirect riders to other routes as well as the simple request of “run more buses”. The Service Plan does not address crowding levels on a route by route level or even acknowledge this growing problem. It is almost comic for the TTC to trumpet evaluation of new services while failing to deal with shortfalls in the service it runs today.
One proposed change is the extension of the 339 Finch East night bus to serve the Tapscott industrial area. Because so many TTC service changes are done on a “zero sum” basis where resources are shuffled between routes, this will be accomplished by terminating the 365 Parliament night bus which is a poor performing route with other nearby lines serving the same area (Bloor Danforth, Carlton, Queen, King). The 365 Parliament bus gets only 4 boardings per vehicle hour well below the standard of 10. The change will be implemented in 2020, but the specific date has not been announced.
The report notes that performance on the night routes is generally good, although it does not list values for individual routes.
New ridership data for the overnight network shows that ridership on almost all the routes meet TTC service standards – in fact, many routes are showing growth since the expanded network. The only service to not meet the TTC’s service standards is the 365 Parliament overnight service where the boardings per service hour do not meet the minimum threshold to justify the resources spent to provide the service. [Attachment 3, p 8]
On the streetcar night routes headways were improved simply to reduce storage requirement for cars. The 301 Queen, 304 King and 310 Spadina routes operate every 15 minutes, and the 306 Carlton route has 20 minute service. Previously, the headway on all four routes was 30 minutes. It is not clear whether the performance of these routes is such that this level of service should become permanent.
During the workshops for the Service Plan, there were proposals that did not appear in the final plan. The TTC has now clarified that these will be part of the 2021 plan which will be subject to public consultation and funding.
East Scarborough Route Changes
By comparison, here is the current system map of the area.
These changes include:
- A new 938 Express bus from STC to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus
- Extension of 905 Eglinton East Express to take over the Conlins Road loop now served by 116A Morningside
- A new all-day route 178 from STC to Coronation Drive via Brimley, Brimorton, Orton Park and Lawrence replacing the 54B Lawrence East Orton Park Loop and the 86D Scarborough Coronation Loop
- Routing all 54 Lawrence East service to Starspray to provide more service east of Orton Park
Stanley Green Service
The list of proposed changes includes a new route to Stanley Green. Here is a map showing the route.
119 Torbarrie and 167 Pharmacy North
Additional periods of operation are planned on these routes in 2021.
Streetcar Network Changes
The plan shows an increase in the size of the streetcar fleet starting in 2022 although the TTC has not yet ordered any cars. The TTC advises that the plan assumes an additional order will be placed with Bombardier. These would be used to increase service on the network, to restore streetcar service to routes operating with buses, and to provide for route changes that would provide more overlap among services.
A proposed route network was shown in the workshops, but it is not in the final report.
The changes include:
- Route 501A would operate between Neville Loop and Sunnyside Loop.
- Route 501B would operate between Long Branch Loop and a new Riverside Loop to be built on the land now occupied by a parking lot on Broadview north of Queen. This land is owned by the TTC.
- The consolidation of routes 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road is permanent.
- Route 503 would operate between Bingham Loop and Dufferin Loop.
- Route 504B would operate between Broadview Station and Humber Loop, later to a proposed Park Lawn loop.
Note that this is a draft and only gives an indication of the TTC’s thoughts on what might happen. It is subject to the acquisition of more streetcars, public consultation on the route changes and budget approval.
Community Bus Routes
The TTC operates Community Bus Routes in various locations to link seniors’ residences with major destinations such as shopping, recreation and medical care that they cannot easily reach by conventional transit routes. The intent is to divert traffic that would otherwise be on WheelTrans as well as to serve those who might not qualify for WT service.
Despite attempts to build ridership, only one route, 405 Etobicoke, meets the service target of six boardings per vehicle hour.
The TTC has a number of “lessons learned” from the failure to build riding on these routes.
- Projected diversion of Wheel-Trans customers to community bus cannot be achieved until re-registration and conditional trip matching is implemented.
- Original community bus route planning assumptions (i.e. maximum walking distance to the route, destinations served, etc.) need refining.
- Schedule and service reliability is more important than more frequent or everyday service.
- Distinctive vehicle branding can support ridership growth, however, a more suitable vehicle should be considered going forward for community bus routes. [Attachment 3, p3]
The Wheel-Trans re-registration process is still in progress, and this is expected to shift some existing riders off of the WT service onto Community Buses. Meanwhile the TTC proposes various changes to the Community Bus network.
TTC has analyzed Wheel-Trans trips from 2018, incorporating lessons learned, in order to plan routing changes for several current community bus routes. In each case, the routes are planned to serve residences and destinations with a high potential to divert conditional Wheel-Trans trips away from door-to-door service. Service will also be removed from low performing route segments where ridership is not expected to grow, even with Wheel-Trans re-registration and conditional trip matching in place.
It is expected that these changes will improve route performance. However, it is expected that not all routes will meet the TTC’s productivity standard for community bus service until Wheel-Trans re-registration and conditional trip matching is implemented. In the interim, we are making these improvements to increase performance and sustain service.
A common factor in the proposed changes is the provision of more time for serving stops and waiting for riders to make service more reliable and attractive.
Of course, there is the possibility that these routes will never meet the performance criteria. If their purpose is to reduce WT cost by shifting riders to a fixed route service, one must ask whether the target demand level is realistic for this type of route, and what a former WT user is supposed to do if they are told that their Community Bus doesn’t make the cut.
400 Lawrence Manor
The Lawrence Manor bus would be modified by:
- Shifting a portion of the route near Lawrence West Station,
- Widening headways from 75 to 90 minutes to give buses more stop service time, and
- Changing the route’s operation from 5 days/week to 3.
The Parkdale bus would be modified by:
- Replacing service on Lansdowne between Dundas and St. Clair with service on Dundas to Dundas West Station,
- Removing service on the loop via Symington, Wallace and Dufferin,
- Improving service frequency from 90 to 60 minutes,
- Provide additional time for buses to serve stops, and
- Change the operation from all five weekdays to two days/week.
404 East York
The East York bus would be modified by:
- Replacing service that now operates to The Beach via Gerrard and Main Streets with service to Victoria Park & Kingston Road and thence west to the Glen Manor area, and
- Maintaining the existing 65 minute headway, but using the time freed up by the shorter route to increase dwell times at stops.
The Etobicoke bus would be modified by:
- Adding one vehicle and improving service from every 90 minutes to every 75,
- Extending the route to serve the No Frills at Dixon & Islington as well the West Park Health Centre,
- Removing service on The Westway, and
- Improving dwell times at stops.
An Equity Lens in Planning
The Service Plan contains a rambling section that attempts to address City policies about diversity, inclusion and equity as they apply to transit service. This is a difficult task because transit routes span many neighbourhoods and they are planned on a macro, not a micro basis. There are two separate aspects to the TTC’s planned approach.
Diversity & Inclusion
The City has identified 15 separate groups who could be affected by inequitable provision of public services for a variety of reasons.
When considering changes to its network, the TTC will ensure that affected groups are consulted to determine whether there is a disproportionate effect for one or more group. Obvious examples include groups who are more transit dependent such as seniors and students, public housing residents, or immigrants who are not yet economically established. Another variant would be a cultural group dependent on a specific transit route to link destinations of importance to them.
The difficulty with this scheme is that the areas where the “D&I Lens groups” are located are spread over the city, and much of the transit system lies in these areas. Although the plan is to ensure consultation where there is a concentration of people from these groups, it is not clear how this would actually affect the planning process.
A separate proposed change is to adjust the calculation of the effect of change to give a higher weight to demand in residential Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (NIAs) which take in the lowest income portions of the city. These are much more concentrated than the Diversity & Inclusion areas mapped above.
Service Standards require that routes achieve 10 boardings per vehicle hour off peak, or 20 for peak services. Under the proposed change, boardings in NIAs would count for 1.25 rather than 1.0. The intent is to make route evaluations more sensitive to demand in low-income areas.
In theory, this could save some routes from cutbacks that might otherwise occur, or raise a proposed new service over the threshold for approval. However, there are few routes where the majority of the line lies within an NIA, and so the higher weight would only apply to a minority of boardings. Whether this will have much effect on route evaluations remains to be seen.
In a related exercise, the TTC will use Presto trip data to determine which employment areas are the destinations for trips beginning in NIAs in order to flag districts that should receive a similar treatment for the return journeys.
The TTC intends to incorporate this change in their 2021 Service Plan.
The Service Plan does not address fare-related issues because these will be the subject of a future report on fare policy.
Analysis of Proposed Changes: Weighted Trip Component Values
When the TTC evaluates a change, they calculate the effect on travel times for riders using a weighted index for each component. The time spent in a vehicle uses a factor of one, but other components such as transfers and waiting use higher factors. These reflect the perceived difference of the time spent riding a vehicle as opposed to making no actual progress on a journey, sometimes in quite inhospitable locations. The effect of the proposed changes is to make travel time relatively more important by reducing all other factors.
The changes, while relatively minor for wait and walk times, indicate that the speed and reliability of the service appear to have greater influence on the customer’s route choice and travel behaviour than what the previous weights implied. In other words, customers are less sensitive to waiting for or walking to a transit service relative to the time spent on the vehicle than previously assumed.
The findings are similar for the transfer penalty, which simulates the inconvenience of transferring to another vehicle. Customers may be less sensitive to the number of transfers than previously assumed. Customers appear to be choosing faster, more direct and more reliable paths to complete their trip even if it may require an additional transfer. The different transfer penalties for different modes (i.e. subway, surface ROW, mixed traffic surface) may be indicative of customers’ preference of the environment when waiting for their vehicle or preference for the particular mode. [Attachment 3, p 18]
The term “effective” time is footnoted in this table, and that note reads:
In the proposed customer-minutes evaluation framework, in-vehicle travel time and wait time values have route-based reliability factors incorporated.
Given that the TTC only measures “reliability” at route terminals, and this value is not representative of conditions along the route where most riders actually board, this could produce skewed results. Moreover, reliability is measured on an all-day average basis whereas the service quality at the time of a proposed change might be very different from the average.
A related factor is crowding which can be caused both by irregular or inadequate service. The average wait time at a stop is not necessarily the scheduled headway divided by two, or the typical headway (allowing for gaps), but could also include the time wasted when the first arriving vehicle is full.
The absence of detailed published measures of reliability and crowding undermines the credibility of any analysis because we do not know what the TTC is measuring or trying to fix. A simple example is the focus on reducing short turns which has been underway for a few years. While this does have some benefit for riders on the outer parts of routes who might not receive all of their scheduled service, it has little effect on service quality in the more central portion of a route. Indeed, an embargo on short turns without active management of headways between vehicles can perpetuate gaps that might otherwise be filled.
This proposal deserves far more discussion than simply a footnote in a table in an appendix. Resources expended on improving route reliability and reducing wait times could produce benefits that the TTC is not measuring today in comparison to the usual route-by-route modifications. However, this type of analysis would require actually knowing where and when problems occur and acknowledging that they exist, a practice that goes against the grain of TTC’s self-congratulatory culture. There is reason to think this may be changing provided that the TTC improves the granularity of its “reliability” metrics.
These variability factors were developed based on operational data which resulted in an improvement in fit compared to observed ridership data. It is recommended that the updated customer-minutes evaluation framework considers these adjustments to account for in-vehicle travel time and headway reliability. The new framework allows TTC to forecast ridership impacts associated with improving reliability of transit service. [Attachment 3, p 19]
Improvements that bring no noticeable change for most riders will not have the expected effect.