An Example of Service on Route 70 O’Connor December 20, 2019

One month ago, I presented an analysis of 70 O’Connor in response to a tweet complaining about long waits. This tale began on a Saturday afternoon when all four of the buses on route 70 had congregated at Coxwell Station, then left in a pack, and all reappeared at the same time. This is the absolute nadir of line management.

The article and tweets touched a nerve with media coverage (finding disgruntled passengers at Coxwell Station was an easy task) and claims by the TTC that maybe I didn’t have all of the data. Although I have offered to incorporate any information they might have about using extras – Run as Directed “RAD”  or Construction Service buses (it really does not matter what they are called) – I am still waiting for any confirmation that my presentation was inaccurate. Complaints on Twitter continue to accumulate, and it is not hard to find a period when service on the route is badly bunched simply by looking at NextBus or a similar app.

This started off as a planned update with the November tracking data, but that will have to wait because what I watched unfold on NextBus was a perfect example of how things go wrong.

As I started to write this (just after four pm on December 20), there are five buses on the route all in spitting distance of O’Connor & St. Clair, two westbound and three eastbound. There are supposed to be six buses on the route. During the period I was watching, the sixth appeared late in the peak period at Eglinton Garage, and as I publish this at 5:50 pm, it is about to enter service southbound from Eglinton & Pharmacy.

Here is the service at 4:05 pm. Two of the eastbound buses, oddly enough 8643 and 8644, headed east to Warden Station. At about 4:18, 8644 headed off south on Warden (!) in a clear attempt to make an express trip back to Coxwell Station and space out the service. This was a brave attempt, but as we will see it didn’t quite work out.

[Click on any map in this article to view a larger version.]

Here is the service at 4:22 pm. Two buses are at the outer ends of the line, two are southbound on Coxwell, and 8644 is on Danforth east of Victoria Park.

By 4:29 pm, there are two buses a Coxwell Station, and 8644 is just east of Main Street.

At 4:36 pm, 8644 is now at Coxwell Station, and its partner 8643 coming from Warden Station is just west of the O’Connor bridge at Woodbine. The second bus that was at Coxwell Station has vanished, but it will reappear later at another location on the route.

By 4:40 pm, 8644 is northbound on Coxwell, while its partner 8643 is southound. All service on the line is west of the O’Connor Bridge.

At 4:46, there are two outbound buses headed toward the bridge, and two inbound buses headed down Coxwell.

The effect of these vehicle locations can be seen in the vehicle arrival predictions at Plains Road & Coxwell. There is a southbound bus due, but after that, the gap is 24 minutes. Northbound, there is a 30 minute gap predicted on the 70A service to Eglinton. The route is supposed to be operating every 17′ on each branch with a combined service of 8’30”.

At 4:53, the line is back to five buses, with the sudden appearance of a bus westbound on St. Clair near O’Connor.

But, OOPS! NextBus based the direction on the schedule the bus was supposed to be on, but in fact it is headed east as we see in the snapshot at 4:55.

Now there are no inbound buses on the route, and there is a large gap predicted north of Coxwell Station. The next southbound bus will be in 25 minutes on an allegedly 8’30” headway.

Once the vehicle sitting at Coxwell Station leaves, the prediction for service at that location is not good. The next bus heading to Eglinton is 31 minutes away, and the next one going to Warden is 27 minutes away. Both of them are going north and east away from Coxwell Station, not toward it.

As I finished up this article just after 5:30 pm, I went back for another look and, voila! There is a sixth bus again, but it is sitting in Eglinton Garage, not out on the route. Three of the five buses actually providing service are northbound on Coxwell close to each other, and there is nothing on the Warden Station branch of the route.

This, of course, tells us nothing about crowding on the vehicles and the long waits for something to even appear at stops, compounded by winter weather. The TTC really must come up with metrics that reflect service as riders see it and stop publishing claims about service being so much better than it really is.

11 thoughts on “An Example of Service on Route 70 O’Connor December 20, 2019

  1. Where are the needed buses? On the streetcar routes that’s where.

    Ah for the days when streetcars still drove through the street and track construction. No, they replace the streetcars with buses taken from other bus routes. 3 buses for each streetcar needed, but do they have enough buses AND drivers? Sorry, the bean-counters say we have enough.

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  2. Have you been following the scheduling horror that the Ottawa public (finally) found out about once the LRT opened? You really have to wonder if planners ever ride public transit, much less know you can’t travel ten Kms in two minutes along city streets unless you have some sort of matrix portal, or that users somehow magically disappear over sections of the original BRT that has not been converted to rail yet, so service is dramatically cut. As an analogy, imagine operating the 97 YONGE trolleybus on a thirty minute schedule once the subway line opened….

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  3. Wklis, your comment does nothing but encourage the “Streetcars suck and that’s why Scarborough has lousy transit” crowd. The needed buses are there on the 70. The needed management to keep them properly spaced is utterly missing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I ride the 70 bus a few times a week from Michael Garron Hospital. I agree the service is very slow and I don’t even look at my watch anymore. I just look for the bus’ blue lights coming and hope it is the 70C not the A.

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  5. We were at Weston Road and Eglinton today and saw two “convoys” of 89 buses – THREE in each convoy! One was going south and, a bit later on, one north. maybe same three buses but ….

    Steve: That’s half an hour worth of buses on a 10 minute headway.

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  6. There is no secret here, there is a wilful, complete lack of line management.

    Dawes 23 is a short route, 30m round trip, typically with a 4 minute layover at Main Stn outside of rush hours.

    It used to have problems only the rarest of times.

    These days, service on weekends, mid-days and evenings is often bunched, with operator soaking right behind the other, turning a 10-minute nominal headway into 20, if the vehicle behind is on schedule.

    Rush hours are even more absurd, with a scheduled 7’30 service often reading more like 2 buses just left, one in 19m, one in 20m, 2 in 29.

    It should be virtually impossible to screw up a route that doesn’t face much traffic and is short and frequent.

    But it still happens often these days.

    Meanwhile longer routes get it worse.

    ****

    On the subject of Main Stn: here’s what I saw the other day, one Flexity 506 Carlton in the departure spot, no operator on board. Another Flexity in the arrivals spot, no operator on board………

    A Flexity around the other side of the station, not letting passengers off, and trapped there, because of the 2 already consuming all the platform space……….

    And still another one behind it!

    Filling virtually the entire station.

    Clearly the TTC has lost whatever interest it once had in managing service!

    This isn’t unique, its a system wide epidemic!

    Steve: It is also the effect of padding schedules allegedly to get rid of short turns, but ensuring that there are always herds of vehicles at terminals. Rick Leary’s magic formula for making service better isn’t working, and is wasting operators and vehicles on long layovers. If ops need better breaks, institute step back crews, but don’t waste streetcars and buses that could be providing service.

    Thanks for letting me know about 23 Dawes. The short, simple routes give the simplest examples.

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  7. In about 60 seconds of research one can find this article which seems to imply that Rick Leary’s solution was doomed to fail from the get go. (The key point here is that anything that will impact multiple buses or slow them down for a similar reason will highly increase the likelihood of bunching). Or maybe I’m just reading into this what I want to read?

    Steve: That is an interesting article, but the analogy between a digital network traffic and a bus system is imprecise because the author does not take into account various factors that I have to think of as “behavioural” as opposed to “statistical”. Unlike network packets, buses are driven by “agents” who may have an agenda different from that of the network’s design. They are in turn managed (or not) by other agents attempting to control the network who have agendas of their own, not to mention varying skill sets and experience. Imagine a router that simply doesn’t care where it sends packets, or packets that have a mind of their own and work counter to the effort of network designers and managers.

    Imagine that those packets are a pony express and each of them has a rider, someone whose desire to get to the next town and have a nice pause between stages might take precedence. Going faster is good for the “packet” he is driving, but not necessarily good for the horse, nor for other potential packets if the riders do not arrive reliably to collect the mail.

    There is also the problem that the example cited, a 30 minute headway, will behave much differently from a 5 minute headway in the sense that the normal random fluctuations in spacing on wide headways are merely annoying (and can be corrected by adherence to strict timepoints along a route such as on an intercity bus or an airline), while on narrow headways, the delay caused by a busy stop or a long hold at a traffic signal can contribute a substantial change in bus spacing and make bunching much more likely. If this is compounded by an “on time” metric that allows a vehicle a six minute window, then bunching of two or even three buses can be “measured” and reported as “hitting the target”.

    There is a fundamental difference in network traffic and bus routes in that the users (you and I) do not care about the behaviour of individual packets as long as they all show up and our screen refreshes as expected. Remember the days of the Internet when some packets would never arrive, or of early attempts to stream video that depended on getting a steady arrival rate rather than the “show up when you will” that was the Internet’s basic design. Streaming services today depend on buffering enough data (effectively transmitting it faster than you can watch it) so that at the user’s end of things there is a continuous stream of images even though at the network level this is likely not the case.

    For a bus rider, the design requirements are completely different and are much closer to how one would want a network to behave if it had to stream with little or no buffering, and a transmission rate that could barely keep up with demand. We all know (or might remember) what the network looks like when the stream cannot keep up with the viewing rate, and data technology still has a lot of tricks to conserve bandwidth and deal with degraded performance. Anyone watching digital TV knows what happens when the network cannot keep up with the demand and starts dropping frames in the transmission. That is the digital equivalent of “there’s no room on the bus”, and we demand a lot more of our network providers than the service we are forced to put up with on our transit system.

    The essential difference between network traffic and bus routes is that neither the data packets nor the network hardware have any agenda to perform perversely. Of course we could talk about traffic shaping and selective delays to certain types (or origins) of data, but even that is designed into the network which then blindly carries out the plan. If routers behaved like some transit systems, the world would not work very well, if at all. Both you and I would have long ago abandoned the Internet for some more reliable mechanism like newspapers and envelopes with little pictures on them.

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  8. On a Saturday night I was waiting at Sherbourne for a southbound bus. ETA was in excess of 50 minutes! I walked half an hour and not a single bus passed by me. 4 were headed in the opposite direction. TTC really needs to get their act together!

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  9. It would be interesting to see an analysis of the 23, too, if you have time at some point.

    My feeling from when I used to ride it, is the main source of delay was the 2 left turns by Main Station: leaving the station itself, then the turn from Main onto Danforth. Sometimes it can take 5 minutes or more from leaving the bay to get all the way around the station (the Dawes bay is right at the entrance), out onto Main, and finally complete the turn onto Danforth.

    I always thought there should be an advanced green southbound on Main at Danforth, with 3 routes (20, 23 and 113) making that left, plus sharing the lane with the 506s. There is one eastbound on Danforth at Dawes.

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  10. I thankfully haven’t been reliant on it in months, but my goodness did the 50 Burnhamthorpe cause me nightmares every time I had to take it during the PM peak. A route with 3 buses, a 30 minute round trip time (and 9 minutes recovery), which should provide a bus every 13 minutes, instead provided 2-3 buses in a bunch with a 30 minute one way trip, followed by a large gap of nothingness. To add insult to injury, these buses were (are still?) frequently crush loaded to west of The West Mall (many condos right by Mill Road, as well as some walk-in traffic from from around Ponytail Drive), impacted further by construction of the Six Points intersection pushing drivers onto Islington and Burnhamthorpe, and being stuck behind 3 different branches of the 110 Islington South at the crumbling Islington Station. Indeed, nothing is quite as surprising to see in the suburbs as 3 buses worth of passengers waiting in a space 24′ by 8′ wide, all grumbling about how bad the 50 is, complaining how morning service is just as bad.

    It’s bad like many other routes, yes, but in the off-peak, and especially in the late evenings and weekends, it really is fine. This more seems like a lack of recognition by route planning of on-street conditions (and not for a lack of trying – I did call the TTC help line and follow up with them repeatedly). Genuinely, accepting that Six Points is causing traffic and a longer round trip on an already popular route, and providing 4 buses on a 52 minute round trip (still effectively 13 minute service) would go a long way to fixing the ills faced by riders every day.

    I really hope the situation on the ground has changed.

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