As part of its 2020 Operating Budget, the TTC published a map showing the many routes that received service improvements. This gives the impression that there is widespread benefit to riders with better service on most routes across the city. But complaints about crowding and irregular service persist. How can we reconcile this?
What is an “improvement”?
- More service, more buses
- Limited improvement, few time periods
- Route “resiliency” often with the same buses, but less frequent service
Two or even all three of these can be combined in one change. In addition, there can be a schedule change that simply involves an operational adjustment, but does not actually change service from a rider’s point of view.
Route resiliency refers to adjusting schedules to better match actual travel times which have grown due to traffic congestion. There is also a desire for operators to have enough time for a reasonable break at terminals particularly on long routes. In most cases, the TTC does not add vehicles to a route, but merely widens the scheduled interval between them to increase the round trip time. In theory, this improves on time performance, but at the expense of less frequent scheduled service.
The problem with this is that TTC now schedules for almost the worst case situation on a route, the 95th percentile of travel times. This means that most buses have too much running time and, as a result, wind up with generous layovers at terminals. Meanwhile scheduled service for riders gets worse so that problem trips will stay on time and avoid short turns. The TTC has never publicly analyzed the tradeoff between the two effects, but considers resiliency changes as an improvement. Many of the lines highlighted on the map actually have less frequent service, but they are “improved” according to this scheme.
Another problem here is that when a route appears highlighted on the map above, it could be for anything from a major rework of schedules to a slight improvement in service during one operating period. Moreover, routes can have improvements during some periods, and cuts in others. The extent of improvements can appear greater than it really was.
From a political point of view, the danger of presenting so many “improvements” is that the TTC gives the impression that, despite constrained resources, it continues to run better service across the network. This is misleading, plays to the idea that management “efficiency” can address needs, and undermines calls for more resources.
In this article, I will review routes from Victoria Park eastward. Future installments will look at the north central part of Toronto, Etobicoke, and downtown.