When Better Service Isn’t – Part I: Scarborough

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.

Explanatory Note

Under each route description below, I have included snapshots from the Scheduled Service Summaries for November-December 2018 and for November-December 2019. Express and local services are grouped together, and in the case of the Eglinton East corridor services (86, 116, 905 and 986) these are all collected so that various aspects of service in the corridor can be seen together.

Yes, the snapshots that show up inline are teensy-weensy type. They are clipped from pages that are legal size with a lot of information on them. Click on the images to open them in a larger readable format.

The routes below are ordered from north to south, and then from east to west.

If a route is not listed here, it does not appear on the TTC map of improvements, and service at the end of 2019 is the same as a year earlier.

There is a lot of detail here in the linked excerpts from TTC Scheduled Service Summaries. They are included so that readers can look at routes of personal interest. The text accompanying them gives a general description of what changed, or did not.

53/953 Steeles East

In 2019, the 53E/F Steeles East Express was rebranded as the 953. Headways on the local service are slightly wider on weekdays due to “resiliency” changes. Weekend service is identical. From a rider’s point of view, this route has seen little improvement.

42 Cummer

Weekday service on 42 Cummer is less frequent due to resiliency changes. There is no change in weekend service.

39/939 Finch East

Local service on 39 Finch East is less frequent at the end of 2019 than it was in 2018 weekdays and Saturdays with the exception of Saturday early evenings when there has been an improvement from a 10’00″combined headway to 7’30”.

Headways on the express branches have remained the same, but buses were added in the weekday peaks and midday to allow for longer running times.

85/985 Sheppard East

The local service on 85 Sheppard East has been improved slightly in the peak periods with offsetting reductions in the off-peak. Saturday afternoon service is slightly less frequent, but early evening service is improved. There is no change on Sundays.

The express services saw wider headways in the peaks with some offsetting off-peak improvements.

134/913 Progress

The only change on this route is that the 134C/913 service operates every 4’15” in the AM peak in 2019 compared to every 4’30” in 2018. Service at all other times is identical.

95/995 York Mills

Weekday headways on both the local and express branches of this route are wider at the end of 2019 than they were in 2018 due to resiliency changes. The only improvement is for weekday midday service when the 995 express was added and the total number of buses per hour on the common portion of the route rose from 7.5 to 10. The actual benefit (or loss) depends on where a rider is travelling and which service(s) would be of use in the two service plans for their trip.

38 Highland Creek

The only change on this route is that resiliency adjustments during peak periods have made service less frequent in 2019.

54/954 Lawrence East

The only change on Lawrence East is that the 2019 scheduled have one more bus in peak periods for the 954 express service east of the SRT. This preserves the 2018 service level rather than stretching the headway. Local service is unchanged even though the entire route is highlighted on the map.

86/116/905/986 Eglinton Corridor

Four routes serve the corridor running east from Kennedy Station along Eglinton and then north via Meadowvale or Morningside:

  • 86 Scarborough runs east to Kingston Road, then northeast to Meadowvale and north to Sheppard with seasonal service to the Zoo. Monday through Saturday, the route branches at Lawrence and Kingston Road with half of the buses running east to the Beechgrove/Coronation loop, and half north to Sheppard.
  • 116 Morningside runs east via Eglinton and Guildwood Parkway, then north via Morningside to a loop north of Finch.
  • 905 Eglinton East Express runs east via Eglinton and Kingston Road, then north via Morningside to the UTSC campus.
  • 986 Scarborough Express (formerly 86E) runs over the same route as 86 Scarborough to Sheppard and Meadowvale.

Service on the 86E/986 is identical. This is was only a rebranding during 2019. The local 86 service is identical in 2019 to that in 2018. Nothing has changed on this route except the rebranding of the express service.

Weekday service on 116 Morningside has not changed. Weekend service is more frequent during some time periods, and is less frequent during others.

Weekday service on 905 Eglinton East Express is less frequent except in the evening with one bus removed from peak and midday periods. Weekend service is unchanged.

12 Kingston Road

During all periods on weekdays, service on 12 Kingston Road is less frequent thanks to resiliency changes. Weekend service is unchanged.

24/924 Victoria Park

Resiliency adjustments on this route have made headways slightly longer during some periods, and slightly shorter during others.

167 Pharmacy North

Due to resiliency changes, this route operates every 30 minutes rather than every 24 during weekday peaks and midday periods. Weekend service is unchanged.

68 Warden

Weekday service on 68 Warden is considerably less frequent due to resiliency adjustments, particularly during the PM peak. Weekend service is unchanged.

17 Birchmount

Resiliency adjustments have made the service less frequent during all weekday periods except for the AM peak. Weekend service is unchanged.

16 McCowan

Resiliency adjustments have made the service less frequent during all weekday periods. Weekend service is unchanged.

9 Bellamy

Resiliency adjustments have made the service less frequent during all weekday periods except late evenings. Weekend service is unchanged.

102/902 Markham Road

Resiliency adjustments have made the service less frequent during all weekday periods except late evenings. Weekend service is unchanged.

The 902 express service is unchanged.

2 thoughts on “When Better Service Isn’t – Part I: Scarborough

  1. This is a good explanation of why increasing service at the rate of inflation, or even at the rate of growth even isn’t enough. As streets get more crowded you need more busses to run the same headway, you need even more to maintain the share of use, and then you need to account for inflation on top of all that. I would also suggest that eventually roads max out on their capacity for vehicles, at which point you have to increase spending even more to change the modal share. It would be an interesting research project to figure out which roads and routes in the city are at the point where only modal share changes will allow more users.


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