TTC Bus Service Frequency and Reliability in 2020 (Part III)

This article continues a series reviewing the quality of service scheduled and operated over the COVID-19 era in summer 2020 that began with an introduction and continued with Part I looking primarily at Scarborough and Part II moving further west looking at north-south trunk routes between Victoria Park and Jane.

In this article, I continue further west to review these routes:

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TTC Begins To Recall Laid-Off Drivers

On August 27, the TTC announced that it will begin to recall workers who were laid off in April due to a dramatic drop in demand on the transit system.

450 drivers were laid off, and of these 150 will be recalled to provide extra resources for the demand school opening will bring in September.

TTC ridership had dropped to between 15 and 20 per cent of normal levels in the spring, but now sits in the 35 to 40 per cent range across the system. From previous announcements, we know that growth is strongest on the bus system, and crowding problems there have been reported often by riders even before any school traffic returns.

The TTC has not yet announced where service will be added as this depends on plans by school boards that have not yet been finalized.

As ridership continues to grow, more drivers will be recalled and the intent is to have all employees back to work when the system reaches 50 per cent of its pre-pandemic demand.

The TTC has enough buses to operate full service, and with the change in peak demand to a flatter service design, the fleet can go further to provide capacity than it did before. For off-peak service, the question is less whether TTC has the vehicles, but whether they have the drivers and budget headroom to use them.

Many routes currently operate with “trippers” that under normal circumstances would only run a few hours a day in the peaks, but now operate roughly seven hours at a time roughly between 6 AM and 1 PM, and again from 3 PM to 10 PM. The marginal cost of running longer “peak” service is actually less than it might seem because drivers spend more of their day driving on routes rather than to and from garages, and premiums associated with longer split shifts do not apply.

The challenge for 2020 and especially 2021 will be whether the funding level from various governments will allow the TTC to stay ahead of growing demand, and for how long a comparatively uncrowded transit experience will be possible.

What Is A “Low Performing” Transit Route?

Recently, I wrote about the impetus to shift to “microtransit” as a fix for what ails the TTC and other transit systems (see Meddling with Microtransit).

The advocacy group TTCriders has posted a set of maps showing what happens if routes carrying fewer than 4,000 riders per day are deleted from the network (see Where’s My Bus).

Just counting riders does not tell the whole story, and yet this is precisely the kind of simplistic logic we can expect from politicians looking for a fast way to show change, or worse “innovation”, in the provision of transit service.

TTCriders lists only 24 possible routes for cuts based on the 4,000 rider criterion, but in fact there are 61 routes that meet this threshold, out of 169 in total, or over one third. If this were the starting point for TTC cuts, the results would be much more severe than TTCriders shows.

The most recent TTC riding counts are for 2018.

Here is the complete list sorted by route ridership.

Those who would bring a “businesslike approach” to public services always harp about “efficiency” and “cost effectiveness”. Just looking at raw ridership numbers is the wrong place to start.

The number of riders on a route is related to its length, and to the number of people and jobs along that route. Many of the under-4000 club are short routes, and if their demand were scaled up based on their length, they would not be included.

Some routes exist under separate names, but are really part of one corridor. For example, the 960 Steeles West and 954 Lawrence East Express buses carry 2,900 and 3,200 riders daily, but they are an integral part of local routes 60 and 54. Indeed, they were simply the “E” branch of the local service until the TTC rebranded these services as 900-series routes.

The 503 Kingston Road (as it was in 2018) is a rush hour branch of 502 Downtowner, and both of them supplement service on Queen and King Streets. They carried 2,100 and 6,000 riders respectively in 2018, but they are part of a much larger Queen/King corridor from the Beach to downtown.

Probably the strongest example of the problem of reporting ridership by route number is the 134C/913 Progress Bus which operates local in one direction and express the other, peak only. This is one bus route, but its results are reported as if it were two. The 913 carries only 2,000 riders/day, but the 134 carries 8,500 including its other branches.

A more realistic view of route performance is the productivity of the vehicles — how many riders are carried per hour of vehicle operation? When this approach is used, the pecking order of routes changes.

Here is the complete list sorted by riders per vehicle hour which I will refer to as “riding density”. This is preferable to the TTC’s term “productivity” which has implications of what is desired.

Many of the very lowest routes stay at the bottom, notably the premium fare Downtown Express 14x routes whose productivity will always be limited by various factors including the fare and infrequent service which discourage ridership, and a large amount of dead mileage (travel without carrying passengers) in the counterpeak direction.

However, some major routes lie in the bottom third of the list such as 53 Steeles East which carries 25,000 riders per day. (At the point these statistics were compiled, the 953 Express service had not been split off as a separate route, and it does not appear in the TTC’s table.)

The TTC Service Standards are based on the idea that routes deserve to be served when the riding density exceeds a standard threshold. The purpose of this is to rank route productivity on a comparable basis despite variations in length. Even that scale has problems, and I will return to this topic shortly.

The table below shows the range of values used by the TTC.

Bus routes are expected to carry at least 20 riders/vehicle hour in peak periods, and 10 in off peak. Note that this is not the same as having a peak load of 20 or 10 riders respectively, but of serving this number of riders over the course of an hour. On a short route, a bus might make two or even three round trips per hour and the minimum rider count would be distributed over those trips.

An important distinction here is that the standard applies not to all day averages, but to each period of service, or even to an individual branch or portion of a route. A route could have good riding density on an all day basis, but actually run with very light loads in the evenings or on Sundays. The TTC does not publish breakdowns at that level of granularity for its services.

A related issue is the “span of service”, in other words, how many hours/day and days/week does a route receive at least minimal service. Some routes with low riding density survive because they are part of the larger network that operates roughly 19 hours/day as a matter of policy.

These standards were the subject of much debate during the Rob Ford era in Toronto and they were less generous (more riders were needed to justify service) than they are today. The change is directly attributable to the reaction to service cuts imposed by Ford, but then mostly restored by Mayor Tory. (That is a political story in its own right, but not for this article.)

There are only a few routes that do not meet the applicable standard for their 2018 performance, and some of these such as 121 Fort York-Esplanade have seen service cuts since these counts were published. That route, by the way is a good example of how the numbers for a combined route (the eastern and western branches) can be dragged down by performance of the weaker half, notably the western leg which is subject to severe traffic congestion.

Another factor that affects riding density is the length of an average trip. On a short route, by definition, a trip cannot be long, and the capacity of the vehicle is recycled frequently. For example, the 22 Coxwell bus shuttles back and forth from Danforth to Queen, a distance of 2km, carrying 5,600 riders/day at a density of 80/vehicle hour. It is self-evident that those 80 riders are not all on the bus at the same time, and Coxwell benefits from high turnover and strong demand in both directions.

The 54 Lawrence East bus carries 33,300 riders/day, but only 56.9 riders/vehicle hour because this is a long route and riders travel further on it. More resources are required per rider (or “boarding” in TTC parlance) to serve that demand.

The 504 King streetcar carries 84,300 riders/day at a density of 130.7 riders/vehicle hour. This is a route that has very strong demand over its length and a lot of turnover. Indeed, it is almost like three or four routes strung together as one with overlapping travel patterns. From a transit utilization standpoint, this is about as good as it gets.

Another favourite metric often heard from defenders of “taxpayer dollars” is the cost per passenger. This is a meaningless number because people buy rides at a fixed cost, and the longer their trip, the more resources are used to carry them. (For the purpose of this discussion, I will not even begin to talk about the high cost of subway trips to and from distant corners of the network.)

The cost/rider to bring someone from the suburbs to downtown, or to travel across the city, is very high, but we never hear transit discussed in those terms. Conversely, the cost to carry someone a short distance is low relative to the fare. Apportioning fare revenue to individual trip segments is a difficult task, and no matter how one approaches it, there will be inconsistencies and inequities built into the assumptions.

The TTC has not published estimated operating costs on a route basis since 2011, but when they did, the cost/rider varied from a low of $1.18 (2011$) to a high of $5.50. Unsurprisingly, the lowest costs were on routes that serve short trips with the 64 Main bus at the bottom of the list. The streetcar routes were cheaper on a per ride basis than the bus routes because they carry more passengers per vehicle and have good turnover along their length.

Many routes have portions that do not carry well, especially in the off peak, or which are highly directional and therefore show poor productivity because vehicles travel nearly empty in the counterpeak direction.

In the evening it is not unusual for a bus to leave a subway terminal well loaded, but make its return trip nearly empty. That is a fact of life in the transit business.

However, the transit system is a network, and those less productive parts contribute to the usefulness of the whole. From an economic standpoint, a trip might start on a lightly used feeder route, but continue on the subway which would not have that rider if the feeder did not exist to bring the rider to the station, and to take them home again on the return.

There are fundamental questions:

  • What level of demand should we serve with the “standard” transit system and where is the cutoff point beyond which travellers are expected to fend for themselves?
  • Is there a less costly way to provide comparable service for riders in areas with lower demand?
  • Should an alternative service be demand responsive rather than route based, and should it offer door-to-door service or operate only along major streets like a regular bus route?

The question of “less costly” is tricky and it depends on several assumptions:

  • Will the service be provided by transit staff at the same wage rates as the standard service or by lower-paid taxi or Uber-style providers? Is the underlying strategy to attack wages under the guise of improving transit?
  • Will a new fleet be required for the service that adds to the overall cost base either directly to the transit system, or indirectly through fares paid to providers?
  • Will a supplementary fare be charged for riders to use a “last mile” service into low density areas, or will free transfers to and from the standard routes be allowed?
  • Will service provision continue to be done on a city-wide basis regardless of the density of demand, and will it be provided 7×24 at least to the standard now used for the regular transit service?
  • Will the full economic cost in terms of added user fees, inconvenience, or the ability to travel to work/school/shopping be included in the equation?

Any bean counter can bring savings simply by throwing away the half empty jars of beans and saying “oh what a good boy am I” when the result could run counter to what we believe a transit system should be.

The last place to start this discussion is a simplistic review that says anyone on a route carrying fewer than X thousand a day can fend for themselves. Members of the TTC Board and of City Council need to understand how transit works as a whole and as part of the city’s economy before they start slashing in the name of “efficiency”.

TTC Bus Service Frequency and Reliability in 2020 (Part II)

This article continues a series reviewing the quality of service scheduled and operated over the COVID-19 era in summer 2020 that began with an introduction and continued with Part I looking primarily at Scarborough. Part II moves further west looking at north-south trunk routes between Victoria Park and Jane.

There is a pervasive problem across the network shown in these data. Because of the need to quickly implement new schedules in May and June, two actions were taken:

  • Selectively crews were cancelled to reduce the number of vehicles and drivers. This produced gaps in the scheduled service.
  • Trippers were scheduled on many routes starting on June 22 to replace the ad hoc operation of standby buses. These trippers are in service in two seven-hour long waves with a break from midday to the start of the PM peak. In most cases, the headways of the trippers do not blend with those of the regular service causing scheduled bunching and gaps.

The TTC could manage its service to smooth out the schedule problems on the fly, but the actual vehicle tracking data suggests that little of this happens. The result is that vehicles on many routes operate at erratic headways and therefore with uneven wait times and vehicle loads.

Moreover, the schedules have not been adjusted to smooth out their problems, possibly because the TTC expects to go to revised schedules sometime in the fall based on resumption of some demand such as school trips.

In two cases, Dufferin and Keele, articulated buses are supposed to be operating, but in practice the trippers, which might account for half of the service, use standard sized buses thereby reducing capacity and adding to crowding.

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TTC Service Changes Effective September 6, 2020

The TTC is making official changes to few routes in September 2020, and the lion’s share of additions will use standby vehicles to supplement scheduled services where needed. The effect of the reopening of schools on transit demand is not yet known, and the TTC will respond as ridership builds up. Further details will be announced in late August once the plans and requirements of the two major school boards are known.

The following routes remain suspended until further notice:

  • 140 series Downtown Premium Express routes
  • 900 series Express routes except for 900 Airport, 913 Progress and 927 Highway 27
  • 176 Mimico GO and 508 Lake Shore
  • Weekday daytime service on Kingston Road will continue to be provided by the consolidated 502/503 as streetcar route 503 Kingston Road to Spadina and King.

Construction at Runnymede Station has progressed to the point where the interline between 71 Runnymede and 77 Swansea is no longer required, and both routes will loop into the station.

Construction at Keele Station continues, but the 41 Keele service will now loop at the recently rebuilt High Park Loop.

Construction at Eglinton West Station for the Crosstown LRT was originally expected to finish by September, but this date has been pushed back to early October due to COVID-related delays to the project.

Track construction on Bathurst from south of Dundas to Wolseley Loop (north of Queen) will require buses to divert via Dundas, Spadina and Queen for about three weeks starting in late September.

Track and road construction on Dundas Street West will require the following changes:

  • 506/306 Carlton buses will divert to Dundas West Station via Lansdowne and Bloor.
  • 505 Dundas streetcars will turn back at College Loop (Lansdowne, College, Dundas) during the first part of construction work at Howard Park and Dundas.
  • When construction begins on the track and intersection of College and Dundas, the 505 Dundas streetcars will turn back via Lansdowne, College and Ossington.

The 505 and 506 services will return to their normal routings to Dundas West Station and High Park Loop respectively late in 2020.

The 506/306 Carlton service will resume partial streetcar operation in January 2021 when track and overhead upgrades in the west end are completed. Bus service on the east end of the route will continue until May 2021, tentatively, pending overhead upgrades and completion of construction at Main Station. Where, exactly, the “east end” will begin has not yet been decided.

The bus loop routing at Centennial College for 102 Markham Road and 134 Progress will be changed as shown in the map below. A similar change will occur on 902 Markham Road Express when that route resumes operation (date TBA).

Keele Yard will re-open following track repairs and Line 2 trains will be dispatched from that yard. There is no change in service levels on the subway/RT network.

Seasonal services to Bluffer’s Park (175), Ontario Place and Cherry Beach (121) will continue until Thanksgiving weekend.

These and other changes are detailed in the table linked below.

The memo detailing these changes also includes a table of actual vs budgeted operations, and this shows the overall degree to which service has been reduced due to COVID-19. The percentage drop in the summer months is lower because the budget already included provision for the usual reductions over that period.

Meddling With Microtransit

Millions of dollars will flow to Toronto and other Ontario cities to support their transit systems through the COVID-19 emergency. A total of $2-billion will come from the federal and provincial governments with the first third, $666-million, in 2020.

For the balance, there is a catch. Ontario does not want to dole out subsidies next year without conditions that will affect how transit service is delivered and, potentially, what it will cost to ride.

Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney wrote to Mayor John Tory on August 12 saying that cities will have to “review the lowest performing bus routes and consider whether they may be better serviced by microtransit.” Within the GTHA there will be mandatory discussions about “governance structures” — bureaucratese for who gets to make decisions — and integration of services and fares.

Metrolinx has contemplated fare integration schemes on and off for years, but could never reach a conclusion because funding was not available to reduce the burden of cross-border travel and simplify the regional fare system. This changed, for a time, with a discounted GO+TTC fare, but that ended on March 31, 2020 thanks to a provincial funding cut.

Metrolinx proposed a fare structure where riders would pay based on distance traveled, at least on “rapid transit” lines, but the effect would be to raise fares within Toronto, particularly for longer trips, to subsidize riders coming into the city from the 905 municipalities. That scheme sits on the back burner, but it has never been formally rejected. Even worse, Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster is on record musing that transit should pay its own way, a view completely at odds with the social and economic development role transit represents.

Governance brings its own problems. Metrolinx started out as a political board with representatives from GTHA municipalities, but these were replaced by provincial appointees who could be counted on to sing from the government’s songbook. The agency has evolved more into a construction company than a transit operator, and there is little experience with the needs and role of local transit on the board.

Who can cay whether a future consolidated GTHA transit governance model and provincial funding might bring its own service standards lower than those now accepted in Toronto and expected of the TTC, even with its problems?

Microtransit is a recent buzzword born of the assumption that there are efficiencies to be wrung from transit and it would not cost so much if only we would embrace new innovative ways to deliver service. Why run a full size city bus when an Uber or a van would do? Even Deputy Mayor Minnan-Wong has chimed in to defend taxpayer dollars against the cost of operating empty buses.

The TTC has service standards that dictate whether transit service should run at all and how much room should be provided for riders. During the pandemic era, these standards were relaxed to reflect the need for social distancing, but reports of crowded vehicles are common. Demand is growing, particularly on the bus network serving widely spread work locations in suburban Toronto.

Barring a major COVID-19 relapse and economic shutdown, transit could be back to a substantial proportion of its former demand by the end of 2021. Microtransit “solutions” that might appear appropriate for the depressed demand today could well be obsolete in a year or two.

The TTC has only thirteen routes that carry fewer than 1,000 riders per day. Five of these are the “premium express” lines, two primarily exist to serve TTC properties, and one is a peak hour shuttle to GO. Even the Forest Hill bus managed to carry 930 a day (in 2018), and that’s a lot of Uber trips.

Source: TTC 2018 Ridership and Service Statistics

Financially, offloading riders onto Uber sounds appealing, but this ignores the transfer of costs for vehicles and maintenance, not to mention the low effective wage rate, for Uber operator/drivers. Transit can be a great deal if someone else foots the bill.

An oft-cited example of microtransit is a scheme in Innisfil, Ontario, a town that is about forty percent bigger than Scarborough. Uber provides trips to local residents at a fare of $4 to $6 provided that one travels to or from specific locations. Otherwise, the deal is simply a $4 discount on Uber’s regular fare.

There is a 30 trip-per-month cap which Innisfil Transit implemented in April 2019 “to improve the Innisfil Transit service and make sure everyone can enjoy it”. In other words, to cap the total cost of the service. Low income residents can apply for a 50 percent discount, and they are not subject to a trip maximum.

These are not cheap trips for many riders, and the town’s subsidy for 2019 was about $8.25 per rider for just over 100,000 trips. To put this in a TTC context, the Forest Hill bus carries more than twice the ridership of the entire Innisfil system. [930 riders/day times 300 day-equivalents/year = 279,000]

Source: Innisfil Transit Update — April 22, 2020

Critics of buses running nearly empty through Toronto streets miss several key points including:

  • If demand requires a full-sized a bus for part of the day, there is no point in owning a separate smaller vehicle for the lightly-travelled hours.
  • No transit route has full vehicles over its entire trip, especially in the counter-peak direction.
  • Not all trips occur in peak periods, and off-peak service can make a full round trip by transit possible.
  • Riders who have to book a trip have less flexibility than if a bus just shows up on a reliable schedule.
  • The Innisfil model does not address a system where an Uber rider might transfer to a main line service to complete their journey and have to pay an additional fare.

In preparing this article, I wanted to understand the details of Minister Mulroney’s proposal to determine what the effect might be for Toronto and other cities, and I posed two questions.

What is meant by a “poor performing” route? What level of demand would determine whether a fixed route or demand-responsive service would be used?

The answer, from Christina Salituro, Senior Manager, Legislative Affairs and Issues Management in the Minister’s office was:

Our government will work with transit agencies across the province to evaluate low volume routes to determine whether there could be microtransit solutions, with the goal being to ensure similar or better service in a cost-effective manner, utilizing the best technologies available.

We also recognize that not every transit agency is the same, which is why we will work in a pragmatic way with agencies.

All proposals are subject to further discussions and engagement with municipalities as we explore a range of options to make transit systems more sustainable in Ontario.

What fare integration model is the government considering? Cross-border fare elimination? Fare by distance? Who would fund any new subsidies related to lower fares?

The government replied:

With the impact that COVID-19 has had on ridership, it is important to ensure we reduce as many barriers as possible to encourage the safe return of riders to public transit.

Transit is key to reducing traffic congestion, particularly in the GTHA.

Our government will be working with municipalities and transit agencies to ensure we are reducing fare and boundary barriers that may prevent some from choosing public transit due to cost, time, or unnecessary transfer.

It would be premature to speculate about the financial impacts of fare and service integration until we do further work with our municipal partners.

These are fine statements about government co-operation, but they give absolutely no sense of what the quid-pro-quo might be for cities to access the remaining $1.33-billion worth of pandemic subsidies.

Should provision of transit service depend on a business model that offloads costs onto vehicle owner/drivers and almost certainly does not pay a good wage compared to a transit company? Should demand-responsive microtransit service be operated by an Uber-like business, or as part of the local transit system in locations that already have one?

There may be a place for microtransit especially in areas of low population and dispersed travel demand, but operating this won’t be cheap for the cities and towns involved.

Microtransit, especially from the private sector, might fit Ontario’s political agenda, but it will not address transit’s much greater challenges to rebuild post-pandemic and to improve its market share for travel.

TTC Bus Service Frequency and Reliability in 2020 (Part I)

This article continues a review of TTC bus route service that began with an introduction that included 54 Lawrence East as a sample.

Routes in this article:

Lest anyone think that these routes were “cherry picked” as particularly bad examples of service, no, they simply happen to be busy routes I chose to examine. The problems illustrated here are pervasive on the TTC’s system as future articles in the series will show.

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TTC Bus Service Frequency and Reliability in 2020 (Introduction)

One “benefit” of being cooped up at home more than usual is that I have a lot of time to devote to rummaging around in TTC data. This article begins a series that I am sure most people will not read in its entirety, but instead concentrate on routes of interest to them. I will not feel bad if you don’t read every word, and there is no test at the end.

A common complaint about TTC service in pre-covid days was that it was inadequate to demand and unreliable. Complaints like this go back decades, and one of my earlier advocacy projects was a review of streetcar service back in 1984 conducted jointly by the Streetcars for Toronto Committee, some members of Council and volunteers from local community groups.

The covid era brings its own challenges including reduced vehicle capacity for distancing, plus a scramble by the TTC to adjust service across the system on very short notice. On some routes, riders still complain about crowding and the inability to distance, and we are now in a period where higher load factors will be part of TTC service. The TTC neither has enough vehicles, nor enough revenue to operate a service with generous distances between riders as the demand slowly returns across the network. This build-up has been strongest on surface routes in the suburbs where work-from-home is not an option for many jobs, and where fewer trips can easily be taken by alternate modes such as walking or cycling. The TTC has reported riding on some routes at forty per cent of per-covid levels and growing.

Suburban routes pose a special problem because travel demand does not necessarily fit into the classic patterns of time and direction for core-oriented commutes, Service that is designed to get  people downtown (or at least to the subway) does not necessarily serve other demands well. In “normal” times, this problem can be masked, but when core-bound and academic travel patterns are stripped away, the mismatch between suburban demand and capacity, especially allowing for distancing, becomes evident.

Service designs have evolved over past months.

Through January and February 2020, there were few changes to scheduled service, but by the March 29 schedule changes, the effects of covid were showing up across the city with much lower demand and reduced traffic congestion.

There were actually two versions of the March 29 schedules, and the big difference in the second was the disappearance of almost all premium and express services. This allowed the TTC to reduce total service in response to increased employee absence, and to redirect some of the express buses as unscheduled supplements to local service.

By the May 10 schedule changes, further cuts were implemented, although many were on an ad hoc basis to avoid complete rescheduling of routes. Instead of writing new schedules, selective crews were cancelled leaving gaps in service that were supposed to be managed on the fly by route supervisors. A separate pool of standby buses and crews was allocated to be dispatched as needed as the TTC learned where services were overstretched based on new loading standards.

The TTC did not issue a “Scheduled Service Summary” for May 2020 because of the number of ad hoc changes, but some of the planned schedules can be inferred from the June-August summary where effective dates for some schedules are in May.

These standby buses did not appear in the published schedules for routes nor on the vehicle tracking apps, and they may or may not show up in historical tracking data depending on how operators “signed on” to the system. For example, a bus running on 35 Jane has to sign on to a run that exists in the schedule to show up in NextBus (and all of the apps using the NextBus feed), and it must at least sign on to the route to have any hope of being tracked after the fact to analyze the service actually operated.

A further problem is that the TTC does not publish information about where these unscheduled buses are used. They have issued a list of routes that are monitored for overcrowding, but no information about specific actions on these or other routes.

  • 300 Bloor-Danforth Blue Night
  • 320 Yonge Blue Night
  • 29 Dufferin
  • 35 Jane
  • 37 Islington
  • 39 Finch East
  • 41 Keele
  • 44 Kipling South
  • 52 Lawrence West – (Airport trips)
  • 96 Wilson
  • 102 Markham Rd
  • 117 Alness-Chesswood
  • 119 Torbarrie
  • 123 Sherway
  • 165 Weston Rd North

(The list above might be adjusted based on TTC’s monitoring.)

Regular readers might recall a series of articles about the 70 O’Connor bus and its erratic service. The TTC claimed that there were run-as-directed buses added to the service, but these do not show up in the tracking data. One could ask why, after the expenditure of millions on a new vehicle monitoring system, the TTC is unable to demonstrate where they operate this type of supplementary service.

Finally, the June 21 changes returned some of the buses that had been cut in previous months to scheduled service, but on a different basis from the pre-covid arrangements. Instead of a roughly three-hour AM and PM peak period with added vehicles, the extra vehicles are scheduled for two seven-hour periods from the very early hours of the AM peak starting between 5 and 6 AM and running until noon to 1 PM. A second batch of extras enters service between 2 and 3 PM running until 9 to 10 PM. The affected routes are:

  • 7 Bathurst
  • 24 Victoria Park
  • 29 Dufferin
  • 34 Eglinton East
  • 35 Jane
  • 39 Finch East
  • 41 Keele
  • 52 Lawrence West
  • 54 Lawrence East
  • 86 Scarborough
  • 102 Markham Road
  • 165 Weston Road North

This has two effects on the routes where the extras are used:

One effect is that the headway (time between buses) for the block of extras is generally not the same as for the regular service. This can cause erratic headways and uneven loading. For example, if an 8 minute “A” service and a 10 minute “B” service are mixed on the same route, the pattern of departure times (minutes after the hour) could look like this. Sometimes the “B” service nicely splits the headway of the “A” service, but at others the two leave close together or at the same time.


This sort of thing is unavoidable when headways on any mixed service are not the same. However, the TTC has a six-minute window (from 1 minute early to 5 minutes late) for a bus to be considered on time. When the scheduled headways are in single digits, bunched service is inevitable even if the schedule does not have built in gaps and bunching. However, if the scheduled headways are wider, but uneven, this builds uneven service into a route’s operation.

The other effect is that there is a two-hour period between each set of “trippers” on the affected routes where headways are much wider than at other times, and this can be compounded by uneven headways for the vehicles that do remain over the bridge period.

The cancelled runs cause scheduled gaps where one or more buses are missing, but the times of adjacent runs have not been adjusted to compensate. It is not clear how much effort the TTC is putting into fixing this problem, and the generally uneven level of service can make it hard to distinguish this from other problems with headway reliability.

The situations are unique to each affected route, and I will go into the details in the route-by-route review.

A Note About Data Sources

All schedules for the TTC are available in GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification). The current version is on the City of Toronto Open Data site, but archived version for the TTC and many other transit systems are available on the transitfeeds site. These data contain the same information that is published on the TTC’s timetable pages, but in a format that lends itself to analysis and presentation.

Tracking data for TTC vehicles is archived by the TTC from two systems: the 30+ year old “CIS” (Communications and Information System) and its replacement “VISION” which has more extensive capabilities for line management. As of early July 2020, most of the surface fleet has been converted to VISION with only a portion of the streetcars remaining to be completed.

[The tracking data are not published for general access, but are available to me and others by arrangement with the TTC. The data sets are very large and require substantial reworking to permit analysis and presentation. For a general discussion of analyses with these data, please see Understanding TTC Service Analysis Charts: A Primer .]

Route Analyses

In the articles to follow, I will divide the major routes into geographic groups. This is an arbitrary split both for reasons of size, and to allow readers to home in on specific routes of interest by area.

As an introduction, here is a review of route 54 Lawrence East.

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504 King: Downtown Travel Times in 2020

The King Street Transit Priority “Pilot” has been in place since fall 2017, and is now a permanent fixture. Long time readers will know that I have tracked the changes in travel times through the affected area between Bathurst and Jarvis Streets for many years.

For some time, there has been little “news” because conditions on King were stable and the travel times were not changing even as the number of scofflaws grew. Basically, the street did not reach the “tipping point” where there was enough traffic, whether it should be there or not, to push conditions “over the edge” into the pre-pilot congestion. One notable exception was the effect of major sports events and traffic jams that plugged (mainly) University Avenue causing north-south traffic to back through the intersection preventing east-west movement.

With the steep decline in traffic downtown through the combined effect of work-from-home and the shuttering of much of the Entertainment District, I took another look at King to see what was happening.

Note: For one week in April 2020, track repairs at Church Street prevented King cars from running through, and no data appear for those days in the charts.

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A Primer Re Service Analysis Charts

From time to time I get requests to explain how the service analysis charts work in more detail, but without getting into the gory bits of how the data are actually manipulated.

To that end, I have added a new article Understanding TTC Service Analysis Charts: A Primer that goes into a fair amount of detail but leaves out much of the technical nuts of bolts. It includes examples to show the progress from mounds of detailed data to summary formats, and shows the challenges of what to display and how depending on what aspect of service one wishes to examine.

The intent is to have an “explainer” with the details to avoid duplicating this information in every service analysis article.

The article is long, but is divided into section with hotlinks from an index near the beginning so that readers can jump to each section directly.

If you have comments or questions, please leave them on that article, not here. (Comments here are disabled.)

This is a complement to the technical article Methodology For Analysis of TTC’s Vehicle Tracking Data that looks “under the covers”.

Both of these articles are linked from the “Reference Material” tab in the main navigation bar if you need them in the future.