The TTC 2021 Service Plan

The TTC Service Plan for 2021 is still in draft, but the TTC wants public feedback on their proposals. The deadline for comments is October 9, 2020.


In earlier stages of public participation, the focus was on implementation of the RapidTO bus lanes, notably the one on Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside that has just been installed.

Now the TTC has added material about other proposals and there is a 24-minute video overview on the presentation page linked above.

RapidTO Bus Lanes

Two sets of bus lanes are part of the service plan. Although the Eglinton lanes are already going into operation, a question remains of the stop locations for the express buses. A similar survey is included for the Jane corridor. [Maps and additional details are in the Discussion Guide linked above.]

For Eglinton, there are four options proposed:

  • Maintain existing express stops with minor changes
  • All stops served by all routes. This would improve service at local stops, but would add 8 stops to the 905 Eglinton East Express trips. The 986 Scarborough Express would be folded into the 86C Scarborough service.
  • Reduce stops served by the 905 Eglinton East Express to a handful of major locations making the primary purpose of this route a link between Kennedy Station and UTSC.
  • Divert the 986 Scarborough Express to Lawrence Avenue via Danforth Road eastbound and Midland Avenue westbound. This would provide a limited stop service from eastern Scarborough to Kennedy Station, but would remove some service from Eglinton Avenue.

For Jane, the route is broken into two segments for the survey — north and south of Eglinton.

North of Eglinton (the location of the proposed RapidTO bus lanes):

  • Serve all stops with a consolidated 35 and 935 Jane service. Express buses per se would disappear, but there would be more frequent service at local stops.
  • Limited stops for the 935 Express service at Eglinton, Weston, Lawrence, Wilson, Sheppard, Finch and Steeles. This would speed up trips for riders travelling longer distances at the expense of service at intermediate stops.
  • Maintain existing express stops.

South of Eglinton (outside of the RapidTO lane area):

  • Maintain existing express stops.
  • Stop at major intersections only (Alliance and Foxwell would be dropped).
  • Run express from Eglinton to Jane Station.

An important part of any evaluation is the degree to which stopping patterns actually serve rider trips and whether faster journeys take precedence over more frequent service at the stops riders use.

Each rider’s viewpoint will differ depending on their primary travel pattern in these corridors. However, another important question is the amount of time that would actually be saved once on an express bus compared to the extra time one might have to wait for one to arrive.

The TTC also seeks feedback about design factors at stops including shade, shelter and lighting, protection from traffic, seating, cleanliness, visual appeal and accessibility.

Express Route Evaluation and Changes

A major problem on some of the 900 Express routes (when they were still operating) was their relatively infrequent and unreliable service. The survey includes questions about existing express routes and whether they serve rider needs. This will feed into the post-implementation reviews.

Changes are proposed for the express network in 2021:

  • Weekday daytime service on 929 Dufferin and 941 Keele
  • Weekday midday and early evening, plus weekend daytime service on 953 Steeles East and 960 Steeles West
  • New express service on 943 Kennedy and 968 Warden between the Danforth Subway and Steeles

What is missing from the discussion is the potential effect on local services in these corridors. With the limitations on system resources, it would not be surprising to see the total buses/hour at best stay the same or even decrease to recoup travel time savings from the express operation.

An informed discussion of these proposals is impossible without a detailed service design.

Local Route Evaluation and Changes

121 Fort York – Esplanade

The 121 Fort York–Esplanade bus has always had erratic service because of traffic congestion in the stadium area and in front of Union Station. In October 2020, the weekday service will be cut to half hourly all day, a change that should kill off any vestige of demand. The irony of this happening during a “recovery” period is hard to miss.

The TTC proposes cancellation of the route west of Bay Street and an extension east and north to Gerrard and Broadview. It will obviously need a new route name as Fort York will no longer be part of its territory.

The extension will provide service to the east end of Mill Street and then north to River and the many new buildings along that street. There are, however, a few unanswered questions about this route:

  • How will seasonal service to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach be provided?
  • Will the service design restore a frequency to weekday service that is actually worth waiting for?

Wilson Station to Stanley Greene

The TTC proposes a new peak period route into the Stanley Greene neighbourhood from Wilson Station as shown below. There is no discussion of the type of demand that will originate in that area, and what the destination of riders from there will be.

New Periods of Operation

In addition to the new express services listed above, new local services are proposed:

  • 119 Torbarrie: Off peak
  • 167 Pharmacy North: Sunday daytime and early evening

The TTC seeks input on any other routes that riders feel should have added periods of service.

In a year when any new services will come at the expense of others, the TTC needs to quantity the benefit to riders of new services versus the effect elsewhere in the network.

The Scarborough East Study

The TTC proposes to reorganize bus service in eastern Scarborough following a study that began in spring 2017.

Here is the existing route layout (pre-pandemic):

And here is the proposed new one:

The changes include:

  • A new 178 Brimorton bus operates between the Coronation Drive area and STC replacing the existing 86D Scarborough and 54B Lawrence East loops at Beechgrove and Orton Park respectively. A 178B short turn will operate to Kingston Road and Morningside.
  • The 54B service which now loops at Orton Park will be extended to Kingston Road.
  • Service to Conlins Road now provided by 116A Morningside will be replaced by an extended 905 Eglinton East Express.
  • The 95A York Mills service will be extended east to Kingston Road & Sheppard.
  • A new 938 Express will operate from STC Station to UTSC via Ellesmere running express eastbound in the morning and westbound in the afternoon.

The TTC seeks feedback from riders on how they would be affected by these route changes.

High Cost Services

In order to pay for planned new and improved services in a year when there will be, at best, no new resources, the TTC has flagged the routes which are the worst performers financially in the system.

Among these are the 14x Downtown Express buses, and the TTC does not plan to resume service on these routes. They will be officially cancelled, a long overdue move. Point-to-point express services address niche markets, usually with political clout to get them implemented in the first place and they have lived a charmed life. Even with a premium fare, they are very expensive to run. The costs below do not include the capital value of buses that could be used elsewhere for peak service.

The 903 Express that parallels route 3 SRT will also be dropped.

Routes 51 Leslie, 121 Fort York–Esplanade and 900 Airport Express will have service cuts effective Thanksgiving weekend as described in TTC Service Changes Effective October 11, 2020.

In some cases, routes serve small areas that are difficult to reach such as the 115 Silver Hills and 171 Mount Dennis buses. These are examples of the type of problem that can arise looking only at the route level where comparatively unproductive segments might otherwise be masked. For example, 115 Silver Hills could just as easily have been operated as a branch of 95 York Mills and its performance would be lost in the much larger route’s numbers.

189 Stockyards is a route that patches together the leftovers from the Junction Area route study implemented a year ago. Again, if it were treated as a branch of an existing route it would not attract attention.

Some routes will lose their late evening service where performance is poor.

  • 28 Bayview South (serves the Brickworks)
  • 33 Forest Hill
  • 62 Mortimer (paralleled by 87 Cosburn)
  • 107 St. Regis (Sunday service will also be dropped)
  • 167 Pharmacy North

Spadina Subway Extension Post-Implementation Review

The Spadina Subway Extension has been in operation for almost three years, and the TTC is finally getting around to a review of the route structure. The only proposed changes are for routes 107 St. Regis and 117 Alness/Chesswood.

In both proposed options, the link to Pioneer Village Station is cut and the surviving route connects either to Downsview Park (option 2) or Sheppard West Station (options 1 and 3).

The TTC seeks rider feedback on which option is preferred.

Service Reliability and Capacity

There is no discussion in the Service Plan of how the TTC will address the chronic problem of irregular service that contributes to crowding.

Changes that are in the works, but not mentioned, include restoration of more of the “traditional” service on routes including runs that were cancelled as a cost saving in the spring. The large pool of 600 series run-as-directed buses will shrink as more of the regular scheduled service resumes, and the 600s will be primarily used for midday school trips that do not fit into a conventional schedule.

In a series of six articles, I wrote about the TTC’s apparent inability to maintain reliable vehicle spacing on routes in part through schedule design, and in part through a lack of route management. Those articles covered a lot of territory and I did not expect most readers to read them “cover to cover”, but rather to cherry pick areas of personal interest.

The point of diving so deeply was to show, without any room for doubt, that problems of service reliability that are pervasive across the network. This was an issue before the pandemic. It is disheartening to see that even under lighter traffic conditions, when the usual culprit “congestion” is less of an issue if at all, the TTC has so many buses running with gaps and bunches.

In past years, the Service Plan has addressed “reliability” by changing schedules to pad running times and add terminal layovers. This has reduced short turns, but it has not dealt with the problem of uneven vehicle spacing.

Some of the covid-era schedules clawed back this padding, and it will be interesting to see if the changes are permanent. Excess travel time in schedules can actually work against reliability because drivers know there is plenty of leeway for them to stay roughly on time. A related issue is that the TTC does not report on service quality at a granular level that could reveal chronic cases of bunching and gaps.

There are monthly charts showing how short turns have declined steadily, and that service is, by TTC standards, running “on time”. But a measure of actual service quality and crowding seen by riders is not part of the TTC ongoing review nor is there any target to improve.

Finally, there is the question of fleet planning. The TTC’s bus fleet has a large ratio of spares to scheduled service. This makes it very easy to hit high performance targets (the worst buses simply stay in the garage). but this comes at a cost of a larger fleet and limits on actual service to riders.

For the October schedules, the peak number of buses (not including the 600-series crews) is 1,295 in the AM peak and 1,361 in the PM peak. An additional 290 crews are allocated to service relief, school trips and subway shuttles, but they are not all in service at the same time. This probably translates to about 130 buses in total

Garage capacity is shown as 1,675 buses, but this does not include McNicoll Garage which is about to enter service in 2021.

The total fleet is about 2,100 buses and this leaves many buses that are sitting idle. A problem for TTC budgets is that activating more of the fleet for service requires more drivers that the TTC does not have and does not want to hire.

A major problem for budget and service planning is the question of how many buses Toronto will choose to run, and how much residual capacity for service actually exists with the existing fleet.

Streetcar service uses much less than the entire fleet. The “maximum capacity” shown below is net of maintenance spares (including those for the major warranty rebuild on the first roughly 70 cars) and of carhouse space during construction projects (Roncesvalles now, Russell in future years).

With a peak requirement of 142 streetcars, the TTC has a lot of headroom in the 204-car fleet especially when the warranty repairs are completed late in 2021. Until recently, the TTC was fielding 160 streetcars per day, but this was cut back both to increase the maintenance pool and because of major work that required bus substitution on 511 Bathurst and 506 Carlton. Large projects will affect 501 Queen and 504 King in 2021, but the TTC should attempt to run as much streetcar service as possible with their available fleet so that buses are not consumed running needlessly on streetcar lines

Roughly speaking a 20 per cent ratio of spares to service is a reasonable target for modern fleets. That means that for every 10 vehicles scheduled, there would be 2 spares. A service of 100 peak vehicles would require a fleet of 120.

The TTC has not produced a fleet plan nor discussed the availability for or limitations on service for many years. Any future debates about budgets and service restoration cannot take place without this basic information.

Plans will be complicated by estimating what demand patterns will look like in the next few years, and in particular whether the traditional shape of peak periods will return. While the peaks are lower, this gives headroom to provide more service overall and to improve crowding standards at least for an interim period.

This depends, of course, on whether Toronto wants to spend the money, but we do not even know what is possible.

The 2021 Service Plan is completely silent on these issues at least in part because it is a “Service” document, not a “Budget” document. Without options on the table, TTC management prevents informed debate.

18 thoughts on “The TTC 2021 Service Plan

  1. Re: 121 Bus. Removing service west of York makes sense as there is certainly major congestion on Front Street west of Bay (particularly eastbound) however, I hope that the TTC will look at traffic studies of Front Street vs Wellington Street going west from Yonge to York. From casual observation I would say Wellington is more congested than Front going west so it may be better to route the new bus west from Yonge Street along Front to York (rather than along Wellington to York). Even if congestion is similar, routing the westbound buses along Front would have the huge advantage of allowing a westbound stop in the block (opposite) Union Station – a major transit hub.


  2. I’m glad to see the end of the premium express routes, but I wondered before if the 143 Beach Express and the 502/503 sometimes-a-streetcar could be combined into an useful two-way, regular fare limited stop bus service.

    Run all stops between Bingham Loop and Coxwell Avenue, then run express via Eastern Avenue or Lake Shore Boulevard to the King Street transitway, looping at Charlotte Loop.

    Steve: The whole point of the 502/503 is that it is really a Queen car that happens to go up Kingston Road. The idea of a parallel express route assume that this is the major reason the route(s) exist. Go down that path and we might as well start running bespoke express buses from all over the city.

    As for the 502/503 itself, it should have remained a streetcar far longer but the TTC’s love for bus replacements made it an easy target.


  3. I take the 41 Keele bus to work and the express stopped because of the pandemic. The Express bus is very effective only stopping at certain stops. Being a frequent customer of the Keele route I miss the Express bus hoping it will come back ASAP.

    Steve: It is on the list to return in mid-November.


  4. Is the McNicoll garage will open this year or next year?

    Steve: Looks like in 2021 although staff are already moving in. I think this will happen as part of the build-up back to full service.


  5. Another change that I have brought up with the TTC more then once is reducing some of the buses that connect from the west and hit a west subway station and a Yonge subway station. I have seen far too many times when I am on a bus that would stop and say Wilson or Lawrence West station and by the time we get to York Mills or even Lawrence there are 3 or 4 buses but the total number of riders is not even enough to fill one bus. I have often suggested that they have all buses from the west terminate at a station on the west leg of the YUS line and then have a separate bus that only runs between 2 subway stations. That way if there is a problem and buses coming from further west are not bunching up and then having large gaps. It was quite often I would be standing waiting for a bus on Lawrence at Keele or Jane for 20-30 minutes and I would see 7 or 8 buses heading the opposite direction, or see 4 buses coming at once, and they aren’t short turning the buses.

    Steve: A big problem with line management is that the TTC created a metric to track short turns and there is a more-or-less edict that thou shalt not short turn vehicles. But they also do little to manage vehicle spacing as I have demonstrated so many times.

    As for the 121, I have also made suggestions about that route. I had previously suggested that the bus runs from Union station going east, through the Distillery District and up River street and eventually running up to Castle Frank station, or going along Eastern to Broadview and up to Broadview station, and a new route that would run from Union Station going Westbound to Liberty Village but I had suggested it ran Bay to Wellington all the way to Strachan then into Liberty Village that way. The reason I have suggested that is it would be a relief route to the streetcars that pre-pandemic often would be busy even with the split King car routes. For that bus to come back it could loop over to King to Strachan and up to Adelaide street. The 72 bus that comes to Union Station could be modified to turn up York street and run to Adelaide and then down Bay or Yonge and back to Queen. During summer months there should be a 72 branch that runs from Union to Cherry Beach along Queens Quay and another bus that runs from somewhere like Broadview down to Cherry beach.

    Steve: You may want to rethink Adelaide eastbound from Strachan to Bathurst. It is narrow and is discontinuous at Portugal Square (Bathurst Street).

    I like the proposed changes in Scarborough but I feel like there could be a few more changes out there. I think there should be a couple of different express buses running from Rouge Hill connecting to UTSC and Scarborough Towne Centre, as well as one that connects to Steeles via Morningside and Tapscott. It would connect to many east-west routes and I feel it would help to serve areas where there would be good demand for service.


  6. The 28 has always seemed a bit of a niche run, no less now that I have moved to reasonable walking distance of a stop (although not my nearest route). It seemed an odd assumption that public transit to the Brickworks was required solely from its catchment to the north. I had previously wondered if extending it south into the West Don Lands developments would be a quick way to introduce more transit permeability and give closer access to Corktown Common. Now the 121 is proposed to close much of the remaining gap. Would merging the two work, or interlining them? It would mean losing the Bridgepoint loop but that is already a heavily transit served location.

    I haven’t changed my view on the 14x routes. The double fare depressed ridership attractiveness; they should have been made 900 routes and left stand or fall on an equal basis. The Avenue and Mount Pleasant runs might well have benefited from Crosstown transfers. But at least now the debate is at an end.

    Steve: It will be interesting to see the political reaction to the demise of the 14x routes. Almost all of them exist due to political interventions by Councillors who were on the TTC Board, and they have stood out like sore thumbs whenever some of the same pols make speeches about “underused” and “inefficient” transit routes. The double fare was a sop to the acknowledged high cost when they were introduced. It’s not just the fare that is the problem, and given the demographics of the areas they served, likely not the main issue. There are basic problems of travel time and service infrequency.

    As for the Brickworks, I have always had a problem with such a “green” operation in such a difficult to reach location. For me, the free shuttle from Broadview Station works fine, although it does not run often. Again, there is a basic problem that unless service is frequent, it creates a disincentive to use. For example, I can get to the St. Lawrence Market faster than the Brickworks because of frequent service on the King car from the same location, Broadview and Erindale. The question then is how much public transit resources should go to serving such locations.

    A common factor in both cases is that the wait time for service is a significant part of the total trip time and that is a huge disincentive, but adding service would drive up costs.


  7. “How will seasonal service to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach be provided?”

    Service to Ontario Place used to be provided by the 29 Dufferin bus. It could be again.

    Steve: Although that can be compromised by activities within the Exhibition. It is fairly common for the Dufferin bus to be cut back to Dufferin Loop now.


  8. For Option 2/3 routes in 107/117 changes is the TTC proposing to run bi-directional service? Wouldn’t they need more buses for that if they wish to maintain same rush hour service on the 117 portion on which I have seen packed buses in the past.

    Maybe what they should do is do Option 1 and reduce 107 to run from Sheppard West to Finch West Station at peak periods only. If they maintain current frequencies on 117 through Petrolia area it would result in more frequent service there than is currently available on 107.

    By cutting weekend and evening service on 107 and partially reallocating to the scheme above I think will still result in saving of resources while providing more frequent service in Petrolia area, St. Regis area and maintaining same service levels on Chesswood/Alness.


  9. It also seems to me that they’re ignoring some obvious solutions to underperforming routes. For instance, the 115 Silver Hills could be serviced by a single bus if it followed the same loop but went to Leslie station instead of York Mills. That would be a 20-minute round trip.

    Anyway, thanks for this site.

    Steve: You’re welcome!


  10. Any transit service to Ontario Place is going to have the challenge that at times when most people would like to use it, the roads around Ontario Place are likely to be at their busiest. Whether a Dufferin-Exhibition, Strachan, Fort York, or (to put together a couple of recent comment threads in one crayonista masterpiece) a Lansdowne-Jameson-Lake Shore route, it’s all clogged up with cars when people want to go to Ontario Place. It’s going to be tough to provide reliable service there without a dedicated right of way. And I don’t think a new route for the 511 closer to the lake is in any recent budgets. Actually the most feasible, cheapest way to handle service to Ontario Place seems to be improving the walk experience from Exhibition and Dufferin Gate loops, and providing Wheel-Trans for those who can’t walk the 10 minutes.

    To be honest you could do worse than swan boats from the ferry docks. Maybe we could combine Ontario innovation and private sector ingenuity and have them be hydrogen powered?

    (If we do want a service coming closer to Ontario Place, to avoid delays propagating to rest of network it’d be best for it to be a dedicated shuttle. To connect to subway without hitting any of the other delay hotspots it’d be best to connect it to King station via Lake Shore and Yonge, I guess? But then you have the question of an expensive-to-operate dedicated shuttle.)

    Steve: In keeping with the TTC’s recent discovery of Express service, we will paint some of the Swan Boats green (or at least give them a green livery), and use the hydrogen for rocket propulsion. Think of the marketing opportunities!

    On a more serious note, there are a lot of people for whom the walk would be uncomfortable especially in unfriendly weather (rain, wind, heat, etc). A WT shuttle isn’t going to come close.

    And I do like “crayonista masterpiece”! There will come a time when these will be valuable on Antiques Roadshow.


  11. I think that routes shouldn’t be cut before 11PM for any route. When Ford/Stintz cut routes in 2011 to 7PM that was way to early. It’s sad to see the continuation of route v. route for service. Yes, the slower routes don’t need a ton of buses, but routes are a puzzle piece to Toronto. Stop constantly cutting.


  12. Any plans to abolish the 12D?

    Steve: You might have noticed that the TTC is including it in the routes improved by the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside BRT lanes. It doesn’t seem to be going away, although why anyone would wait for so infrequent a service baffles me.


  13. Wow! The TTC plans to completely destroy the usefulness of the 121.

    Back in the days when I commuted (about 3 years ago), I’d roll out of bed, grab a quick shower, and then out to catch the first 121 of the day to Union and then off into the wilds of practically Markham for work. That went pretty well. Even if I were travelling later, the 121 was a decent way to get to Union and it was well used for that. Coming home…not so much. As you pointed out, Front Street automobile traffic buggered the schedule.

    The proposed new route renders the 121 useless to commuters. Going up Yonge and then looping Wellington then up and along King, adds a lot of time on the road before getting to the subway. Furthermore, King is not an accessible station (and Union hardly qualifies as one either, at least if you’re interested in accessing it from the street). So much for family of services.

    Given no discussion of any new route to the west of Yonge, I take it the TTC has give up on providing East/West service south of King Street?

    As for access to Ontario Place, that will be using the Ontario Line! Given that the technology is still undefined, may I suggest you tender your self-paddling swanboat technology. Another proud Ontario-made transit innnovation!

    Steve: There will be elevators at King Station before the Ontario Line opens, but that’s cold comfort.


  14. While I have criticised, and at times sworn at, the 121, something like it really should be in place south of the railway tracks. There are so many condos in the area, and I expect car ownership is pretty low. It’s an awkward hike to catch a King car, while Queens Quay is far to the south and requires crossing Lake Shore. Bathurst and Spadina cars are not fully reliable, and of little use if going to the Yonge-University subway.

    Instead of trying harder, the TTC has given up.


  15. As for access to Ontario Place, that will be using the Ontario Line!

    Which will, under current plans, be slightly farther from Ontario Place than TTC’s current Exhibition streetcar loop…

    Steve: I am amazed at how often people don’t know that the Ontario Line will not serve Ontario Place, except possibly in the mind of a Metrolinx planner for whom “last mile” issues simply don’t exist.


  16. Re Ontario Place and last mile at the Exhibition grounds in general: on the timelines that the OL is looking at autonomous shuttles within the exhibition grounds seem likely to be workable…

    Mostly closed environment, fixed route, space for a mostly dedicated right of way, distance amenable to low speeds, etc etc. Peak demand during events is still likely to be an issue, but if the ROW is dimensioned for 60 ft vehicles, bringing in regular buses a few times a year isn’t really the end of world.

    At the risk of sounding like the third or fourth coming of the maglev test track, this seems a better demonstrator than whatever the TTC was contemplating out at Rouge Hill.

    Steve: There is no dedicated right-of-way across the Exhibition grounds. If Ontario Place is ever going to be a major destination again, a autonomous shuttle isn’t going to cut it, other than as an el, and we’re right back at the maglev scheme of the 1970s.

    As for Rouge Hill, that’s an Ontario project with the TTC just going along for the ride, so to speak.


  17. The TTC track construction projects on Bathurst Street should be completed by the end of this year (December 31, 2020), and this includes the Bathurst Street Bridge. Earlier this year, on Monday, April 20, streetcars on the “511 Bathurst” route were replaced with buses to facilitate these construction projects. The first of those was the streetcar tracks at Bathurst subway station, which required diverting both the “7 Bathurst” and “511 Bathurst” routes to Spadina subway station between June 21 and September 5, 2020. Also, the stretch of Bathurst is currently being worked on.

    Early in the new year, streetcars are expected to return to the “511 Bathurst” route.


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