BRT Lite Comes to Scarborough

Updated October 12, 2020 at 6:20 am: Travel time charts originally published with this article included data for April 2018 for Saturdays as well as weekdays causing a dip in values at the end of that month. The charts have been corrected.

With the gradual appearance of red pavement, a reserved lane for buses is appearing on Eglinton Avenue East, along Kingston Road to Morningside, and up Morningside to Ellesmere. This lane has no physical constraints on use by other vehicles and therefore is not really a full BRT implementation, but rather “BRT-Lite”.

Like so much recently in our town, it has acquired a moniker “RapidTO”. I will leave it to readers to concoct a name for the really rapid service provided by the subway.

For reference, here is a portion of the TTC route map showing the affected area (click to enlarge).

Four routes leave Kennedy Station:

  • 86 Scarborough local buses
  • 116 Morningside local buses
  • 905 Eglinton East express buses
  • 986 Scarborough express buses

The reserved lane begins at Brimley and then continues along Kingston Road. At Guildwood, the 116 Morningside route splits off, but the other services continue on reserved lanes.

At Morningside, the reserved lanes turn north along with the 905 Eglinton East Express buses and the 116 Morningside locals which have come up from Guildwood. The various 86 and 986 Scarborough service continue east and north to their destinations without a reserved lane.

The reserved lanes end at Ellesmere near the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC).

The lanes on Kingston Road and Morningside will also be used by the 12D service from Victoria Park Station to UTSC, but this is a peak-only operation that I have omitted from this discussion because it is so infrequent (roughly two buses per hour).

This has been announced with much fanfare, but it will be important to track what actually happens with service in this corridor. The TTC has an uncertain attitude to the benefits of reserved lanes, and this goes back years to (at least) the St. Clair right-of-way project.

Reserved lanes can reduce travel times by keeping motorists out of the way assuming, of course, that someone makes the effort to keep the bus lanes clear. The TTC uses this saving in two different ways:

  • Running the same number of buses on a shorter scheduled trip time means that more frequent service and capacity can be provided at no extra cost. This is the approach taken with route 116 Morningside.
  • Keeping headways (the time between buses) the same but reducing the trip time allows a route to be served with fewer vehicles while maintaining but not improving service. This is the tactic used for 86 Scarborough, offset by express service on the 986.

Over the years, there have been many service reductions on the TTC through the reverse of the second point above. Traffic congestion might become a problem, and TTC management wants to guarantee that fewer or no buses are short-turned. To achieve this, travel times are increased so almost all buses will arrive on time or early at terminals with a generous provision of recovery time before their next trip.

This has usually been implemented by running buses less often so that the trip time can be longer. The downside, however, is that scheduled service is reduced and this becomes a “new norm”. Service increases to deal with capacity problems are often held hostage to budget limitations.

Two other changes will happen on the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside corridor concurrently with the new bus lanes (effective Sunday, October 11):

  • The 905 Eglinton East and 986 Scarborough express buses will resume to operation
  • Some stops will be moved or consolidated.

The service to be provided on the express routes is comparable to that provided in March 2020 before much of the express network shut down in response to the pandemic. This will substantially increase service for those who travel between express stops.

Express service stops:

  • Eastbound 905 buses stop only at Kennedy Station, Midland Avenue, Brimley Road, McCowan Road, Bellamy Road, Markham Road, Kingston Road and Eglinton Avenue East, Guildwood GO Station, Galloway Road, Lawrence Avenue, Morningside Avenue and Kingston Road, Ellesmere Road, Ellesmere Road and Military Trail, University of Toronto at Scarborough Loop.
  • Westbound 905 buses stop only at University of Toronto at Scarborough Loop, Military Trail and Pan Am Drive, Morningside Avenue and Ellesmere Road, Kingston Road, Kingston Road and Lawrence Avenue, Galloway Road, Guildwood GO Station, Eglinton Avenue, Eglinton Avenue East and Markham Road, Bellamy Road, McCowan Road, Brimley Road, Midland Avenue, Kennedy Station.
  • Eastbound 986 buses operate express from Kennedy Station to Celeste Drive (Guildwood GO Station), stopping only at Markham Road and Celeste Drive; 986 buses then operate local from Celeste Drive to Meadowvale Loop.
  • Westbound 986 buses operate local from Meadowvale Loop to Celeste Drive (Guildwood GO Station); 986 buses then operate express from Celeste Drive to Kennedy Station, stopping only at Markham Road and Kennedy Station.

Weekday Daytime Service

The major changes are on weekdays during the peak and midday periods.

Route 86 Scarborough local service will be less frequent, but there will express buses on top of the local service. The 986 expresses will run to the Meadowvale Loop at Sheppard while the 86A locals will continue north to the Zoo. In many cases, the number of 86 local buses will be reduced, although this is offset by the express service.

Route 116 Morningside local service will be more frequent because the saving in travel time is invested in running more frequent service.

The table below compares before-and-after service levels for these routes with the headways in minutes-and-seconds format as well as the service level in buses/hour. All of these services will operate with standard sized buses.

The “Total” figure shown for buses/hour is measured leaving Kennedy Station, a point common to all routes. Further along the corridor, various routes and branches drop off and the service effects will depend on which branches are present at each stop.

A full table showing all of the service changes is available here.

Weekday early evening service will see roughly the same number of buses per hour leaving Kennedy Station, but the 86A seasonal service to the Zoo is dropped, and the 905 express service is added.

Weekday late evening service sees an improvement on 116 Morningside, but no change on 86 Scarborough.

On Saturdays, the level of service is unchanged or only slightly modified on the 86 and 116 local services, but the 905 express is added through the daytime.

Similarly, on Sundays, there is little or no change to the local service, but the 905 express is added from mid-morning through late afternoon.

Scheduled Irregular Service

There are many periods when the service leaving Kennedy Station is scheduled to be irregular with gaps and bunching built in. This occurs for two reasons:

  • Service levels are different on branches of a route and they do not blend together with each branch running at a multiple of a common headway.
  • Service on the two local routes, 86 and 116, operates at slightly different headways causing the common part of the routes to oscillate back and forth between a properly blended service and pairs of buses running close together.

The first problem can be seen for both the 86 and 116 routes where their branches run at headways that cannot be blended. For example, in the AM peak two branches of 86 Scarborough (86A and 86D) operate at a common 20′ headway with a 10′ blended service, but the other branch (86B) comes every 8’30” and will not blend with the other two.

The second is illustrated at, among other times, Saturday late evenings when the 86C buses run every 9’30” while the 116 buses run every 9’00”.

The charts below shows the scheduled weekday service on 86 Scarborough and 116 Morningside in August, September and October (effective after Thanksgiving). These charts are based on the GTFS (“General Transit Feed Specification”) version of the schedules exported as open data for use by all transit planning apps.

[The GTFS data are not necessarily the same as values in the “Scheduled Service Summary” (detailed tables of service design available on the TTC’s website) because of adjustments to schedules to trim service in the pandemic era. However, the GTFS values do match the schedules published by the TTC on the route-specific pages within their site.]

  • The blue line for August is invisible in the 86 Scarborough chart because the service was identical to that scheduled in September (red).
  • The oscillating red (September) and green (October) lines show the uneven scheduled headways. Even when a common headway is used on the three branches (86A, 86B and 86D in the PM peak for October), the service is uneven. This is actually scheduled as two 16′ services blending as an 8′ headway with a separate 16′ headway slotted in between every other run. This produces alternating 4′ and 8′ headways. The design is based on an even 8′ headway beyond Lawrence where the 86D splits off.
  • The oscillations in the October late evening service are caused by a designed 9’30” headway implemented as alternating 9′ and 10′ headways.
  • The 15′ late evening headway in August/September is wider than the value shown above for the 9’30” specified in the SSS is not what actually operated.

The chart for 116 Morningside shows various effects:

  • The blue line (August) shows the result of selective cancellation of some trips producing spikes in the headways where buses are missing.
  • The oscillating lines for September (red) and October (green) reflect mismatched headways on the services to Finch and to Conlins that do not blend. There are several cases where these branches are scheduled to operate a few minutes apart followed by a gap in service.

Observed Operating Speeds

86 Scarborough from Kennedy Station to Morningside

An important part of the BRT experiment will be to see whether it actually produces results. In previous articles, I reviewed operating speeds on the proposed BRT corridors. I have updated charts to show all-day data from various months up to September 2020, and have also formatted detailed data for specific time periods in the same manner as charts in my many reviews of 504 King and the Transit Priority scheme there.

The pink line in the chart below shows the data from September 2020. There is not much spread among these values even in May-June when any reduced traffic from covid would have been evident. In turn, this suggests that there is not a lot of time to be saved simply from elimination of congestion.

Similarly for the westbound data, there is not much spread in values suggesting that removal of traffic in May-June had little effect.

The chart sets below contain the monthly summaries of weekday data above as well as weekend data, and week-by-week breakdowns.

Updated October 12, 2020: Charts in the following section have been updated to remove Saturday data for April 2018 that was included in error in the original versions.

For more detailed tracking (in a format that will be familiar from articles on 504 King), here are the charts for the AM peak hour, 8 to 9 am.

Locations where the values drop to zero correspond to days when no data was available. The x-axis is set to 10 minutes so that there is more room for the charts to show the differences.

The blue line is the median travel time, while the orange line marks the 85th percentile. These values are running fairly close together, although in April 2018 (well pre-covid) they were farther apart.

There is a more striking difference between 2018 and 2020 values westbound, the peak direction.

Here are the charts for the peak hour from 5 to 6 PM.

As with the AM peak, there is a greater difference in the April 2018 data in the peak direction eastbound than in the counterpeak.

The full chart sets including data from off peak periods are available here:

116 Morningside from Kennedy Station to Ellesmere

The times shown here cover the route over much of its length including the portion in the Guildwood area which will not operate on the new reserved lanes.

As with 86 Scarborough above, two factors are evident.

  • The September 2020 data are climbing back into the same range as earlier months, and
  • The difference between the lowest travel times in May 2020 (light blue) and current values is only about five minutes at maximum showing the likely limits of gains from the reserved lanes.

The full chart sets including weekend and weekly breakdowns are here:

Updated October 12, 2020: Charts in the following section have been updated to remove Saturday data for April 2018 that was included in error in the original versions.

The daily tracking charts for 116 Morningside are in a similar format to those for 86 Scarborough. Note that I had more data for the 116 in early 2020 and so the chart covers more pre-covid time than in the charts for the 86.

The drop in travel times once the pandemic effects set in is quite clear in these charts, and is more striking in the peak direction.

For the PM peak, the results are similar to the AM with the peak direction reversed.

For those who are interested, here is a chart showing a range of percentile values to give a sense of the spread in the data. This will also bear watching after the reserved lanes are in operation to see whether the range of values narrows.

Here are the full sets of charts including off peak data:

I will return to this tracking in spring 2021 when results from the full reserved lane implementation and the effect of winter will be available.

10 thoughts on “BRT Lite Comes to Scarborough

  1. Paint!

    Which means “temporary”. If “permanent” they should use red coloured asphalt. Yes, other jurisdictions have coloured the asphalt itself, instead of paint.


  2. It looks like the B-D Subway should have been extended to Kingston (Road, not City) instead of STC. That was the alignment of the Kennedy Station already, so it clearly must have been the longer term vision of TTC. This would have added a connection to LSE GO/RER Line and connects to Kingston Road, which still feels like highway 2, and is appropriate for BRT (or BRT very Lite as the case may be). This BRT Lite does not appear to be a bad idea, but a problem is with multiple Covid waves disrupting the travel patterns it is unlikely to give meaningful data for years.


  3. Fanfare…FANFARE!!!!! If a proper study had been conducted, I wouldn’t be waiting on average 10 minutes to make a left out of our neighborhood each morning. By the lineup of cars, I’m sure I’m not the only one that is upset. For the dozen or so people on that bus route, glad you can get to work on time at our expense.


  4. They really need to fix their vehicle predictions now that service is faster, I find that the bus comes in half the time it says in the transit app, especially the 905 Eglinton East, when waiting eastbound @ Markham/Eglinton.

    Steve: That’s a side-effect of how NextBus works. It learns what typical travel times are from past experience, and in this case the “experience” for the 905 is out of date. I don’t know how long it will take the underlying system to recalibrate.


  5. TransSee predictions are based on actual travel times. It’s predictions for 905 Eglinton East are coming up as half of of what NextBus says. I wonder if it is because NextBus doesn’t know Monday is a holiday.

    Steve: I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s not a holiday in the USA where NextBus is based. They will know to use a special schedule because that is included in the TTC schedudle files exported to NextBus, but they probably don’t have any prediction history for one-of holidays.


  6. “This supposed to be the consolation prize for the LRT we didn’t get??”

    Seriously, yes. Has anybody else noticed that the amount of money planned to be wasted burying the Eglinton West extension would pay for either the Sheppard LRT or the Eglinton East LRT? Add in a small change of attitude on the Line 2 extension that price overruns mean the subway is unaffordable rather than that the Eglinton East LRT gets chopped, and you could have LRT extending along the entire planned busway, up to UTSC, and back along Sheppart to Don Mills. No new money needed.


  7. Eric MacMullin said: This supposed to be the consolation prize for the LRT we didn’t get??
    Isaac Morland said: Seriously, yes.

    For me, the big picture is that Toronto is missing a department that works on a strategic transit plan that is evidence based. Toronto needs a rapid transit grid to cover its vastness and a thoughtful city/hinterland network. Montreal has a strategic plan and has built a rational subway network by tunneling every year to a plan, for many years. Toronto has no plan and cannot continuously expand its network.

    At $6 billion the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) will serve 105,000 passengers daily (a heavily use bus route). SmartTrack cost city residents $1.6 billion for 15 minute service. Mayor Tory is responsible for both fiascoes. We have not been refunded the taxes that were collected for the SSE. The bus routes in Scarborough are too long. Steve has pointed out that the TTC does not properly manage spacing of buses. The bunching of buses on long routes means poor bus service. A rapid transit grid shortens the bus routes to feed rapid transit lines.

    Rapid transit does not have to be subway. A Finch LRT and EMU SmartTrack that avoids Union Station would be a better use of money.

    Steve: Decades ago, the TTC did this sort of thing, but two factors intervened over the years. First was the politicization of transit planning based on where the votes were. One could well argue that this is a legitimate focus, or would be if it resulted in good transit everywhere, but spending on transit, especially on non-subway forms, has been very uneven across the region. The GTA grew outward from Toronto, but transit did not grow at the same pace, and the market share for transit trips beyond the 416 is rather dismal. Much of the focus was on getting people to/from downtown and thus GO Transit was a major factor (although it could have been much more by now with sustained investment).

    The other factor was competition between governments and agencies for who did the planning. CLearly the province wanted the say, and Metrolinx was created to build a plan. That did not work out quite as well as hoped for a few reasons. The initial version of The Big Move was little more than a compendium of existing plans. (One reason for making sure Transit City got “out the door” in Toronto was to guarantee its lines would be included in TBM.) The original, draft version of TBM had a longer reach than what was published, but it was cut back so that the projected cost was digestible by Queen’s Park. Ironically, over the years, Metrolinx service territory has grown to include outlying areas that were omitted from the first Big Move, but the updated version is not a rich brew. There is a regional bus network of infrequent services, and we still have no sense of how local and regional transit will fit together, including the fare structures. Then, of course, you have deus-ex-machina events such as Doug Ford ripping up the transit map to push his own plan.


  8. Let’s not forget that the city’s planning division has taken over the responsibility of planning new lines from the TTC and those goals may not be aligned with providing what’s best for the TTC network and its customers.

    Such goals as directing potential future real estate development or social development (as opposed to maximizing ridership and relieving burdens from overcrowded surface routes) were front and centre during the Relief Line process or as in the SSE process, protecting the mayor’s crown jewel in Scarborough.


  9. L. Wall said: the city’s planning division has taken over the responsibility of planning new lines from the TTC

    The planning division does not have anyone planning new lines. There are no transit experts in the planning division. The Planning division relies on the Strategic Planning Group at the TTC. It is a deadly embrace. The Planning division awaits advice from the TTC and the TTC awaits directions from the Planning division. Neither dares address issues like the over crowded Yonge subway or the crowded Bloor/Danforth.

    The City government is headed by the Mayor and City Council. These functions fail to understand that Public Transit needs expertise and plans. The current transit crises are due to failures of past Mayors and Councils. The future is bleak because the current Mayor and Council don’t understand Public Transit and haven’t defined a department to develop a strategic transit plan.

    Steve: The situation is further complicated by the Province with a Premier and a transit agency of his own that have taken over planning, at least selectively, but with clear designs on grabbing control of the TTC even while absolutely refusing to improve funding for local transit across the GTA, not just in Toronto. “Regional” transit cannot work when there is such a dearth of service the minute one crosses the border to the 905.


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