This post arises from a Twitter thread in the early evening on Saturday, October 17. Photos of crowded TTC buses are not rare these days, and one appeared from the 35 Jane bus. Intrigued, I took a look at NextBus to see whether bunched service might be the culprit.
The first snapshot at 5:09 pm was what I found. All of the buses on the route were clustered in three groups with wide gaps between them. Oh well, I thought, maybe the route supervisor will sort this out at the terminals by spacing the service, or possibly by short turning a few buses. This was not to be.
Half an hour later, at 5:41, the only change was that the three groups of vehicles had rotated positions on the route, and this continued for the next hour. It was not until 8:15 pm that I came back to see what was happening, and found that almost all of the service was running southbound with an enormous gap northbound.
Regular readers here will remember that I wrote about route 70 O’Connor which had a chronic problem with buses bunching late on Saturday afternoons.
- Analysis of Route 70 O’Connor for October 2019
- Analysis of Route 70 O’Connor for November 2019
- An Example of Service on Route 70 O’Connor December 20, 2019
At the TTC Board meeting of December 12, a motion by Commissioner Brad Bradford asked staff to report back in the first quarter of 2020 on my findings. The pandemic emergency intervened, and there has never been a report.
The situation on 35 Jane on October 17 prompted me to look at vehicle tracking data for past months. Because this is a route with a proposed reserved lane similar to the BRT red lanes recently installed in the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside corridor, I have been collecting data for it for several months.
As part of an overall review of headway reliability, I reviewed 35 Jane in a previous article published in August 2020. This concentrated on weekday service which was not good, but I did not review weekend service because there were fewer schedule changes on weekends when the TTC cut service in the spring.
The TTC will tell anyone who asks that they have been running about 85 per cent of pre-pandemic service. However, that is a system wide average. The numbers for 35 Jane are nowhere near that level during many periods, notably on Saturdays when the 935 Jane Express was removed.
To compensate for removal of the express service, the weekday schedules were changed to include “trippers” that operated for extended AM and PM “peak” periods with a roughly three-hour gap between.
|Weekday Service||Mar/20 Headway||Mar/20 Buses/hr||June/20 Headway||June/20 Buses/hr||Ratio|
|AM Peak||Before noon|
|935 Jane Express||7’30”||8.0|
|Midday (*)||Noon to 3pm|
|935 Jane Express||9’30”||6.3|
|PM Peak||3pm to 8pm|
|935 Jane Express||9’40”||6.2|
|935 Jane Express||9’00”||6.7|
The tripper adjustment was not made to the weekend schedules, and they simply lost their express trips resulting in large service cuts when they would have operated. If demand in the pandemic era is even half of its former level, the crowding will be unchanged because there are only half as many buses.
|Saturday Service||Mar/20 Headway||Mar/20 Buses/hr||June/20 Headway||June/20 Buses/hr||Ratio|
|935 Jane Express||10’30”||5.7|
|935 Jane Express||11’00”||5.5|
|935 Jane Express||10’00”||6.0|
|Sunday Service||Mar/20 Headway||Mar/20 Buses/hr||June/20 Headway||June/20 Buses/hr||Ratio|
|935 Jane Express||10’00”||6.0|
|935 Jane Express||10’00”||6.0|
The first month I reviewed was September 2020, the most recent period for which I have tracking data. What I saw was not merely bad, but appalling.
Each dot in the chart below is one bus. The colour designates the date, the horizontal position indicates the time, and the vertical position indicates the headway (time between buses) for each vehicle.
Although the trend lines through the data lie at roughly the scheduled headways, the individual values vary wildly with many cases over 20 minutes.
The same data presented as monthly averages with standard deviations are shown below. This chart tells two stories. First, the average values look just fine and if that were the only measure one checked, all would appear to be well. However, the standard deviation values climb through the morning showing that the service is becoming bunched, and the SD runs close to the average until mid-evening. This is a very bad sign, a warning that much of the service is scattered over a wide range of headways.
Looking at the same data as bar-and-whisker charts shows how the headway values stay tightly clustered in the morning, but the range widens substantially through the day. In the chart below, the central green and blue blocks contain half of the service (the 2nd and 3rd quartiles) while the red and purple lines (the “whiskers”) contain the other half. Those very short red whiskers are not a good sign because they show that one quarter of the service is running on very short headways.
Saturday, September 12
Digging under the covers brings us to a detail chart of the service operated on September 12 (the yellow dots in the headway diagram above). In these charts, each line represents one bus. Time runs from left to right, and the route from south to north vertically. Where lines are evenly spaced, so is the service. Where they run close together, buses are running in packs of two or more.
Even at 10 AM, some bunching is evident, but this gets worse as the day goes on.
Just after 3 pm, the service was interrupted by a collision. Here are the service alerts:
- 35 Jane: Detour northbound via Falstaff Ave, Keele St and Wilson Ave due to a collision. Last updated Sep 12, 2020 15:27:36
- 35 Jane: Regular service has resumed northbound at Falstaff Ave. Last updated Sep 12, 2020 16:43:00
However, the service was already bunched before this incident, and it did not affect the parade of six southbound buses that arrived at Jane Station at abut 3:30 pm.
The parade returned north, and on its return two of the six buses short turned at Lawrence. However, bunching continued to be a problem.
In spite of some short turns, bunches and gaps continued into the evening with one particularly wide gap of 40+ minutes just after 7PM northbound from Jane Station.
Well, one might say, of course the service is a mess. There was an accident. Unfortunately (a) the accident only affected the line in one direction for about an hour and (b) the erratic service was well-established before it occured.
Saturday, September 19
Moving one week later, the service was not quite as bad, but still had a lot of bunching as well as that same big gap around 7PM northbound from Jane Station.
The day begins well enough, but shortly after noon, some bunching appears.
This continues through the early afternoon with more and more buses operating in pairs and a few triplets. There is a small amount of congestion northbound approaching Wilson, but nothing on the scale of the previous week’s diversion.
By late afternoon there is a large group of buses starting at about 4:40PM northbound fromJane Station follwed by gaps after 5:10PM.
Just after 7PM there is a 40 minute gap in service northbound from Jane Station. Note that several buses short turn at Lawrence southbound. Service returns to a more normal state later in the evening, albeit still with some bunching.
Saturday, September 26
The next Saturday proved somewhat better than what went before, but the late afternoon bunching is evident.
Once again there are wide gaps in service at Jane Station.
Saturday, September 5
I went back to the Labour Day weekend, but there was no respite. The familiar bunch forms up mid-afternoon and persists into the evening. These are not one-time events that can be explained away by collisions, congestion, weather or plagues of locusts. They are inherent in the line’s operation.
OK, OK, maybe September was a bad month. No. August was just as bad.
July was better, but there is still a fair amount of bunching as shown by the short headways (dots near the x-asis).
June managed to achieve a very large gap of 48 minutes on the 20th. It is our old friend the late afternoon parade compounded by a collision that held two buses southbound near Lawrence at about 5PM.
At this point I will stop, but will note that this problem has been around for a long time, definitely pre-pandemic, with Saturday service on the Jane bus.
Full chart sets:
- June 2020 Saturdays
- July 2020 Saturdays
- August 2020 Saturdays
- September 2020 Saturdays
- September 5, 2020 Service Chart
- September 12, 2020 Service Chart
- September 19, 2020 Service Chart
- September 26, 2020 Service Chart
No Short Turns?
The TTC, and more particularly its Board, has a fetish about short turns. Councillors don’t like them because their constituents complain. This has been an issue for as long as I have been involved in Toronto’s transit politics.
The problem is that short turns are only part of the overall quality of transit service. If buses and streetcars show up several at a time after a long gap, the effect is similar to a short turn, but it affects the entire line, not just the area beyond the common turnback point. (Woodbine Loop on the Queen is a perennial favourite.)
Only one metric is reported to the Board: how many short turns there were per month. For August 2020, management proudly reports that there were none at all on the bus system. This is very, very hard to believe considering what is obvious in the service charts such as those above. Far more likely, the short turns simply are not reported either to shield management from embarrassment or because they are initiated by drivers without supervisors ordering them.
Headway reliability and bunching are serious problems on many routes, and riders know this quite well. That bunching contributes to crowding which the TTC sloughs off with advice to just wait for the next bus. Sometimes that bus is not just down the street.
The chronic bunching on a route like 35 Jane, just as was the case last year with 70 O’Connor, shows that nobody is minding the store. Problems like this, whether they stem from schedule inadequacies or chronic congestion at certain times and locations, should be well known by route supervisors and should feed into operational changes, not persist for months.
The TTC claims that they supplement service with unscheduled extras that are not tracked. Well, that’s just peachy, but they also provide no report of where and when these buses are used.
In any event, when a route has most of its service running in a few clumps or all headed in the same direction, this is not a question of needing extra service, it is a matter of having buses where they are supposed to be.
The pandemic gave management a holiday from explaining away problems with day-to-day service because the emergency took every bit of attention. Now, however, a major concern is that transit not be overcrowded, and delivering that service is an important part of rebuilding trust in the TTC as a relatively safe way to travel.
TTC managers need to wake up and provide better service, the TTC Board has to get off its collective butt and demand that good service in these difficult times is a top priority. Self-serving metrics claiming that all is well, on average, do not serve the transit system nor its riders. It is time the TTC reported service quality as riders actually see it and acknowledge the importance of reliable service in limiting crowding during this difficult era.