About three weeks ago, I wrote about the appalling condition of service on 35 Jane on Saturday, October 17 in A Travesty of Transit Service.
The October tracking data from this route reveals just how bad the problem was, and shows that this is part of a constant problem on the route.
Buses run in convoys on 35 Jane on Saturdays, and to a lesser extent on Sundays, for hours on end producing extraordinarily irregular service. This would be bad enough in pre-covid times, but with crowding being such an issue in 2020, the TTC’s inattention to reliable service bears added responsibility.
This article reviews the route’s behaviour on October 17 in detail, and then turns to other weekends to see how common the situation might be.
Reading the Service Charts
The charts in this article showing the movement of vehicles on a route are in a format that has been around since the 19th century.
On each page, the distance along the route runs from south to north with Jane Station at the bottom and Pioneer Village Station at the top. The route is considered as a straight line like a piece of string pulled taut to eliminate the twists and turns. Time runs from left to right, and because of the amount of data, the chart is spread over multiple pages to fit in the entire day. In these charts, three hours occupy one page.
Lines representing northbound vehicles move upward, while southbound vehicles move downward. The space between the lines shows the time interval and the slop of the lines shows the speed (steeper equals faster). Areas of congestion are visible by a change in the slope to a more horizontal orientation, and stops show up as horizontal straight lines.
Major locations along the route are drawn in with dotted lines for reference, and their vertical position is scaled to the location along the route. Actual vehicle locations from the tracking data are mapped within this vertical range.
Here is what the scheduled service looks like based on the TTC’s GTFS (General Transit File Specification) export that is available on the City’s Open Data site.
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Early in the morning, the service is reasonably spaced. There are some variations, but nothing untoward until 9:40 am when two buses arrive at Jane Station together (brown and dark blue lines). The first of these became gradually later on its trip south from Steeles, and by the time it reached St. Clair, its follower had caught up and overtaken. Both buses leave Jane Station together.
This pair of buses will be inseparable until about 2 pm (see following charts), over four hours later.
Another pair forms up at Pioneer Village Station at about 11:50 am (turquoise and cream lines). They too will stay together for an extended period.
By early afternoon, a platoon of six buses has assembled at Jane Station and it travels to Pioneer Village Station more or less intact. On the return trip, one of them short turns at Lawrence at about 3 pm, only to join a smaller group of three buses headed north. Other buses are accumulating into packs during this period.
By 4 pm, all of the service has clustered into groups of four to six vehicles with gaps of over half an hour between them. Only a few short turns are visible. These may get the buses back “on time” but they do little to improve spacing in the service.
Note also that the slope of these lines is fairly consistent showing that there is no problem with snarled traffic pervasively affecting service at some locations.
In the early evening, a further problem was added to the mix with a collision at Finch requiring a short diversion between roughly 8 pm and midnight. However, the service was already in tatters with bunching getting steadily worse in the early evening.
A few short turns northbound at Finch broke up one pack, but buses continued to run in pairs through the late evening.
Another way to look at the data is to measure the headways at specific locations. Here is how the spacing of service evolved through the day northbound at Jane Station. Remember when looking at this that the TTC only measures service quality at terminals.
First, here is a chart showing the scheduled service leaving Jane Station.
Here is what actually operated.
Further up the route, at Lawrence, here is the situation.
Southbound the situation is little better. Headways at Lawrence are not quite as bad as at Steeles because some buses short turn at Finch.
The number of vehicles serving the route varied over the course of the day. Some of this is a normal part of scheduling with periodic adjustments due to demand and travel times. In the chart below, there are occasional notches caused by vehicles either going out of service briefly, or going off route for a diversion or short turn.
The blue line shows the number of vehicles that were in service while the orange line shows the number that were scheduled (based on the TTC’s official GTFS schedule export. From midday onward, the route was missing vehicles.
Finally, there is the matter of “RAD” or “Run as Directed” buses. A common response by the TTC to complaints about gaps that show up on the tracking system is that they have unscheduled extras filling in the service. Readers of my recent article on RAD buses will remember the maps below charting the position of all vehicles that are either RAD buses or garage moves.
Here is the location of all RAD buses from noon to 3 pm on October 17 with the Jane route shown in a contrasting colour. None of the RADs are on Jane until after 6pm, probably in response to the collision at Finch.
From 6 to 9 pm, there are data points that might be RADs on Jane Street, but when one examines the underlying detail they did not provide continuous trips. Indeed, it turns that these were either garage moves that were not RAD buses, or RADs that happened to use Jane for brief stretches. (This illustrates the problems with tracking data that do not properly identify the service a vehicle is providing.)
Saturday, October 10
Maybe October 17 was an anomaly, although the feedback I received on my first article suggests that the experience was typical.
Here are a few charts from October 10. As on the 17th, problems show up before 9 am with bunching northbound from Jane Station that is echoed in the service southbound from Pioneer Village.
By mid-morning, some bunching is already evident and these buses travel in packs for extended periods.
Things get worse in the early afternoon.
Although there is some “un-bunching” as the day wears on, the problem continues well into the evening.
Saturday, October 24
October 24 is somewhat better, but there are still wide gaps and bunches. There is also some real traffic congestion southbound to Lawrence (and to a lesser extent northbound) which did not appear in the data for October 10th or 17th.
Saturday, October 31
On October 31, we see a familiar pattern with buses running in packs, and by late afternoon there is a northbound gap of just under one hour from Jane Station between 1:30 and 2:30 pm.
The following charts collect Saturday and Sunday data together to show the overall situation and for comparison.
Here are the actual headways northbound from Jane Station on Saturdays in October 2020. The fundamental problem is quite obvious: although the trend line through each day’s data lies at roughly the level of scheduled service, the scatter of the data is such that the lived experience of the route is very different from what is advertised.
Another way of looking at the same data is with a block-and-whisker diagram grouped by hours. Although for many periods, half of the headways are within a range not much wider that the six-minute window the TTC claims to target, that central block representing half of the service does widen well beyond six minutes at times.
Moreover, the “whiskers” represent the other half of the service. One quarter (the red whiskers at the bottom) span a small range of very short headways for much of the day. The other quarter (purple whiskers at the top) show the range of headways for fully 25% of the service.
The situation elsewhere on the route is similar.
On Sundays, there are similar problems, but not to the same extent. For comparison, here is the chart for service leaving Jane Station on Sundays.
The central block containing half of the service is much less distended than on Saturdays while the upper whiskers do not reach quite the heights seen in Saturday data. However, the presence of gaps over half an hour shows that the service is nowhere near the advertised quality.
Complete Chart Sets
The full chart sets shown in this post are included below for those who are interested. For those unfamiliar with their layout, please see my primer Understanding TTC Service Analysis Charts.
The TTC has too much time provided in many of its schedules these days, but it seems Saturday schedules on Jane don’t have enough running time, which exacerbates bunching.
Similar problems occur on the 89 Weston, which has about 20 minutes less running time mid-day than during the week, despite similar passenger loads and traffic.
Steve: Yes, I plan to comment on this as part of a review of the return to “normal” congestion conditions on various routes. Stay tuned!
Wow, though my first reaction to this kind of thing is normally not “off with their heads” these charts and your demolition of the “RAD buses will solve it all” argument make me wonder why the appropriate route “supervisors” are still on the TTC payroll. If TTC management does not do something to make route supervision more than a myth they too need to go and some certainly need to be questioned as to how well the supervisors are being managed (or supported)!
Steve: I lay the blame further up the chain. For many years, the TTC has arranged its reporting metrics based on numbers that are (a) meaningless and (b) give little indication of real-world service behaviour. Management gets a gold star for hitting, no not even that, for missing targets on service quality, and somehow the unending complaints from riders (not just from me) are swept aside.
They have had the ability to do the type of analysis I produce here for years, but only recently started to do so. One of the original concepts for CIS when it was implemented back in the 1990s was do be able to get this type of system overview, but that part was never implemented. The data quality improved when GPS became part of the system, but that’s well over a decade ago.
Meanwhile, the chronic TTC attitude that whatever might be wrong is never their fault endures. There is congestion and then there’s budget limitations and now we have a pandemic. The laissez-faire attitude to service quality has been around a long time, but of course the way that they “measure” service gives little indication of just how bad it is.
Even in the pandemic, we have heard a lot about how they strive to make things better, and I know a lot of people at the TTC are trying to make the best of the situation. For me, however, that appalling Saturday on Jane (which I followed in real time along with a Twitter thread) and the TTC’s heartless “well just wait for the next bus” response to complaints, these really were a final straw.
Will anything change? Not much, I fear, and the reckoning to come with almost certain service cuts next year will not be pretty. They have no idea of how to actually manage the system. Meanwhile, we have a TTC Board whose attitude is that their job is to get out of management’s way even though policy setting — which should drive management actions — is clearly the Board’s duty. Abdication of responsibility all around.
It reminds me of the early 80s and the downturn associated with the first gulf oil price shock. An entire generation of management had grown up around easy, almost unearned ridership growth. When the riders stopped showing up, they simply did not know how to deal with the situation. Skip forward three decades, and we had a generation of management who were always cutting corners, making do with less, while proclaiming their enduring greatness.
Andy Byford should have concentrated on finishing what he started, but his goal was New York, and the “Transit System of the Year” award was his calling card. He left us with a poor substitute, someone who cannot make the buses run on time, the very job for which Byford hired him.
End result of Rick Leary mantra of no short turns … intelligently (!) managed, they are a valuable resource, and could improve service, but when the route supervisors are under pressure to meet an imaginary metric – almost never used to do any good. Very similar situation arises on Sheppard West (84) at times, I called customer service a few weeks ago when all 9 buses on Saturday were between Keele and Weston Rd. – leaving nothing between Keele and Sheppard Yonge Station in either direction – answer was well, the next bus will be a while then.
Is there a feature on the new Vision units that allows operators to see how far ahead or behind the next 35 bus is? I would not be surprised if there were certain operators who intentionally speed up or slow down/dwell just so that they can bunch up and split the passenger load with the other 35 driver(s)?
I remember this being a common sight on the 29 Dufferin: the first 29 bus would simply leave without picking anyone up at Wilson station and the next 29 scheduled a few minutes back would pick up all the passengers at Wilson and in turn, not have to worry about picking too many passengers onwards, as the 29 in front would be doing that. These two 29 buses would eventually bunch up near Lawrence and Dufferin going southbound and usually stayed bunched right down to the CNE.
Steve: Yes, VISION can display spacing relative to nearby vehicles.
On a related note, is there any reason why articulated buses are not placed on the 35 during weekends? I’ve noticed that hardly any of Arrow Rd’s artics are dispatched on weekends, which is odd considering that several high volume routes out of Arrow Rd like the 35 and 36 have well-known overcrowding problems on weekends.
Steve: The underutilization of the artic fleet on weekends is a bit of a mystery. One point I should note, however, is that when TTC schedules artics, they inevitably stretch headways and given the level of service now on Jane (especially with the absence of the 935 expresses), I’m not sure this is what you would want. Of course you are aiming at more capacity, but that may not be how the TTC sees it. They are reviewing crowding problems, and have plans for schedule changes, but these will be subject to budget, and could well miss weekend service which often is left behind in these exercises.
Steve, what do you make of the plan to turn automobile lanes on Jane St over to buses? It looks to me, given what you’ve said here, that there have to be less intrusive ways of fixing traffic than that. And I’m pretty pro-bike and pro-transit.
Steve: Jane is a very different corridor from Eglinton East, and it already has significant congestion during certain periods that reserved lanes could help to address. The problem is that with a street that has traffic problems will be a hard place to take lanes away from, notably where it is only four or five lanes wide. As on Eglinton, the TTC is also eyeing removal of stops and I think it is dangerous to attempt two changes at the same time because we won’t know which one really had the effect.
When we did the King Street pilot, there was extensive consultation and design work to fit what was happening in among many competing interests. Even then, King downtown had an important aspect that no other proposed transit priority scheme in Toronto has – there are parallel streets to absorb overflow traffic.
Frankly, I think the plans to implement transit priority all over the place is much more a political exercise of drawing lines on a map than a careful examination of (a) what is practical and (b) how much improvement we can expect to see.
As my recent analysis of 35 Jane showed, there are far worse problems with service reliability, and this is pervasive across the system. The TTC should concentrate on fixing that rather than waving a plan to convert a handful of streets to transit corridors someday. This is a classic case of misdirection from a problem that could be fixed now, but which is internal to the TTC who don’t really want to admit that it exists.
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I was wondering if you could do an analysis of the 36 Finch West weekday service, with emphasis on rush-hour service to and from Humberwood? Seeing 20+ minute gaps in service, as I am now experiencing at Humber College Blvd going eastbound, is not uncommon on the route during rush hours. From just a quick glance at Transee, I can see several packs of 2-4 buses bunched up and many buses well over 30 minutes late, with one 36B being 59 minutes late and counting. It is also not uncommon to see such bunching past the PM peak — I have once observed a 30-minute gap in late evening service with 3 buses back-to-back all the way from Humberwood to Finch Station.
Steve: The last time I pulled data for 36 Finch West was in June 2020 and a few preceding months which represent conditions at the worst of the Covid crisis. Even then, when traffic was comparatively light, headways were widely scattered and bunching was common. I will add this route to my list for November data.
Reading this I’m reminded of my service as a conductor on London Transport’s crew operated route master buses in the 1980’s. I was ‘transit aware’ in a way that my colleagues were in the main sadly not.
Many of them saw their days work as reducing the number of trips they had to make to as little as possible. ‘Going mechanical’, waiting at a short turn point until another buses passed and then following it and running early in the evenings were all much more normal than should have been anywhere acceptable. With little or no electronic tech route supervision was difficult and blind to an extent so many drivers took full advantage. It used to shame me. But ultimately I blamed management not the supervisors or the workforce.
Poor or zero communication of our goals and a fear of upsetting the apple cart can laid at the floor of leadership not the unions. Over time things did change for the better. For its very survival London Transport had to up its game and once technology allowed real time visibility of the route and improved communications things markedly improved from the mid 1990’s onward. Drivers are now actively regulated and they accept that regulation. Given what’s available now to the TTC it’s a shame that active control doesn’t seem to be used. Perhaps coming face to face with Armageddon will change things but it should never come to that.