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.