86 Scarborough: The Effect of BRT Lite

Effective in mid-October the City of Toronto began implementation of reserved bus lanes on the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside corridor between Brimley Road and University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC). This is intended to be the first of several transit priority measures that will be rolled out over coming years.

I will address the City report listing the various candidate routes in a separate article. This piece reviews the behaviour of the 86/986 Scarborough local and express services as the BRT lanes, dubbed RapidTO, came into effect.

Work to install them began at the outer end on Morningside, and then worked south and west. The full extent to Brimley on Eglinton is not yet in service and so the effect will continue into November. The data presented here show results to the end of October 2020.

Concurrently with the transit priority lanes, the TTC reinstated the 986 Express service that had been suspended in the spring. True to TTC form, the express buses are faster than the locals, but the headways are quite irregular making the saving from a faster trip a tradeoff against a potentially long wait for an express bus to appear at your stop.

This article reviews service on the 86/986 Scarborough routes. I will turn to 116 Morningside in a separate article.

Summary

The introduction of reserved lanes and the removal of stops in the Eglinton-Kingston corridor has resulted in a small reduction in travel times for 86 Scarborough buses over this portion of the route.

The effect increased slightly from week 3 to week 5 of October, and it somewhat offset the growth in travel times as road traffic returns to “normal” pre-Covid levels.

The travel time saving provided by the 986 express service is considerably greater than the saving provided by the reserved lanes.

The variability in travel times on this route did not show the same “before” level seen on King Street (often used as an example of what might be achieved) and the lanes did little or nothing to alter this.

Headway reliability is a severe problem on both the local and express services, and service gaps continue to bring more delay to rider journeys than the time saved by the reserved bus lanes.

Travel time savings, such as they are, are due in part to the removal of stops, not to transit priority per se. Claims made for the benefits of the BRT arrangement should be tempered by the fact that two major changes — reserved lanes and stop removals — were implemented at the same time.

Future transit priority proposals should avoid concurrent changes where the “priority” component’s effect might be artificially enhanced. If the TTC’s desire is to remove stops, this can proceed without waiting years for detailed design and approval of the RapidTO scheme. There must be full public consultation, not a masquerade under the rubric of a “transit priority” scheme.

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