TTC Service Changes January 3, 2021: Part III Local Buses

Updated January 6, 2021 at 9:50 pm:

A revised version of the service change memo has been issued by the TTC. This article is updated to reflect new information.


This article has been delayed from its usual publication a few weeks before changes go into effect. Schedule changes were still in flux, and information on what would actually operate was inconsistent.

There are many sources for service information:

  • An internal memo from Service Planning detailing the pending changes for a coming “board period” (usually a six-week interval). This exists in draft form a few months ahead of the implmentation date, but a final version is issued two-to-three weeks ahead of time. By this point, everything is more or less frozen in place because operators have picked their crews based on the new schedules. This is the memo on which I base my regular articles detailing pending changes.
  • At roughly the same time as the final version of the planning memo comes out, the TTC publishes electronic versions of schedules through the City of Toronto’s Open Data Portal. These are in an industry-standard format called GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) used by agencies to publish their schedules for use by trip planning applications.
  • A separate version of the schedule data is created for NextBus which has its own format different from GTFS. On occasion the conversion process goes awry and NextBus does not have correct info.
  • The TTC’s own publicly posted schedules on its website appear to be generated from the GTFS data, although this conversion process can also run into problems.
  • Finally, there are the Scheduled Service Summaries. These come from Service Planning and they give an overview of service on all routes. Under normal circumstances, a new summary is published on the TTC’s Planning page just after new schedules go into effect. With so much service operating ad hoc through crew cancellations and RADs through 2020, these summaries did not fully reflect what was going on. In practice they could not because their structure is intended for simpler times. Some periods had no published summary.

Throughout the pandemic period, and especially at its outset, the TTC service planners had to make many last-minute changes including the conversion of express operations to “tripper” local runs, selective cancellation of crews, and creation of a pool of “run as directed” [RAD] buses and streetcars. The RADs were used both to fill schedule gaps and to supplement service where needed.

A useful factor in this was the automated passenger counting (APC) data that could be mined to locate routes with capacity issues. Many would argue that the TTC did not do enough to deal with crowding problems on some routes, but a related issue often discussed on this site was service regularity. On paper, a route might have enough service to handle demand at acceptable crowding levels, but in practice if service is badly bunched some vehicles will be badly crowded while others run with light loads.

In 2021, Service Planning hopes to get back to schedules that are properly constructed for reliable service rather than ad hoc responses to the pandemic.

The January 2021 schedule change encountered problems because of last minute-changes that caused the various sources of information to go out-of-sync.

  • As of January 3, the GTFS schedules reflect plans in mid-December (their posting date is December 21), and plans for some routes have changed.
  • The information on TTC schedule pages appears to reflect more recent changes to plans implying the existence of a refreshed set of GTFS data. This has not yet been published.
  • For reasons that are not yet clear, the NextBus versions of the January schedules were both incomplete and included outdated routing information. This caused NextBus to display little or no data for many routes until mid-afternoon on Sunday, January 3. Some late-breaking changes/corrections to TTC plans do not yet appear in the NextBus versions of the schedules [as of January 3].
  • The generic Service Change page does not list all of the changes because (a) it appears to be based on the original version of the service memo, and (b) because some changes, notably major restructuring of streetcar routes, have been missed. This is complicated by the TTC’s placing notice of one change, the restructuring of Queen services, in the Route Diversions page, not together with the list of service changes. There is no notice of changes on 504 King or 506 Carlton which now operate as split routes.

This situation reflects problems of last-minute decision-making, of multiple sources for data, and of fragmentation of responsibility for managing updates into (at least) three groups: Service Planning, IT and Communications. When a lot is changing on the fly, some things slip through the cracks. This is not to criticize staff, but rather to point out a structure where co-ordination problems can occur.

I will update this article as additional information becomes available.

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