From time to time, there are reports and photos in social media of crowding conditions on the two principal night bus services, 300 Bloor-Danforth and 320 Yonge. The TTC responds in its usual way saying that they monitor crowding and assign extra buses as needed, but they do not address a fundamental problem: buses on these routes run in packs with gaps that cause overloading. The situation is at least as bad, if not worse, than on daytime routes.
In past years, I have not been able to review night route performance because the old CIS tracking system fairly routinely went offline for a few hours most nights at about 3 am leaving a big gap in the data. The Vision system has far fewer outages, and gives a full view of how the service behaves.
The TTC now provides crowding data to some of its online service apps such as Rocketman, but this information is not yet available on an historical basis for review alongside the vehicle tracking info. Correlation of gaps and crowding must be done in real time, something that is not practical for month-long retrospectives. There is no announced date for crowding data to be available for research outside of the TTC.
As I have shown in other articles, headways might be within “standards” at the terminal, but they deteriorate as vehicles move along their routes. Moreover, the TTC averages data from all routes and time periods. The modest contribution of the night buses to overall “on time” performance is quite small. Nothing in the TTC’s methodology identifies problem routes, locations and time periods.
As with the daytime service, the cheapest form of additional capacity is well-managed service with vehicles arriving on regular headways spreading the load evenly.
For a guide to reading these charts, please see Understanding TTC Service Analysis Charts: A Primer.
300 Bloor Night Bus
The 300 Bloor Night Bus is an extremely long route running from Kennedy Station to the Airport with two overlapping services:
- 300A operates from Warden & Danforth to the Airport.
- 300B operates from Kennedy Station to the West Mall.
Service operates between about 2 and 6 am, but on Sundays is extended to 8 am due to the later opening hours for the subway. Although the early hours mainly handle late night home-bound journeys, the route serves many work-bound employees whose jobs require travel before the subway opens. It is typically from these trips that photos of crowding have appeared.
As a starting point, here are charts of headways westbound and eastbound at Yonge Street in the middle week of May (the week before Victoria Day).
As the charts above show, there is a lot of bunching from just before 4 am onward. Of particular note is the purple line for Monday, May 17. This pattern shows up in each week’s data, and it arises from the fact that Monday morning is really Sunday evening from a service planning point of view, at least for the period up to 4 am
Plotted as quartiles in block-and-whisker format, the data look like this. There is a wide range of headways and especially the outlying upper and lower quartiles.
Yes, that 40 minute gap on May 17 at 4am really was there, and it can be directly traced to service management, not to any delay. Here is the service chart for May 17.
At about 2:30 there is already a problem with bunching of two eastbound buses (“lime green” and “dark blue”) which are joined by a “baby night bus” (“grey”) that runs from Bathurst to Coxwell passing “lime green” at Yonge Street. But the real problem comes after 3 am on the next page.
The pair of buses that came east together (“lime green” and “dark blue”) have a siesta at Kennedy Station. After about 10 minutes, “lime green” leaves only to be joined by another bus westbound on Danforth, and the two buses travel across the city together. The chart shows many other examples of buses traveling in packs sometimes because they leave terminals together, sometimes because two buses meet up where the 300A and 300B services merge.
For comparison, here is Monday, May 10, one week earlier. There is no big gap in service, although some bunching does occur.
Here is Monday, May 24 (which is a holiday). Here there is a wide gap because the 300A and 300B services did not mesh properly. There is also a lot of bunching, and some of this began right at the beginning of service, 2 am, and carried onto this chart at 3 am.
Finally, here is Monday May 31. By comparing these charts, one can easily see that service can vary a lot, and that gaps followed by two or three buses are not uncommon. This translates directly into poor service for riders.
Saturday morning service shows fewer large gaps, but headways are still spread over a range from 0 to 15 minutes.
Sundays show much more scattered headways as well as two days that are special cases.
- Sunday May 9 there was a Vision outage from midnight until around 5 am as part of the changeover to new schedules system wide effective that day.
- Monday May 24 is plotted with Sundays because it is a comparable day from a traffic point of view. However, subway service starts at 6 am on statutory holidays.
- The lines swooping upward a product of Excel attempting to project the lines based on the area where there is data. They do not represent real data values.
Looking at the service inbound is comparable to what we see at Yonge Street.
Here is the service westbound at Danforth Road where the 300A and 300B services merge. From about 3:30 am onward, buses are running on short headways indicating bunched service.
The situation eastbound at The East Mall is similar with short headways common throughout the week’s data.
Looking at individual day’s service charts shows that the situations described here are common. Many buses get generous terminal layovers (although not all) suggesting that simply adding “recovery time” will not fix the problem. There is a need for the overlapped services to be managed so that they truly blend, but there is no evidence of any attempt to do this. This is a general problem on branching routes, but on overnight services it is critical.
320 Yonge Night Bus
The 320 Yonge Night Bus operates as a single continuous route from Steeles Loop (east of Yonge Street) to Queens Quay. Like the 300 Bloor-Danforth Night Bus, it runs between 2 and 6 am except on Sundays when service ends after 8 am because of the late subway opening.
On weekdays, service operates frequently until about 4 am at which point it drops back to every 15 minutes. Service builds up again in varying degrees depending on the day of the week, and can be quite frequent just before the subway opens.
As on Bloor-Danforth, service on Mondays (following Sunday) is less frequent than on other weekdays. Here are the range of headways northbound at Bloor Street.
Note that the headway lies at the 4-minute mark until just before 4 am and is subject to the usual problems of routes with shorter headways that service bunches and headways are spread over a range from 0 to 10 minutes. After 4 am, the scheduled service becomes less frequent, but there is still some spread in values with quite irregular headways.
Saturday morning service runs off the weekday schedules, and so the service pattern for Saturdays is comparable.
Sunday service is quite frequent late at night and after 6 am with a lot of bunching and gaps. As on weekdays, the period of less frequent scheduled service between 4 and 6 am has a wide range of headways.
Southbound service behaves similarly. The charts here show service at Eglinton in the middle of the route. Weekday and Saturday service is typical of routes with short headways.
As with the northbound service, there are some wide gaps during the 4-6 am period with buses as much as half an hour apart on Sunday mornings.
TTC measures schedule adherence at its terminals. The service southbound from Steeles is fairly well-behaved, although there are some wide gaps and bunching at about 5 am.
At Wellington northbound (just north of the south-end loop via Yonge, Queens Quay, Bay and Front), the headways are also in a narrow band until after 4 am.
As we have seen on other routes, headways might be within “standards” at the terminal, but they deteriorate as vehicles move along their routes. Moreover, the TTC averages data from all routes and time periods, and so the modest contribution of the night buses to overall “on time” performance is quite small. Nothing in the TTC’s methodology identifies problem routes, locations and time periods.
The service charts for 320 Yonge are necessarily different from those on 300 Bloor-Danforth because there is moe service on Yonge Street. Here is a weekday.
What is quite striking here is the abrupt transition to wider headways at 4 am. Accompanied by bunching, this can create some nasty gaps. The chart below is typical.
Sunday service shows the same pattern with wider headways and gaps after 4 am, but an extended period of frequent service from 6 am onward. As with other charts here, note that there is little sign of the effect of congestion or longer dwell times affecting travel time. The bunching is entirely due to how the line is operated. This is particularly troubling when a bunch originates at the terminals Steeles or Queens Quay.