How Many “Run As Directed” Buses Are There?

In response to complaints about unreliable service and crowding, the TTC routinely talks about buses that are on standby ready to fill in for overcrowded routes and emergencies. It is common to hear statements such as:

… we have 120 -140 buses each day to adjust service where and when possible to increase ridership levels …

This statement is not true.

What the TTC does have is 120-140 crews for standby buses, but these are not all in service at the same time. They are spread broadly across three shifts as the chart below shows. (The actual counts for August 2021 are 128 crews on weekdays, 155 on Saturdays and 124 on Sundays.)

[Chart methodology: The source data are in the TTC’s run guides for the August schedule period. These show the start and end times for each bus. For charting, the day is divided into quarter-hours, and a crew is counted if it overlaps an interval, even if it is only just starting or ending. For example, a crew from 8:10 am to 4:10 pm counts in the quarter hours from 8:00 to 4:00. Most crews are 8 hours long, but some on weekends are 10 hours long, and there is one oddball that is 8.5 hours.]

The peaks in the chart are caused by overlaps between shifts so that there is no gap while one shift of buses returns to their garages and another enters service.

The first crews report just after 3 am, and the last ones come back after 6 am the following day (times after midnight are shows as hours 24 to 30 in the chart legend). The build-up is a bit slower on Sunday reflecting the later start of service on many routes.

Realistically, the maximum number of “Run As Directed” (aka “RAD”) buses, also known by their internal route number “600”, is represented by the horizontal segments of the chart. For the weekday AM peak period, this means that there are 44 buses waiting for the call to action, not 140.

This is an important distinction on a network where the peak number of buses in service is about 1,500. The RADs provide a buffer of about 3 per cent. This buffer is proportionately larger off peak and on weekends because there is less scheduled service (about 1,000 buses on Saturday and 900 on Sunday).

On weekends and some late evening periods, these buses fulfill the original mandate of “route 600” as subway shuttles. They were originally set up to ensure that there would be staff pre-assigned to work on those shuttles rather than depending entirely on voluntary overtime where operator availability is strongly influenced by the weather. However, if they are running as replacement service for the subway, they are not available to fill gaps on other routes.

The actual usage of the RAD buses is very difficult to determine. They are not tracked by apps such as NextBus and Rocketman because they do not appear in the TTC data feed. Even if they did, they might not be “signed on” to the route they are serving, and there is no schedule against which their operation can be predicted. (NextBus depends on a bus having a schedule in order to make its arrival predictions. The NextBus feed is used by many other apps.)

I have attempted to extract the RAD buses from “full dump” samples of TTC tracking data (rather than route-based extracts), and they are hard to find. Some of them spend much time not going anywhere as one might expect from a bus on standby.

The TTC does not report on the actual usage of the RAD buses, but routinely invokes their existence to explain it is “doing something” about crowding. Some riders might disagree.

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