Transit Service Reliability on Short Routes

A common theme in these pages is the TTC’s constant problem with providing reliable service. Many problematic routes lie outside of the core on long east-west routes that must deal with varying traffic conditions, the difficulties of blending branched services, and a faster return of demand and post-pandemic traffic levels than in the central area.

These are not excuses for poor service, but at least represent some of the challenges faced. This is not true for short routes primarily in the old City. For these routes, a trip between Eglinton and Lake Ontario is comparatively long, and some reach only a few kilometres from Line 2 Bloor-Danforth south.

They should be routes that run like a clock, but they suffer many problems seen on their longer cousins outside of the core. If the TTC cannot operate these reliably, how can we expect them to fare with behemoths like east-west routes on Lawrence or Finch, or routes from Line 2 north to Steeles and beyond?

This article is an introduction to a series that will examine service on:

A factor among many of these routes is that service is not particularly frequent. If there is a bus missing, or pack of buses running together (effectively the same thing), the gap is wide. The added waiting time (assuming a rider bothers) can be greater than the time they will spend riding from point “A” to “B” on the route. Waiting times hurt transit because riders see them as unproductive, and this can be compounded by uncertainty about the next bus’s arrival and capacity.

Here is an overview of service frequencies on these routes during selected periods. Some of these have 10 minute or better service during some periods, but many do not.

RouteAM PeakMiddayEveningSat AftSat EveSun AftSun Eve
22A Coxwell (Victoria Park)10′9’30”10′10′10′
22B Coxwell (Queen)8’20”8’20”
47A Lansdowne (South)4’45”9′6′8’30”10′9′10′
47B/C Lansdowne (North)9’30”18′12′17′20′18′20′
63A Ossington (Eglinton)9′7’30”8′7′10′8′10′
63B Ossington (S of St. Clair)4’30”
65 Parliament13′13′17′20′17′18′16′
70 O’Connor (South)10′11′13′13′11′11’30”15′
70 O’Connor (North)20′22′26′26′22′23′30′
72 Pape (on Pape)6′9’30”9′9′9′9′9′
72B Pape (to Union)19′19′18′18′18′18′18′
75 Sherbourne5’30”7’30”16′10′30′20′30′
94 Wellesley (East)7’30”7’30”8’30”6’30”9′6’15”9′
94 Wellesley (West)15′15′17′13′9′12’30”9′
Source: TTC Scheduled Service Summary for September 5, 2021

Common problems on these routes include:

  • Buses running in groups of two or more.
    • In some cases, pairs of buses run together over the course of two or more trips indicating that there is no effort made to evenly space service.
    • For branching services, buses on each branch do not blend evenly where the branches combine.
    • In the worst case situations, all of the vehicles on the route are running as a pack.
  • Buses missing from service, with the remaining buses not spaced to account for the gap. In some cases, a route is served by only one bus when there should be two or three.
    • Missing buses are most common during evening and weekend periods when spare operators are harder to come by, in part because many of the “run as directed” operators are used for subway replacement services. Because TTC has fewer operators than crews in some cases, there are open crews that are only filled if there is a spare operator available.

Although the TTC has standards defining what constitutes acceptable service, almost none of these address the problems listed above. That is because:

  • Buses can be running close together but still be “on time” according to the service standard.
  • There is no standard that addresses gaps and bunching explicitly.
  • There is a standard related to missed trips, but no statistics have ever been reported for it.
  • The standards accept a wide range of exceptions with a goal of achieving targets only 60% of the time. There is no reporting of the proportion of service lying outside the standard even if it would be within the target.
  • There is no co-relation of vehicle crowding with service reliability.

To put it quite bluntly, these so-called standards allow management to claim to operate the system to “Board approved” targets, even though the TTC Board members probably have no idea of just how lax these standards actually are.

In turn, when riders complain, they are often told that the service is operating within standards, and that where there are problems, “run as directed” buses are dispatched to fill the gaps. This is simply not possible because there are not enough RAD buses to fill all of the holes in the service. Moreover, the TTC does not track or report on the usage of these buses to establish that they really do provide the benefits claimed for them.

TTC management hopes to lure riders back to buses, but the single most common complaint is that more service is needed. Part of “more” service involves simply running what is already there better. There is no point in advertising frequent service if what is actually on the street is anything but.

When they were approved, there was a staff presentation that set out the standards but did not actually explain what they might allow. The Board nodded in approval of something technical that looked impressive, but was clearly beyond their ken. The old Razzle-Dazzle works every time.

Service Reliability on 22 Coxwell: Part I August 2021

This is the first of a series of articles reviewing service quality on short routes. A fundamental problem across the TTC network is that service is unreliable with bunching, gaps, missing vehicles and crowding all contributing to making transit less attractive than it could be.

Many routes that get a lot of attention are quite long, and there is a raft of standard explanations for their problems. Traffic congestion and construction are chief among these, along with road accidents, ill passengers and “security” incidents. However, there are severe problems with service reliability on short routes where most of the standard explanations simply do not apply, and where the TTC should be able to maintain service like clockwork.

These routes are short enough that the source of problems is easily spotted in the tracking data for TTC buses. The two most common problems are:

  • Buses are missing from service probably because no operator is available to drive the vehicle, and a near-embargo on overtime leaves scheduled work unfilled.
    • Where buses are missing, service is not always adjusted on the fly by Transit Control to space out the remaining vehicles and the result is large gaps where missing vehicles should be.
  • Some operators simply prefer to drive in packs even though they are reasonably close to their schedules. At times, pairs (or worse) of vehicles will make multiple trips close together showing that there was no attempt to space service.

There is a distinctive difference between missing and bunched buses in the data.

Where a bus is missing, headways will widen either where that bus should have been, or overall if the remaining service is spaced out. Where buses are bunched, there will be corresponding short and long headways where two or three buses arrive together followed by gap much wider than the average headway.

In worst-case situations, which happen too often for comfort, most or all of the route’s buses run together in a convoy. These are eventually broken apart, but the convoy should not have been allowed to develop in the first place.

In brief, there are times when nobody is minding the store and riders suffer. In the two months of data reviewed here and in Part II to follow, these problems are not one-off instances, but repeated events.

On 22 Coxwell, the service on the weekday shuttle between Danforth and Queen is usually well-behaved, but come evenings and weekends when the route extends east via Kingston Road to Bingham Loop at Victoria Park, the service can be very erratic.

In this article, service will be shown at three locations:

  • Coxwell south of Danforth, southbound. This is the service shortly after it departs from Coxwell Station.
  • Coxwell north of Queen, northbound. This is the daytime service shortly after it departs Eastern Avenue for the trip north. On weekends and evenings, this is a mid-point of the route.
  • Kingston Road west of Bingham, westbound. This is the evening and weekend service after it leaves the eastern terminal.

To save space, the charts are presented as galleries which readers can open at any page and scroll back-and-forth to make comparisons. Full sets of charts, including illustrations not included in the body of the article, are linked as PDFs after each gallery.

In the text describing the charts tracking vehicle movements, I refer to buses by the colour of the line rather than the run number because this saves readers from having to translate via a legend. Each day’s colour allocations are independent of the others, and they occur in order of vehicle numbers in the underlying data. For example, the “pink” bus is a different run number each day depending on the vehicles assigned to the route.

For those who have not encountered these charts before, there is an introductory primer. For those who want to know how the underlying machinery to produce these analyses works, there is a detailed article about methodology.

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