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.
August 2021 Overview
The schedules for August had been in place since November 2020 (weekdays and Sundays) and June 2021 (Saturdays). The table below shows the number of buses, headway, travel time, recovery time and scheduled speed for each of the five daily schedule periods. Most of the time, 22 Coxwell operates on or close to a 10 minute headway.
The charts below show headway information at Danforth & Coxwell southbound:
- The first chart shows average headways (solid lines) and standard deviations of headways (dotted lines) for each week of the month.
- The average values do not track together for each week and time period because the number of buses in service is not consistent and the number of buses/hour varies from scheduled values.
- The SD values are low (1-2 minutes) until about noon, but they become larger through the afternoon and evening showing that headways are less reliable.
- The next five charts show each week’s weekday data broken down by day. The trend lines show the overall shape of the data, and where buses are missing for extended periods, these trends are pulled well away from the scheduled value. In a well-behaved week such as Aug 16-20, the individual headway values lie in a band about five minutes wide, and very short headways (bunching) are quite rare.
- The last two charts show the data for all Saturdays and Sundays respectively. The values are much more dispersed than on weekdays. Wide gaps and closely-spaced buses are common.
The following charts are the northbound counterpart to the set above showing service northbound at Queen.
The average and standard deviation values show the same pattern of consistency before noon, and increasing problems from then on. The SD values are slightly higher than the corresponding southbound numbers, and this is reflected in a slightly more dispersed range of values on the weekly charts.
The same upward swings in the trend lines mirror southbound data, and these correspond to periods when a bus was missing.
The weekend values are quite appalling. This is roughly in the middle of the route with headways scattered from almost zero (a bunch) up to 30 minutes (some points are actually off of the charts). As with the weekday charts, the bulges in individual trend lines reflect a missing vehicle for that day only.
At Bingham Loop, 22 Coxwell operates evenings and weekends. For the weekdays, I have shown only the overall weekly stats as well as a scatter diagram of headway values. The SD values are consistently in a range of 3-5 minutes, and this is reflected in the dispersion of headway values at Bingham Loop.
On weekends, departures from Bingham Loop are on a wide range of headways. This is supposed to be a terminal where buses operate close to schedule, something that is impossible with this range of values.
Using these charts as a starting point, I selected specific days for detailed review.
In these charts note the absence of extended delays enroute that would indicate a vehicle held for a collision, medical incident or other problem. There is congestion eastbound on Kingston Road at certain times, but it is not severe.
Sunday, August 1, 2021
The charts below show the route’s operation from 1pm through 1am.
- From 1 to 4pm (1300 to 1600), the service is well-behaved with buses maintaining an even spacing. In almost all cases there is a short layover at each terminal which, considering the route’s short travel time, reflects much better conditions than drivers see on long routes.
- From 4 to 7pm, some of the buses begin to run close to each other. This is sorted out by 7pm.
- Between 7 and 10pm, there is a brief period where one bus (turquoise) has a layover at Coxwell and Queen where it is overtaken by another bus. That bus takes a combination of a layover at Bingham Loop and a short turn at Queen and Coxwell to get back on time.
- Service in the late evening is uneventful.
Monday, August 2, 2021 (Simcoe Day)
The charts here begin at 7am because it does not take long for problems to develop.
- Just after 9am, one bus (“yellow”) takes a long layover at Coxwell Station. It then makes a round trip with its follower (“pink”) as a pair. The service settles down for about an hour.
- After 11am, one bus (“turquoise”), has a layover at Queen and Coxwell, and after its arrival at Bingham Loop, it disappears from service leaving a gap. This is compounded by two buses (pink and mauve) running as a pair for a bit more than one round trip.
- At 12:20pm, “pink” short turns and becomes part of a pair with “yellow” which itself short-turns on its next trip just before 1pm. Also at 12:20, a new bus, “dark blue” shows up, presumably a replacement for “turquoise”.
- After 1pm, “pink” and “mauve” form another couplet, and “mauve” short turns on its next trip east to get back on time.
- The service then runs fairly well until after 4pm when “mauve” goes late and pairs up with “pink”. At roughly 5pm “mauve” takes a layover at Coxwell Station to get back in place, and the service thereafter is regularly spaced.
Friday, August 6, 2021
The charts below show the operation from 10am to the end of service on August 6.
- The buses shuttle back and forth between Queen and Danforth with only minor problems until 1pm.
- At 1pm, a bus “dark blue” begins a layover at Coxwell Station which does not end until just before 4pm.
- At 2pm, there is only one bus “yellow” actually in service. It is joined by “turquoise” and later by “dark blue”.
- Just after 4pm, “turquoise” disappears and the line operates with two buses until just before 7pm when “pink” and “mauve” join in for the route extension to Bingham.
- Evening service is fairly well-behaved, but intriguingly there is some traffic congestion on Kingston Road at about 11:40pm.
Saturday, August 7, 2021
The charts below show the entire day’s operation for August 7, a day when most of the time the service was not in good shape.
- Early morning service is rather odd with one bus, “yellow”, operating on a weekday pattern only as far as Queen Street. It takes an extended layover just after 9 am at Coxwell Station and joins the regular Bingham service at about 10:20.
- Bunching begins with “turquoise” and “mauve” after 9am and continues over the course of two round trips.
- By 11am, things become really “interesting” as most of the buses on the route begin to coalesce into a pack including two that enter service at about 1:20pm at Coxwell Station, “green” and “dark blue”. However, “green” lasts for only half a trip and disappears again at Bingham at 1:55pm.
- All of them are at Bingham Loop at about 1:50 pm with the one remaining bus sitting at Coxwell Station.
- “Dark blue” disappears at Bingham Loop at about 2:45pm after an erratic trip including a short turn at Upper Gerrard.
- The remaining four buses run in various combinations for a few hours. “Turquoise” is short turned at about 4:50 pm.
- Three of these buses run as a pack until about 7pm when “pink” disappears and is replaced by “brown”. Half hour gaps are common.
- Bunching continues through the evening with three buses running together (“turquoise”, “mauve” and “brown”). Headways finally become regular after 10pm, although they are not ideal particularly after midnight.
Sunday, August 8, 2021
This is another day with disorganized service.
- By 10am, the four buses on the route are running in two pairs for several round trips. They coalesce into a group of four at about 12:30pm at Bingham Loop.
- This parade of buses makes 1.5 round trips and it is not until about 2pm that an attempt to bring order begins. “Dark blue” gets a short turn, followed by “yellow” (twice) and finally “pink”.
- Through the evening, service is still unevenly spaced with “pink” consistently being in a gap of at least 30 minutes until after 9pm.
- The service is finally straightened out by 11pm.
Friday, August 13, 2021
August 13 was notable because one bus went out of service at about 2:30 and was not replaced until about 6:30. For part of the afternoon and early evening, the gap where it should have been echoed back and forth on the route.
Saturday, August 14, 2021
The second weekend in August was not unlike the first with a combination of missing buses and severe bunching.
- At about 1:50pm, a bus (“brown”) goes out of service creating a gap. The following bus (“blue”) starts to fall late and eventually bunches up against “pink”. “Dark blue” comes into service at about 3:30pm, but simply joins the parade.
- By 4:30pm, there is a quintet of buses running together with a half hour gap between them. Short turns, first of “blue” and then “green”, begin to restore order, but another gap is created when “dark blue” goes out of service just after 6pm.
- The remaining buses pair up with “turquoise/green” and “blue/pink” running as pairs through the evening.
- There is a gap in the data from 10 to 11pm, but by that time regular spacing has been restored.
Sunday, August 15, 2021
- Service on August 15 starts out well enough, but by noon “pink” is starting to run late and becomes part of a bunch with “blue”. Another pair forms up with “yellow/turquoise”. Both “pink” and “yellow” are short-turned between 1 and 2pm.
- By 3:30 pm three buses are running together and this is not sorted out until about 5pm.
- The parade forms up again leaving Coxwell Station around 6pm and makes a round trip as a quartet to Bingham and return.
- “Pink” and “turquoise” are both short turned, and the service runs normally from 8pm onward.
Saturday, August 21, 2021
After a quiet week, problems return on the next weekend.
- Some bunching is evident after 11am.
- After 2pm, two buses “brown” and “pink” disappear from service.
- The remaining buses attempt to operate a spaced service, but “turquoise” falls behind and is short turned after 5pm.
- “Pink” returns at about 6:30pm, joined by “yellow” just before 7pm. “Turquoise” goes out of service at 7:25pm.
- Service through the early evening shows some bunching with “yellow/green” running as a pair.
- At 10:40pm, two buses hold at Queen & Kingston Road, and then a trio runs east to Bingham. The service is spaced out for the return trip.
Sunday, August 22, 2021
On August 22, service was running in packs from about 1pm until 10pm.
- As on previous weekends, the buses on the route paired up from abut 1pm with “blue/brown” and “pink/turquoise” running as pairs. “Blue” is short turned at about 2:50pm.
- By 4:30pm three of the four buses are at Bingham Loop, and a trip later all four buses are operating as a parade. This is sorted out somewhat by 7pm.
- After 7pm, one bus “blue” disappears. It will be replaced by “yellow” at about 8:30pm. In the interval, the three remaining buses run as a convoy for two round trips leaving wide gaps in service.
- Even when “yellow” joins in, bunching continues to 10pm.
Friday, August 27, 2021
August 27 shows an example of an extended absence of one bus, something which is a regular Friday event on this route.
- At about 12:30, “turquoise” disappears from service.
- A few trips later, the remaining two buses are operating on a well-spaced headway rather than sticking to their scheduled times.
- Two buses join the service for the evening extension to Bingham: “mauve” at Bingham at 7pm and “blue” at Queen & Coxwell at 7:45.
- The service is reliable for a while, but starts to bunch after 9pm, although nowhere near as badly as on weekends.
Saturday, August 28, 2021
August 28 shows patterns similar to what occurred on previous Saturdays.
- A bus “pale green” disappears at about 10:30 am at Coxwell Station. Shortly afterward, after 11am, three buses join the route. “Pink” and “dark blue” travel together to Woodbine, but then “pink vanishes. “Brown” becomes part of the regular service.
- Bunching develops just before 1pm, but this is limited in part because buses start to disappear from service. “Turquoise” is replaced by “yellow” at about 1:20pm, and “brown” disappears completely at 2:30pm.
- The remaining four buses maintain regular headways, and they are joined at 4:20 by “dark blue”.
- “Dark blue” remains in service until about 6:20, and it is replaced by “turquoise” just before 7pm.
- By 8pm, the four buses on the route have formed a convoy at Bingham, and this is not fully sorted out until after 10pm.
Sunday, August 29, 2021
Service on August 29 is relatively well-behaved with some bunching, but not at levels of previous Sundays.
- One bus “pink” short turned just before 5pm.
- “Pink/yellow” are fast friends well into the evening.
Monday, August 30, 2021
Mondays do not usually have service problems, but August 30 was an exception.
- Just before 4pm, “yellow” has a long layover at Coxwell Station, probably for a crew change. It runs as a pair with “dark blue” for one trip.
- On its 6pm trip from Coxwell Station, “turquoise” gets confused and heads to Bingham on what should have been a trip ending at Queen.
- Early evening service shows bunching with “yellow/pink” and “blue/turquoise” operating as pairs. Regular service does not resume until just before 10pm.