Service Reliability on 65 Parliament: September 2021

This article continues a series reviewing service quality on some of the TTC’s shorter routes that generally escape notice when buses like Dufferin and Finch come under fire for erratic operation.

Overview

65 Parliament is a very short route operating from Castle Frank Station on Line 2 BD south to The Esplanade. The 2022 Service Plan proposes extending the route south to Queens Quay to the loop at Corus Quay serving George Brown College.

The service design during September 2021 is shown below:

Although the scheduled headway varies from 11 to 20 minutes, the actual headway operated can at times be well over half an hour either because buses are missing from the route, or because the limited number of vehicles on the route are running in pairs.

In the headway charts below, I have extended the vertical scale from the 0-30 minute range used in past articles to 0-60 minutes so that the data points will be visible.

Southbound From Castle Frank Station

The screenline for the data here is on Bloor Street west of Castle Frank Station.

In spite of this route being short, there is a wide dispersion in headway values as the charts show. In a pattern seen on other routes, the standard deviation of the headways (dotted lines in the first chart) lie between 0 and 5 minutes for the first few hours of service, but rise substantially thereafter. This is a measure of the degree to which headways diverge from the mean value.

Those means show their own variation on a week-by-week basis indicating that the number of trips (and hence the average headway) was not consistent across the month. Day by day breakdowns are in the rest of the charts.

Days with very wide gaps and bunching are not rare oddities, but are a common situation on this route.

Northbound From Front

The screenline for the data here is on Front Street just east of Berkeley which is the start of the south end loop.

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TTC Plans Service Trimming in November 2021

The TTC has announced that for the schedules coming into effect on November 21, 2021, service will be trimmed in response to the reduction in staff available due to the Covid vaccination mandate.

The plans are focused on protecting and maintaining scheduled service on the busiest routes

TTC Media Release, October 27, 2021

The TTC will give priority to the busiest routes in the system and the busiest times of the day, particularly bus routes where ridership has returned more strongly than on other parts of the network. The announcement cited “Wilson, Jane, Eglinton, Finch and Lawrence East, among others”.

Changes on other routes are described as similar to seasonal adjustment for summer and Christmas/New Years. The hours of service will not change. The level of service will be based on TTC Service Standards.

Operators will be made available for service in several ways:

  • Capital projects will be temporarily deferred and weekend/night-time closures will be cancelled so that shuttle bus operators are available for regular service.
  • New operator hiring will continue over “the next several months”.
  • Operators now used for moving vehicles between divisions will be redeployed to regular service.
  • Recently retired operators will be invited to return to work on a temporary basis.

Employees who are unvaccinated or have not shared their status by the end of the day on Nov. 20 will be placed on unpaid leave until they receive all their required vaccine doses, or Dec. 31, whichever comes first.

These measures do not apply to employees with an approved Ontario Human Rights Code exemption.

As of today, 88 per cent of the agency’s 15,090 active employees have shared their COVID-19 vaccination status. In total, close to 86 per cent of unionized, and 94 per cent of non-unionized employees have shared their status with the vast majority already fully vaccinated.

TTC Media Release, October 27, 2021

When I receive the detailed memo of planned service changes, I will produce the usual breakdown for readers.

Although I am sympathetic to the labour-management strain of this situation, there are a few home truths for either side.

Operators are in an essential, public-facing role. Both their vaccination and disclosure to the TTC should not be up for debate. This should not be a matter either on the basis of one’s political preference or as a side-effect of the contentious labour-management relationship.

A major problem today with service quality is that route supervision is sorely lacking, especially at evenings and weekends, as my ongoing series of route-based reviews shows. Operators who habitually run nose-to-tail with other vehicles, and supervisors who do not break up such bunching, are equally to blame.

A further problem exists in a shortage of operators for the scheduled service today. Buses vanish from service when relief operators fail to appear to take over vehicles. The missing buses compound other service reliability issues.

As for management, statistics purporting to show that good service is provided tell more about the pursuit of gold stars on their report cards, than of a real care for service quality. At the political level, the TTC Board seems utterly unwilling to demand that the organization provide reliable service and that metrics truly reflecting what riders see are used to monitor quality.

The TTC claims that they have run-as-directed buses to fill gaps. However, the prevalence of gaps on the few routes I have already reviewed in detail implies that the number of RAD buses is far fewer needed for this task. The generally laissez-faire attitude to route management suggests nobody even notices or cares when service is out of whack, much less dispatches RADs to fill in. The TTC produces no report showing how these vehicles were used, and they are difficult to track with the vehicle location data feeds. There is also a basic question of how these vehicles can fill gaps when they are also used for subway shuttles.

These will be difficult months for riders just at a time when demand on the system builds up again. The TTC refers to its Service Standards, but riders on any busy route will recount tales of overcrowded vehicles and pass-ups of waiting passengers. With erratic service it is impossible to know which of these situations are due to route overcrowding and which to poorly regulated vehicle spacing.

The TTC tells riders that service meets “standards”, but those are based on averages and have wide margins for missing targets. The effect is something like a guarantee that the sun will shine and weather will be good “on average”.

I hope that drivers who have not disclosed do so and are able to return to work as soon as possible. This is not a case of “individual rights” but of workplace and public safety. As for those who have no legitimate reason to go unvaccinated, let them find work elsewhere if anyone will hire them.

As for TTC management, it is time to acknowledge problems of bunching and gapping, and to actively work against them. The TTC Board should demand this as a basic management goal. If management is unwilling or unable, then find new management.

TTC service is only as good as the TTC makes it, and recovery, even without staffing challenges, depends on doing the best possible for riders.