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.

18 thoughts on “TTC Plans Service Trimming in November 2021

  1. Would there be any suspension of 900 series express routes following that change?

    Steve: As I said, the detailed service memo has not yet come out. When I get it, then I will publish the info. Stay tuned.

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  2. Say I wanted to campaign to shake up the TTC Board to get it to force TTC management to improve their service standards, statistics, and transparency, following your reporting. Do you know the details on how the TTC Board is appointed, term lengths, and how the Board is held accountable to the city?

    Steve: The Board is appointed by City Council. The term of office runs from the date of the appointment until the end of the Council term, or until the members are replaced (this provides for continued existence of a Board during the organizational period of a newly elected Council). There are 11 Commissioners of whom 6 are Councillors and 5 are “citizen” members, although those tend to be rather well-connected “citizens”. One citizen position is currently vacant, but I believe the appointment is imminent. The Chair must be a member of Council, and the Vice-Chair must be one of the citizen members. There is a public application process when there is a vacancy, but in practice “the fix is in” and this is more for show than substance.

    The next opportunity to “shake up” the Board will be after the next election, but that will require a different mayor, an unlikely event.

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  3. Steve, indeed the TTC does not provide any details whatsoever regarding the RAD’s. These RAD’s come out of different divisions however they are unable to be used as they are intended in order to provide additional service. On a daily basis they are used to fill open crews which does not leave any vehicles to stand by and provide that additional service.

    If the RAD operator ends up booking off, it ends up not getting filled and so now we are more likely to end up with a gap on whichever line we would have used the RAD to fill. Definitely the months ahead are going to be tough and since the training process is long, the service delays will be more strongly felt until these new batch of drivers are trained.

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  4. This is only a minor point relating to service but starting from the pre-pandemic period I had noticed Flexity cars entering service on the weekends doing so by deadheading to its route as opposed to operating normal service.

    Steve: Yes, and it is extremely annoying to riders who could perfectly well use this service.

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  5. It’s amazing how from 1135pm to 1155pm, three empty 95 York Mills buses pass Leslie with full speed, but after midnight, when most warehouse, restaurant and security guards finish their shifts, the buses come packed and slow.

    Steve: I looked at the tracking data from yesterday evening (October 27) as well as the week preceding. The 27th was particularly bad during the period you cite.

    One bus took a long layover at the east end of the route from roughly 10:30 to 10:45pm, and then ran west express (it appears) before turning around and returning east from Pharmacy at about 11:30pm.

    Just after 11pm, a group of three buses started off westbound with two of them closing on each other and becoming a pair by the time they reached Victoria Park. Meanwhile, the third bus of the group short-turned at Don Mills and returned eastbound. Even after midnight, there were buses paired up.

    I will be reviewing the 95/995 York Mills service for October in a coming article.

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  6. Steve,

    I just wanted to add on to Gen Z’s comments regarding the 95 York Mills; I, too, have seen Ops playing games on this line. It doesn’t help that weekday midday service is almost at 20-minute frequency east of Military Trail.

    Also, if you can, I would encourage you to revisit the 35 and 935 Jane routes and, as another reader previously pointed out, the 124. These routes had a lot of running time removed and seeing buses run over -15 is common.

    Steve: 35/935 Jane is in the hopper. I was letting it sit for a few months (a) to accumulate more data and (b) to have time for other route reviews. In that part of the world, 41 Keele and 89 Weston are in the queue too.

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  7. I recently had a conversation with a TTC bus operator (I’m not going to name names as this a privacy issue) a few times during the spring/summer of this year. As I was frequently taking a route she was operating (501 Queen Replacement Bus), I got to know her, one of the conversations I brought up was that I was going to get my second dose of the vaccine that coming weekend, and I asked her whether she had gotten the COVID vaccine yet. She told me she was hesitant and wasn’t going to get vaccinated, she said she was waiting on the full approval on the vaccine. In my mind completely respect her opinion, but I’m wondering where that bus operator is at now, since to TTC issued the COVID vaccination mandate/disclosure by November 20th.

    Steve: Waiting on full approval? This is classic anti-vaxxer misinformation, and it’s a shame people are drawn in by this. Millions have been vaccinated already and the results are obvious in the declining rates across the board.

    The real shame is that with DoFo saying we might go somewhat back to normal in a few months, people will think that they can just wait it out. But meanwhile they put themselves, their riders and their families at risk. I have no sympathy with the “wait and see” argument.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. @Nuts2021 The vaccines used in Canada received full approval in September, so presumably the bus operator should be vaccinated by now.

    @Simon H I’m not sure changing the board would make a big difference. The board has oversight over management, but I imagine it’s impossible to find transit managers with the background in statistics, data analysis, and operations research needed to undertake such a project. The TTC could maybe join up with some universities as consultants, but I think such a joint research project is outside the culture of Canadian governments and Canadian academia. It’s not clear to me that Canadian society as a whole has the technical grounding that it could find transit board members who could even understand and advocate for such a project. At best, we’d be able to find a business-y person who could speak in techno-jargon about the need for innovation, who would lead us into buying a bunch of useless services from the big consulting firms—sort of like Presto or hydrogen trains.

    Steve: A related problem is that some practices are so deeply ingrained that nobody remembers that things don’t have to be that way. Moreover, TTC Operations has been quite resistant to the idea that problems are of their own making rather than the result of external factors. The very nature of political boards is that by definition they do not have subject matter experts, and the TTC Board is quite reticent about second-guessing management. This leads to situations such as “my constituents don’t like short turns” creating the impetus for excessive running times and an unofficial embargo even on turnbacks that would improve service. Actually dealing with issues of irregular headways, operators who run in packs, and basic management of vehicle spacing (especially where branches merge, or short turned vehicles re-enter service) would require accepting responsibility. It is easier to throw down some red paint on part of one route and declare victory.

    The “citizen” members of the Board are in theory chosen to bring some outside business expertise, but the emphasis is on “business”, not “transit”. They also tend to be politically connected and this skews the selection process.

    There is a big problem that the CEO, Rick Leary, is far from the best for his position, and is more concerned about looking good and having supportive people around him. Many of Andy Byford’s hires and promotions into top management are gone now because they could not stand the atmosphere, or were pushed out. The Board does nothing.

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  9. GenZ, it is true what you lamented.

    I had to beg my Manager to let me leave my shift ten minutes early because the 11:56 bus zooms away at a fast speed, and after 12:00am I have to wait 9-15 minutes for the next bus, whose driver drives the bus as if they are learning to ride a tricycle.
    The Manager told me that it’s corporate policy to deduct 15 minutes even if I clock at 11:59 pm!

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  10. “It’s amazing how from 11:35pm to 11:55pm, three empty 95 York Mills buses pass Leslie with full speed, but after midnight, when most warehouse, restaurant and security guards finish their shifts, the buses come packed and slow.”

    Looks like someone else has noticed the BS on this route too, its been absolutely terrible for the last couple of weeks…

    I don’t know wtf these scheduling managers are doing, but they are terrible at their jobs.

    Steve, you should really do an article on the 95/995, its been horrible…

    Steve: Stay tuned.

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  11. Long time no chat Steve. I popped in here after a long hiatus to see your viewpoint on this specific issue. While your article doesn’t highlight your position on the vaccine mandate, I am heartened to see that some of your comments have classified certain viewpoints around the vaccine as antivax misinformation. There may be more to it though: several TTC workers that I have talked to have said that Carlos Santos has mentioned “medical freedom” consistently throughout this fiasco. Medical Freedom is another buzzword for antivax misinformation.

    The TTC workers that I spoke to want to kick Santos to the curb, however, he is quite powerful in the union itself and Santos loyalists have said there will be retribution for those who do not toe the union line: there is now talk about a wildcat strike that may take place on November 21. If this wildcat strike happens, all TTC workers will be labelled as antivax, something that the workers I spoke to are vehemently against. They are not in support of this strike at all, but may have no choice due to their union membership.

    Disturbing, if you ask me. One of the reasons why ATU113 is more toxic than helpful in the context of the TTC.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The TTC need to hold management to account. There is zero excuse for this complete disregard for the riding public and the reputation of the TTC as an agency. This should be making everyone really angry. But even you Steve I feel ar going lightly on these useless managers and supervisors. This continued behaviour will ultimately end in the demise of the TTC in its current publicly owned role. And there is no excuse for this when anyone with a smart phone can monitor bus routes from anywhere at any time.

    What has changed in the last 30 years that has made it harder for the TTC to keep buses on schedule. Is it the introduction of GPS on all vehicles? Is it the modernization of the TTC’s communications system? Is it the seamless integration of various technologies which work together to provide a clear view of where every single bus, streetcar, and subway is at every single second of every day. And further to that the ability to see the running status of that vehicle in real time and the ability to view onboard cameras on those vehicles in real time.

    If with all this modern technology and a full staff of well paid supervisors driving around in nice expensive SUV’s we some how can’t manage to keep our service running on time, then maybe it’s time the Board sack the entire management team at the TTC. Because clearly they can’t do what the TTC managed to pull off 30 years ago prior to the invention of all those new technologies I just mentioned.

    1 person 1 PERSON could be given a tablet computer and watch each and every route throughout the day. And when a bus does not leave on time, or leaves too soon, or does not leave at all that 1 person can say to another person “hey check on this bus and figure out what’s up” and then at night time you keep someone doing that same job, you don’t just forget about it because its night time and no one cares about night service.

    The answer to this seems so simple. GO transit does it. Hell almost any transit service does it better than us.

    Sorry for my rant but holy smokes this is maddening. All the progress were making with new lines being built and planned and it could all be for nothing because of these fools.

    Steve: If I put a rant against TTC management in every article about service quality, it would get rather boring. The facts can speak for themselves, and when I do write an overview piece, I have a string of articles to back it up.

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  13. “it’s impossible to find transit managers with the background in statistics, data analysis, and operations research needed to undertake such a project.”

    The TTC have had job postings for Statistical Analyst, one as recently as this July. Such a person could report their findings to management.

    They even have had job postings for Statistical Analyst, Elevating Devices.

    Steve: The question, though, is whether the “analysis” consists of fitting the data to management’s desired view of the system.

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  14. Sorry Steve, I was not being critical of you. You do speak out a lot. I guess it surprises me how you have remained sane watching this stuff happen. Because it really [is] painful [to] know the level of technology they have at their disposal and there are blogs like yours which paint a picture in clear detail of a system that is not functioning correctly. And nothing is done about it. The CEO of the TTC is about as effective as a brick.

    Steve: But that brick has great stats “proving” he’s doing his job.

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  15. I work a minimum wage factory job and missed work today because of the TTC.

    At my work, department which does rapid testing closes by the time I reach there, which I estimated would be one hour late.

    Did you know that waited for over 1.5 hours for the 17 bus for work, the buses were crowded.

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  16. @Singh, the TTC website does not let me post this complaint. It tells me “Forbidden” I’m posting it here:

    “Many workers missed work today due to delays on the Route 17 and 95 buses. These are busy routes for warehouse, factory and service workers.

    It makes no sense that there are NOT IN SERVICE buses clogging up the traffic while the service buses are passing full.

    Your company is making low-income workers LOSE A DAY’S WORK and THEIR JOBS.”

    Sorry that your job and income are jeopardized because of the TTC.

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  17. I heard that changes are coming up for the 941 Keele Express again seeing it return to how it was with normal buses. Now that Keele and Jane are operated from the same division, Mount Dennis, is there any chance that the articulated vehicles freed up from Keele will be deployed onto Jane? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face. The “Insane Jane” as I call it desperately needs something done to address the rampant overcrowding issues it suffers through. Pre covid, the 35 ran every 4-6 mins.

    About as frequent as you can get. There’s also the 935 which runs from around early morning till 9pm on all weekdays at around a 8-10 minute frequency. STILL, the buses were overcrowded. Buses often skipped stops (To avoid picking up new passengers) due to having no room to accept any more passengers.

    Buses bunched up horribly often so short turns were relatively common and major stops like Lawrence and Wilson, the crowds are so large, they look like mini subway stations. Even after the worst of the pandemic, buses are still overcrowded and reliability leaves much to be desired.

    Traffic is also a major problem on Jane Street which I understand isn’t the TTC’s fault but still. I’ve been saying for a while that the best improvements that can be made are to deploy articulated buses onto Jane, either local or express or both even and to allow for all door boarding at every major stop to decrease loading/unloading times.

    Sure, maybe the frequency would have to drop somewhat (maybe 5-8 mins for locals and express is unchanged) but in theory, the extra capacity of the articulated buses would reduce the overcrowding to at least manageable levels and increase reliability and reduce short turns.

    Just, something gotta be done for Jane. It’s been bad since I moved here in 2005 and it’s only gotten worse and worse in the subsequent years and I foresee ridership increasing further still once line 5 opens.

    Steve: There is a general problem with the TTC’s deployment of artics. The TTC views them as a cost saving device, not as a way to add capacity at a lower marginal cost than simply adding standard -sized buses to a busy route.

    They really only work on routes where there is very frequent service, and moreover, just replacing standard uses on a 2:3 basis to swap out capacity adds nothing to a route. On top of this, stir in the issue of mixed local and express operation and there can be a real mess in service as riders experience it even if it looks good on paper.

    Laissez-faire line management that might have worked, sort of, with standard buses and headways falls apart for the larger vehicles and longer headways where a missing bus, or bunching, or a short turn make for much longer gaps.

    As for crowding, I have been trying to get a handle on this, but the TTC keeps saying that their automatic passenger counter data might be available “next year” since 2019. There is a severe management issue with the under- or non-reporting of crowding, including averaging values over time. This hides the variation between buses, and especially conditions where buses pass up stops.

    For all of the TTC’s brave words, I suspect we are coming to a year where there will be little service added and even moves to trim back as extra funding for the covid era is trimmed.

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