This article begins a series reviewing the major east-west corridors in Scarborough and eastern North York. Although there are several proposals ranging from BRT-lite red lanes all the way up to a full scale subway for these streets, none of them is going to see much change for the coming decade. Rather than waiting forever for the promise of a new transit dawn in the east, Toronto really needs to focus on making transit service we have today work.
Minutes of community meetings are strewn with “improve the bus service” as a common, long-standing complaint. But nothing substantial happens.
For two years, everyone including the TTC has been preoccupied with the pandemic. For a time, the usual excuses about poor service, notably traffic congestion, really didn’t wash, but now we are on a rebound. Now is the time for TTC management to look at the service they are offering and ask whether it really is the best they can do, that it will attract riders back to the system.
The period covered by this article runs from October 1 to December 31, 2021. Most of this was during a period of ridership recovery, and the effect of Omicron-related drops in demand and in traffic came in the later half of December which is traditionally a slow period anyhow because of the holiday season. Data are missing in late October and early November because of the cyber-attack on the TTC, but there is more than enough to show the overall patterns of route behaviour.
Service on York Mills and Ellesmere
The 95 York Mills and its express counterpart, 995, run east from York Mills Station at Yonge Street.
The local service has three branches:
- 95A runs east via York Mills, Ellesmere and northeast on Kingston Road to Port Union.
- 95B splits off from Ellesmere at Military Trail and terminates at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC). This branch operates only during periods when there is no 995 express service.
- 95C runs only as far east as Ellesmere Station on the SRT. This branch operates weekdays during peaks and midday.
Scheduled service for route 95 York Mills changed on October 10 when the 95A service was extended via Kingston Road to a loop at Port Union Road.
The service summaries for the two periods are below. During many periods, one bus was added to the service for the extension but headways remained the same making the round trip time longer. However, the scheduled speed also went up slightly.
Schedules for this route have not changed since October 2021.
The express service has only one branch:
- 995 runs to UTSC via the same route as the 95B local service. These buses operate as locals between UTSC and Markham Road, and express from there west to York Mills Station.
Service to UTSC operates as the 995 express weekdays during the peaks and middays. Early evenings and on weekends, it operates as the 95B local.
The scheduled service for 995 York Mills Express has not changed since June 2021.
- Service on 95/995 York Mills operated on the same schedules from mid October 2021 through to year end.
- Bunching is common. Generally, but not always, it is caused by “blended services” that actually run as pairs of buses.
- There is little or no evidence of supervisory intervention to break up bunches of vehicles. Some bunches form at terminals where service spacing should be comparatively easy.
- Cancelled runs were not a problem on York Mills because average headways generally lie at the scheduled values, although individual headway values were widely scattered during all operating periods.
- The difference in average travel time is only about 5 minutes between the local and express services during most periods when both are offered.
- Terminal layover times are generous especially at Port Union on the 95A service. Recovery from minor delays enroute should not be a problem.
Local Service Eastbound from York Mills Station
The screenline for measuring these headways is located on York Mills Road east of the station.
The service eastbound from York Mills Station displays common statistics on a week-by-week basis over the three month period. Items of note:
- The midday average headway in October Week 1 (which includes Friday Oct 1 to Friday Oct 8) are lower during a period on the “old” schedules than at other times even though the scheduled frequency did not change.
- The standard deviation of the headways is consistently in a range of 3-5 minutes, sometimes higher, indicating that the service did not leave on a regular spacing from the terminal, but was often bunched. This is particularly bad during periods when the SD value is close to the average headway. This is an ongoing problem over three months, not the result of individual events.
No week stands out particularly here. The charts below show a sample of detailed headway data for various weeks. Note that these include only the local services on 95 York Mills, not the 995 Express trips. They operate on a headway that is not blended with the local service, and as we will see, do not operate on a reliable basis either.
- During AM peak periods, the combined headway on the Port Union and Ellesmere Stn. branches is four minutes, and the actual headways are clustered mainly between 0 and 8 minutes.
- Midday service has a lot of short headways and bunching during some weeks, but not all.
- PM peak and evening headways lie over a wide band ranging up to 15 minutes with many buses running close together. There appears to be no attempt to manage departures eastbound providing the blended service the 95A/95C or 95A/95B services should offer.
- Problems with bunching continue even into the late evening when only the 95A Port Union branch operates.
- I have included the last week of December to show how erratic the service is even during a period when the combined effect of lighter holiday traffic and the beginning of the omicron-related cutback in travel should have eliminated any of the usual “traffic congestion” on which so much uneven service is blamed.
Weekend service is also bad. I have not included November because data for many days is missing during recovery periods following the October cyber attack.
- Bunching is commonplace with many buses operating on very short headways offset by gaps in service up to a double headway.
- Data for Sunday, October 17 are incomplete.
Local Service Westbound from Port Union
The screenline for these measurements is located on Kingston Road west of Rylander Boulevard. Buses take their layover at various locations around the loop, and the screenline is far enough west to be free of headway distortions caused by this.
Headways westbound from the loop at Port Union are quite erratic.
- There is no data for Week 1 in October because the route had not yet been extended to Port Union.
- The standard deviation of headways is often well over 5 minute showing wide swings in individual values.
- Week 3 of November has some particularly high averages. There was a lot of data missing during this week, and I will not delve into it further.
- Average headways in December are better behaved and lie roughly at the scheduled levels, although the high standard deviations show that these averages mask a lot of bunching.
- Note that late evening average headways are lower because all trips run through to Port Union.
Here are a few sample weeks showing the distribution of headway values.
Local Service Westbound from Morningside
The screenline for these measurements is at Morningside Avenue. This picks up both the 95A through service from Port Union and the 95B UTSC service during the period that it operates. The 995 Express service to UTSC is not included here to show how the local service behaves.
During the daytime, local headways are high because the express buses fill in, although not on a blended headway even if the service operated to schedule (which it does not). Headways in the early evenings and on weekends reflect a 95A/95B blended service, at least on paper, with both branches on the same scheduled headways.
The standard deviation of headways remains high, at or about 5 minutes, even during periods when there should be blended service. This indicates that there is a lot of bunching and gaps on the line.
Selected weeks show the degree of bunching (very low headway values with offsetting data points at or above 20 minutes). During the daytime including the peaks these reflect bunching that originates further east on the route as shown in the Port Union charts above. During the early evening, the “blended” service isn’t, and late in the evening headways from Port Union are erratic contributing to uneven service further west on the route.
Note that the trend lines follow, mostly, a similar path that accords with the scheduled service frequency. This indicates that most or all of the scheduled service operated (i.e. there were no missing buses), but that their spacing was not reliable as the data points show.
On weekends, the 95B local service operates to UTSC during most periods, and the headway at Morningside westbound is for a supposedly blended service. In fact there are many headways close to zero and a corresponding number well above the trend line. This indicates that many 95A and 95B buses operate together as pairs westbound from the point where they merge at Military Trail.
Local Service Westbound from Kennedy
Measurements in this section use a screen line in the intersection with Kennedy Road. This is west of the point where the 95C Ellesmere Station service merges into the line weekday peaks and midday. Buses are supposed to alternate on a common blended headway, but the high standard deviation values show that bunching is common, especially in the peak period. 95A and 95C buses tend to run as pairs westbound.
Details for selected weeks show quite clearly that headways range from zero up to 15 minutes, with some higher values, on an all day basis. The values are “marshalled” into horizontal bands because bus departures are regulated by the traffic signals, and many buses cross the intersection at the beginning of a green cycle.
Express Service Eastbound from York Mills Station
The express service operates only on weekdays through the peaks and middays. The scheduled headways are not the same as on the local service, and blending would be impossible even if both locals and expresses ran on time. The high standard deviations indicate that service leaves the terminal at Yonge unevenly spaced even though the average headways roughly follow scheduled levels.
At the end of the PM peak, there is occasionally a straggler that makes a late trip reporting itself as a “995”. This produces a spike in the average headway at the end of service
Given the wider scheduled offpeak headway of the express service, bunching from the terminal is primarily in the peak period although not unknown at midday.
Express Service Westbound from UTSC
The situation inbound from UTSC is comparable to what was shown above at Yonge Street.
In the charts below, note that wider headways on Tuesday, November 9 (red dots) do not have counterparts close to the zero line. This probably indicates a missing bus as opposed to uneven spacing. I will turn to the details of individual days later in the article.
Travel Time Comparisons – Local vs Express
December Week 3 is a special case discussed at the end of this section.
Note that the “pm peak” is substantially reduced in Week 4 and particularly in Week 5 of December.
Morningside to east of York Mills Station
These charts compare the travel times for local and express trips between Morningside and York Mills Station. Morningside is used as the eastern screenline to pick up all of the trips entering the route from UTSC on the evening 95B service.
Generally speaking, there is less than five minutes’ difference in travel times for the express buses westbound.
Morningside to Victoria Park
On the eastern section of the route, the time difference on average between local and express trips is often only a few minutes. Note that the 995 service runs local east of Markham Road, and express west from there.
Victoria Park to York Mills Station
The express buses do somewhat better in the western part of the route.
East of York Mills Station to Morningside
The difference between local and express travel times is similar eastbound to the westbound data with about five minutes separating them at the best of times. Again, the bulge in December Week 3 is caused by the diversion on December 17.
Victoria Park to Morningside
There is only a small difference between local and express travel time eastbound on the eastern section of the route.
East of York Mills Station to Victoria Park
On the western section of the route, the express trips fare somewhat better compared to the locals.
In some of the charts above, there is a noticeable bulge in travel times in December week 3. This was caused by a water main break that required a service diversion on Friday, December 17. The effect on that day is quite evident in the chart below. The diversion was between Kennedy and Warden.
This is an example of how a one-day event creates a smaller effect on stats that are averaged over the week, and on a monthly basis, the effect is masked by the cloud of “normal” data.
At Port Union Loop
At Port Union, there is an around-the-block loop consisting of northeast on Kingston Road, northwest on Sheppard, and south on Dunford Road and Rylander Boulevard to Kingston Road. The distance around the loop is about 1.2km.
The time buses spend within the loop varies substantially, but extended layovers are common.
For the charts below, the time within the loop is measured at a screenline west of Rylander so that any layover, no matter where it occurs, is included.
Times around the circuit of five minutes are less do occur, but the majority are much longer. The first charts show averages and standard deviations for each month, by week, and the second set show detaile data for three selected weeks.
At York Mills Station
Since mid-October, services that formerly used York Mills Station Loop now travel to the parking lot on the northwest corner of Yonge & Wilson which is a temporary terminal. The round trip times shown here are measured from at screenline east of the exit from York Mills Station Loop.
Note that the averages are longer for weeks 3 and 4 (green and blue) than weeks 1 and 2 (red and orange) in October reflecting the longer trip to the temporary terminal.
Even allowing for this, many of the values are quite high showing that many buses have time for a layover at this terminal. The lowest values show that the round trip is possible in five minutes or less, but most buses take much more.
A Few Sample Days’ Operation
Thursday, October 21
In these charts, west (Yonge Street) is at the top and east (Port Union) is at the bottom. Items of note:
- There is little sign of chronic congestion on the route. This typically appears as lines tilting more to the horizontal than most of what is seen here.
- The 95C Ellesmere Station short turns are clearly visible through to early evening turning back at about the midpoint of the charts. A common situation is that a 95C short turn will travel together with a 95A from Port Union as a pair westbound making a headway much wider than the advertised blended service.
- After 7pm, the 95B local service to UTSC shows up. Most of these trips blend properly with the 95A service from Port Union although there are a few obvious exceptions.
- Many buses have long layovers at Port Union, with shorter layovers, but certainly not instantaneous turnarounds, at York Mills Station and at Ellesmere.
Tuesday, November 9
November 9 is similar to October 21 with a few other points of note:
- There is a small amount of congestion eastbound to Bayview between 8 and 9am, and through much of the PM peak. There is some westbound congestion in the same area just before and after 4pm.
- Bunching of service inbound from Ellesmere Station continues here, but there are also bunched trips to and from Port Union.
- After 11pm, three buses leave from York Mills Station and run together to Port Union returning on roughly proper spacing.
Express Service Tuesday, November 9
The charts below plot the 995 express buses on November 9. Scheduled headways are wider than for the local service, but nevertheless bunching does occur.
Wednesday, December 29
This chart shows the service in the middle of the Christmas holiday week. Bunching is common especially with the 95C Ellesmere Station service and with several runs in the evening on the 95A Port Union and 95B UTSC services.
Saturday, December 4
Here is a typical weekend day. Service on the branches often runs in pairs if not triplets, and some of these echo back eastbound after arriving together westbound at York Mills Station. Riders see gaps followed by a pair (or worse) of buses.
Full Chart Sets
The charts used in this article are available as PDFs from the links below.
- Westbound from Port Union:
- Westbound at Morningside:
- Westbound at Kennedy:
- Eastbound from York Mills Station:
Daily service charts:
- Thursday, October 21
- Tuesday, November 9 (local)
- Tuesday, November 9 (express)
- Saturday, December 4
- Wednesday, December 29
Travel Time Comparisons Local vs Express: