Evolution of Travel Times on RapidTO Bus Routes 2020-2022 (Part 1)

This article and one to follow is an update of an earlier review of the effect of pandemic-induced changes in traffic levels on the running time of buses. The target routes are those that already have “red lanes”, exclusive lanes for buses at all hours, and on the first group where red lanes were proposed.

Originally, the list of possible routes was shorter, and it is those routes whose vehicle tracking data I have collected over the past years:

  • Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside (implemented fall 2020)
  • Lawrence East
  • Finch East
  • Steeles West
  • Dufferin
  • Jane

A City study is underway to prioritize routes for detailed study and implementation under the RapidTO program.

An important premise behind RapidTO and bus priority is that service can be improved both because travel times are shorter and because they are more reliable leading to more regularly spaced and predictable service. Indeed, on the King Street transit project, the benefit was far more that variation in travel was reduced and reliability was increased, as opposed to reducing the average speed of travel under day-to-day conditions.

Too often, “priority” has been sold on the basis that it would reduce operating costs when the real goal should be to improve service with resources already in place, and to ensure that any additional buses or streetcars do not simply disappear into a “black hole” of unreliable service.

With the pandemic, we have an unexpected chance to see how much time is saved when traffic is, for a period, reduced from normal levels. This gives an indication of what we might expect from red lanes, or putting it another way, the best we are likely to achieve.

General Notes

  • There are several days in October-November 2021 with no data due to the cyber-attack and related outage in the TTC’s vehicle tracking system.
  • Some but not all periods show a drop in travel times in December-January 2021/22 corresponding to both the holiday season and the shutdown imposed for the omicron wave.
  • Late January 2022 shows a spike in some travel times related to the “snowmageddon” event, and some of these last for days implying that the roads in question were not given priority for clearing.
  • Each set of charts is linked as a gallery, and you can step between the pages within them.
  • Some locations and times show little or no change in travel times during pandemic shutdowns implying that there was little congestion to be overcome. A major challenge for the RapidTO project is to defend 7×24 implementation of red lanes on streets that show little evidence of congestion during all periods.
  • Some charts have the low y-axis value set above zero to give variations in the data more “elbow room” in the space they occupy.

86 Scarborough

The 86 Scarborough bus operates east and north via Eglinton and Kingston Road from Kennedy Station. Part of the route gained red bus priority lanes in fall 2020.

In these charts, each page shows data for operation during one hour of the day, weekdays only. The blue lines show the 50th percentile (median) of travel times, while the orange lines show the 85th percentile. The degree to which these are close together or spread apart, plus the day-to-day changes show how reliable, or not, travel times are.

Various effects are visible in the charts below.

  • Travel times are generally lower in May 2020 (early pandemic era) than in 2018, two years earlier. In particular, a wide gap between the 50th and 85th percentiles in 2018 does not appear in 2020 and later data.
  • A drop in travel times can be seen for some periods and directions corresponding with the introduction of the red lanes in October 2020.
    • Note that some of the reduction in travel time came through stop eliminations, not through the red lanes per se.
    • Conversely, some periods immediately before the lanes went into operation show a rise in travel times that could well be related to the effect of lane closures for the painting work.

Eastbound from Kennedy Stn. to Morningside & Kingston Rd.

Westbound from Kingston Rd. & Morningside to Kennedy Stn.

116 Morningside

The 116 Morningside bus shares the red lanes on Eglinton East to Guildwood with the 86 Scarborough, runs in mixed traffic through Guildwood Village, and then on red lanes on Morningside north from Kingston Road.

A small drop in travel times in October-November 2020 is visible during some periods.

Eastbound from Kennedy Station to Morningside & Ellesmere

Westbound from Morningside & Ellesmere to Kennedy Station

54 Lawrence East

Lawrence East is a proposed priority corridor between at least Port Union and Don Mills, although the map above includes the dogleg via Lawrence and Leslie to Eglinton. With the restructuring of 54/954 Lawrence East proposed for the Line 5 opening, it is doubtful that a priority scheme is necessary on that leg as little service will remain there.

In the charts below, the route is divided into three segments:

  • East of Lawrence East Station to Port Union (using Midland as the western screenline)
  • Between Lawrence East Station and Victoria Park (the Scarborough/North York boundary) (using Kennedy as the eastern screenline)
  • From Victoria Park to Don Mills

Eastbound from Midland to Port Union

The reduction due to the pandemic is most evident in the evening (not in the PM peak as one might expect). Travel times have gradually built back to pre-pandemic levels with a brief dip for the omicron wave at the end of 2021.

Westbound from Port Union to Midland

Eastbound from Victoria Park to Kennedy

The segment between Lawrence East Station and Victoria Park does not show much variation related to the two major covid waves during most periods.

Westbound from Kennedy to Victoria Park

Eastbound from Don Mills to Victoria Park

Westbound from Victoria Park to Don Mills

Between Don Mills and Victoria Park, there is little variation in travel times except during the AM peak in early 2020 westbound. By mid 2021, travel times start to bounce around more and the effect of the January 2022 snow is quite evident.

39 Finch East

Eastbound from Finch Stn. to McCowan

Travel times eastbound saw notable drops, partcularly in the peak periods for the two major pandemic shutdowns in March 2020 and at the end of 2021. These drops were substantially recovered by the end of April 2022.

The January snowstorm and resulting road congestion had am extended effect on Finch East service.

Westbound from McCowan to Finch Stn.

As with the eastbound service, the primary change for the covid shutdowns was in the peak periods. These were also affected for several days after the January 2022 snowstorm.