TTC 2023 Annual Service Plan Preview

The TTC began consultations for its 2023 Service Plan on June 29 with a pair of online meetings for community groups, and more will follow. There will be an online survey available starting on July 11.

At this point, the Service Plan is only a collection of proposals. The TTC seeks feedback on them that will lead to a revised version in the fall and a second consultation round before they go to the TTC Board for approval. The round one proposals relate mainly to the SRT shutdown in fall 2023 and the opening of Line 6 Finch West. In the second round, these proposals will be fine-tuned and other possible changes unrelated to the rapid transit plans will be added.

2022 Service Plan Follow-Up

Some service changes proposed in the 2022 plan have been implemented, and others will follow later this year:

  • Seasonal service on the new 172 Cherry Beach route (replacing the former 121 Front-Esplanade bus) was implemented in May, but the planned route through the Distillery District was impossible due to construction on Cherry at Lake Shore.
  • 65 Parliament will be extended to George Brown College’s Waterfront Campus in September. There is no word on an extension of the 365 Parliament Blue Night bus which originally was going to be dropped. The 365 lost its weekend service in 2021, but that was recently restored.
  • The 118 Thistledown extension to Claireport & Albion and the 8 Broadview extension to Coxwell Station will occur later in the fall, date TBA.

With the completion of the Line 1 Automatic Train Control project later this year, the TTC will be able to improve service on the subway. However, just what this means depends on the base against which “improvement” is measured.

  • There is a planned service improvement in September. Current service is not running at pre-pandemic levels, and we do not yet know if September will see a full restoration.
  • ATC will provide two benefits: trains can run closer together, but also travel times can be trimmed to reduce the number of trains needed. The degree that each of these will show up in new schedules remains to be seen. A related problem is that more frequent service can compound with excess running time to worsen terminal approach queues driving up travel time for riders.

Overall system ridership was at 57 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in June 2022 and is expected to rise to 70 percent in the fall. The TTC is finalizing their fall service plan to accommodate some return to in person office travel and post secondary demand. They plan to restore services to post secondary schools that were cut because of online courses. Details TBA.

There is no announced date for the opening of Line 5 Crosstown by Metrolinx, and so the planned route restructuring to support that line will likely not occur in 2022.

Lessons Learned from the Covid Era

Covid exposed the very different travel patterns taken by groups of riders whose continued need to travel varied from none at all (work from home) to the same level as in pre-pandemic times. Observations of particular interest were:

  • Low income workers tend to travel off-peak and they have longer trips to jobs across the city.
  • Shift workers travel off-peak corresponding to shift changes.
  • Women travel off peak with considerable “trip chaining” for shopping and other purposes.

These points drive home the importance of service that is not oriented to downtown commuters, and markets that are too often overlooked in the grand plans when pols trot out their subway fantasy maps.

The maps below compare ridership by route from 2019 (pre-covid) with Spring 2020 (early part of the pandemic) and Fall 2021. Routes in red are the “top 20” in recovery for each comparison, while those in blue are the “bottom 20”. (Note that streetcar routes are not included because there were no automatic passenger counters on those vehicles in 2019. Installation is in progress.)

Many of the top 20 routes for ridership retention are, to no surprise, in the northwest part of the city where jobs require in person work. The bottom 20 are in areas where there is a higher average income and a lot of office-based work.

The TTC plans to review not just demand levels, but the periods when this demand occurs. The traditional definition of “peak periods” no longer applies, and the span of service has to adjust to reflect actual riding patterns. The charts below show the Presto card taps per hour on the system as a whole and on each of the three modes.

The light blue is the historic level in April 2019. The dark blue is at the start of the covid era when riding dropped right across the system. The medium blue shows values as of November 2021, and current values will be higher than those, particularly on streetcars and subways.

Note that where the historic peaks were fairly narrow (2-3 hours wide), the peaks now are wider and extend beyond tradition limits especially in the afternoon. This will affect the service design needed to match the rise and fall in demand over each weekday. It will also affect routes where there are “peak period” traffic restrictions such as parking/stopping limits.

What Do Riders Want?

The TTC surveys riders and reports several key points:

  • Crowding is the most important priority
  • Continuous routes are preferred those requiring transfers
  • Express routes are preferred even if these mean a longer walk to stops
  • Peak service should be improved even if this means taking service away from off-peak

This list is rather self-serving to the extent that it reinforces some of the TTC’s own biases. The idea of stop elimination is attractive because this reduces travel time and hence the number of vehicles needed to provide service. However, this also presents accessibility challenges for people who live/work near stops that are relocated or removed.

A focus on peak service runs contrary to observations about the role of off-peak service and its importance for mobility in the city.

Applying an “equity lens” to transit requires a recognition that there are areas with comparatively more transit dependent riders, and where casual trips like shopping are more likely to be by transit than in more affluent areas.

There is also a perception in some political circles that there are hundreds of buses running around empty outside of the peak. There are two basic problems here:

  • Peak service is limited by the number of buses the TTC owns, although for the past few years they have not fully utilized their fleet.
  • A lot of service has to be cut from minor routes to produce a notable improvement on major routes in the peak. For example, taking one bus off of a route that has only three to start with makes a big change, but that same bus added to a route like 39/939 Finch East with its 57 buses would never be noticed.

We have been through this exercise before when Rob Ford forced widespread service cuts without making a large dent in the TTC’s budget.

A more basic problem is that the TTC is hamstrung by its service budget that limits the number of operator hours to be provided each year, and by the staffing level this will fund. Even if the TTC has spare vehicles, it needs people to drive them. There is also a political fetish for “no overtime” even though it may be more productive to let operators work extra hours than to hire new staff.

As part of the 2023 Service Plan, the TTC wants to know which of many items are important to riders.

  • 10 minute base network
  • 30 minute service standard
  • Weekday peak service
  • Weekday off-peak service
  • Weekend service
  • Early morning service
  • Blue Night network
  • Express network
  • Community bus
  • Regional connections
  • GO transit connections
  • Downtown premium express

The priority list likely varies by the type of rider. For those who abandoned transit during the pandemic, the priorities are likely different from those who continued to use the system through the past two years.

The TTC claims that its surveys show that safety-related concerns are less about Covid than about general safety on the transit system (e.g. from assault and harassment). Again this ties in with concerns about off-peak service reductions because this is a period when the risk of harassment is higher.

The TTC plans to continue an emphasis on “recommended” masking, and will conduct a general safety campaign in the fall.

Improving Service Quality

The TTC still does not report crowding stats on a route-by-route and time of day basis, although this might change with a new-found emphasis on service reliability and analysis.

Complaints about crowding are common in spite of TTC claiming that this is not an issue, and these compound with rider concerns about health safety as more riders travel maskless, and as social distancing becomes impossible.

In a presentation at the recent TTC Board meeting, there was talk of more work on service reliability and granularity of reporting. I asked about this in the online session. The TTC replied (to paraphrase) that this is an “all hands on deck” exercise. There are many segments of the TTC that are inputs to good service: the schedule, route management, feedback from operators and infrastructure as examples. The metric will still be on time departure, at least at the outset as this is the first point of reliability. Once they know there is no “capacity leakage” through irregular service, then they will turn to targeted changes.

I will continue to publish route analyses to show the problems with service reliability lest the TTC “declare victory” on the basis of press releases rather than hard data.

Line 3 SRT Shutdown

Current plans call for Line 3 SRT to cease operation in November 2023 and be replaced with a bus shuttle until the Scarborough Subway Extension opens in 2030. This shuttle will operate over city streets until late 2025 while the SRT right-of-way is rebuilt as a private road for bus operation.

The resulting bus network has been described elsewhere and I refer readers there for details.

The TTC plans some new services, mainly on the Express Bus network, to link northeastern Scarborough to rapid transit lines including GO stations.

  • Finch East’s 39A branch to Neilson will be extended south to Centenary Hospital.
  • The 902 Markham Road Express will be extended north from Sheppard to Steeles.
  • The 905 Eglinton Eas Express will be extended north from STC to Morningside Heights. The intent is to roughly mimic the future LRT route.
  • The 953 Steeles East Express will gain a new stop at Milliken GO station once the grade separation work there is complete.
  • Sheppard East Express will gain a new 985C branch north via Neilson.

There are no details for the express routes such as the planned location of stops, or which portions of the lines will actually run as local service despite their “express” moniker.

Line 6 Finch West (Corrected)

The route changes planned to take effect when Line 6 Finch West LRT opens are much simpler.

  • Two new services will be provided in the Emery Village area to replace existing branches of 36 Finch West. These include an extension of the 984A express bus from Sheppard north to Finch looping via Fenmar and Milvan.
  • A new route (tentatively “Toryork”) from Pioneer Village Station looping via Toryork and Milvan.
  • The 101 Downsview and 107 York University Heights will be restructured. The 101 Downsview bus will operate from Wilson to Finch West Park Station via Downsview Park, while the 107 York University Heights will operate from Sheppard West to Finch West over a large almost-loop. Bidirectional service will be provide over the entire route 107.
  • The 384 Sheppard West Blue Night bus will be extended north via Weston Road and west via Steeles to Islington.

With Line 6 ending at Humber College, there is a leftover “tail” of the 36 Finch West bus route via Humberwood. During the consultation process, the TTC aims to learn what the travel desires are in this area and design an appropriate service. This is intended to not just serve the small left over piece of the Finch bus, but to determine how connections to major employment areas might be built into a new route.

22 thoughts on “TTC 2023 Annual Service Plan Preview

  1. It is interesting the TTC does not ask riders if schedule adhesion and/or headway management are important.

    Steve: Yes, one might think that reliable service is fundamental. It comes up all the time at public consultations on just about any transit subject.

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  2. Thanks for the summary Steve. I’ll be sure to give my input throught the formal channels, but I have a few comments to share.

    I like the idea of extended the 384 to Islington, but I’m skeptical of implementation. I could see some service gaps between when the 384 starts/ends and the 165 starts/ends. I also wonder, has TTC not considered through night service on the whole of Weston (389)? The 89 in particular runs so late, and starts so early, the gap in service is maybe like 2-2.5 hours?

    I find it funny that they plan to revise the 107 service again. I like this plan, don’t get me wrong, but it seems like the changes are constant.

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  3. Are there 2023 plans for Brampton Transit for connections with the Finch West LRT? Would like to take a bus from Finch West LRT to Brampton’s Wet ‘n’ Wild. (Unless Toronto annexes Brampton.)

    Steve: The TTC’s Service Plan is built independently from whatever the 905 systems might do. At this point we don’t even know what the service plan for Line 6 will be, let alone what might connect to it.

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  4. Why would the TTC need to ask about schedule adherence and route management? They seem to live in a parallel universe where there are no short turns (though some might be useful!) and where everything is on time if it’s within 5 minutes of ‘the schedule’ – somewhere along a route.

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  5. The strong ridership retention and growth in northwest Toronto parallels Brampton’s experience. Demographically and employment wise, the areas are quite similar. In Brampton, May 2022 ridership has reached 97% of May 2019’s ridership. No surprise, but interesting to see this visually.

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  6. Upon closer examination, the ridership maps are quite interesting with regard to Thorncliffe Park.

    In the first map, Spring 2020 compared with 2019, the 88 South Leaside is one of the Bottom 20 routes by retainment percentage. Relatively speaking, residents in the much more affluent neighbourhoods served by the route – Leaside, Bennington Heights, and Moore Park – were much more likely to be able to work from home, so this result likely represents the Thorncliffe Park ridership disproportionately remaining on the bus.

    In the second map, Fall 2021 compared with 2019, the 81 Thorncliffe Park is one of the Top 20 routes by recovery percentage.

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  7. Are there any plans on modifying or eliminating the 37A route once Line 6 is built? A “casino express” route from Humber College to Woodbine seems like an interesting idea, and more convenient than the current 37A from Islington.

    Steve: No word on anything like that. I suggest you submit it via the TTC survey once it is available on July 11.

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  8. Is the 133 Neilson bus going to be phased out at some point with all these extra service proposed on Neilson Rd from the extention of the 39/985/905/?

    Steve: The TTC didn’t mention this. I think that the idea is to add services to the Malvern area to reduce the load on the SRT replacement services.

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  9. I guess plans are scrapped for the 178 Brimorton?

    Steve: That one is still up in the air subject to community and Councillor input.

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  10. Going by the map, I think the description of changes to 101 and 107 is slightly off, is it?

    Currently it says “The 101 Downsview bus will operate from Wilson to Downsview Park Station” but on the map it looks like it is planned to operate from Wilson to Finch West. I take it the idea is to connect both 101 and 107 directly to the LRT (at Finch West station) in addition to the subway.

    Steve: Thanks for catching that. I have corrected the article. I remember noticing the mistake while I was proof reading, but didn’t actually change it. The mind-machine interface still requires fingers in between!

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  11. If the TTC shuts down Line 3 and use shuttle buses, they should operate a separate shuttle route because if you extend existing routes to Kennedy station could cause serious delays.

    Steve: Actually they plan to extend the routes which together account for 80% of the transfer traffic to the RT to eliminate the need for riders to transfer at STC. You need to read up on the plans for the Line 3 replacement. See:

    Scarborough RT Express Bus Replacement Plan
    What Bus Service Will Replace the SRT

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  12. Wow,

    Neilson went from one bus to 5, not including the extra services to Morningside Heights. What are they planning to do w. the 133?

    Steve: So far it appears that they will leave other services “as is” with the idea of saturating Malvern with new routes to divert loading from the SRT bus operations.

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  13. On the matter of schedule adherence and route management this seems to be little importance to the TTC management. I currently have 3 service complaints (with case numbers assigned) that are weeks old and there has be no response. I have called to Customer Service asking for a response to at least the worst one and it been referred back to whomever was supposed to be looking into the matter. Zero result. When I brought up names of two management people I had dealt with pre-COVID crap I was referred to Rick Leary (twice) . Still no response. Waste of time.

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  14. I can’t wait for the express 902 to go directly to Steeles, as I need to change buses at Steeles to travel North of Steeles on Markham road, to visit my elderly parents, on a regular basis. The regular 102, regardless if it is the B or D takes forever as they stop too often and are almost always overcrowded.

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  15. Is the TTC trying to restructure routes 101/107 because their performance is so bad in their current form? How many more buses in total will be needed on combined 101/107 service compared to current set up? Do they have an indication from LePage industrial area workers or from people travelling to Carl Hall Rd that they need to get Keele/Wilson area and that is what is driving this new routing for route 101?

    Steve: There was no info about the rationale for the 101/107 change, but it’s worth remembering that the current setup was the result of penny pinching in a previous round attempting to make a better performing route out of the 107. There is no info on the proposed service level. This is a shortcoming of the Annual Service Plan in that lines on a map do not actually indicate the level of convenience a service will provide.

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  16. If there is one area I wish the TTC would try to improve on, that would be streetcar service. Fix the slow orders or update streetcar operations policies so operators aren’t dwadling about on the routes. I’ve noticed that especially on the weekend streetcar operators.

    Even subway operations seem to dawdle about. I really wonder how far the TTC is willing to go about with reducing travel times on the subway system. So far it’s apparent that the TTC lowers the operation speed and artificially increases travel times.

    Steve: There are a few factors at work here.

    Some years ago, in response to chronic overtime due to “late in” from crews based on realistic schedules, the ATU negotiated a hefty premium for this to encourage more realistic running times from the TTC. On a related note, the desire to minimize short turns became something of a fetish under Rick Leary leading to a lot of padded schedules. There are still short turns, but they simply are not reported and Leary looks good in the eyes of Board members who don’t get out onto the real system. All that extra running time leads to slow operation and bunching of vehicles at terminals because they cannot help arriving early.

    On the streetcar system, there have been problems with the electric switches going back into the early ALRV days when a new system was installed based on radio loops in the pavement rather than contactors on the overhead. This system never worked properly, and it took years for the TTC to develop an alternative that is only now being rolled out across the system. To guard against open switch incidents, a “stop and proceed” rule was introduced or all facing point switches whether they are manual or automatic. That leads to the jerky operation at intersections especially if there are both a right ad left turn. With the arrival of the Flexitys, there were a few derailments, and it is not clear whether this was due to bad track, an open switch, or an inherent defect in the tracking by the low floor trucks. The catch-all fix for this was a slow order at all junctions. To his has been added a rule (that is mostly ignored) that two cars should not pass each other at an intersection lest one of them leap off the track and strike the other.

    This is what “safety” has come to on the TTC.

    Meanwhile in the subway, there are so many incidents of trespassers at track level, security alerts and other service interruptions that staying on time is challenging. Schedules are padded and trains arrive at terminals early under “normal” circumstances causing queues on the approach because, unlike a bus loop, a subway terminal can only hold two trains.

    Another source of “slow” operation is that the TR trains running with ATC have a longer door open/close cycle than earlier trains. It adds a small amount at each station. Moreover, ATC is enforcing speed restrictions that the old signal system did not.

    Finally, the shift to partial one person train operation (aka “OPTO”) has led to ongoing delays at St. George which is the crew change point. This will change when the whole line goes OPTO in the fall, but there is a potential for terminal delays if schedules do not allow for operators having to walk the length of trains at terminals.

    Meanwhile on bus routes, including substitutions for streetcars, some operators drive like they are on suburban roads with the goal of getting to the terminal as early as possible for a nice siesta. The double standard in service quality is appalling.

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  17. Streetcars creep through intersections on The Queensway–where there are no switches–because of a “10 km/h through intersection” rule. I’m told this came about because some time in the past, a streetcar t-boned a car making a left turn–presumably the car was another one that disobeyed the red left turn signal, and therefore was at fault. Nevertheless, the streetcars are the ones that have to creep through the intersection.

    I expect that there are many more incidents on the subway when trains enter the station, whether accidental or deliberate. Witness the recent lawsuit by the person that was pushed onto the tracks at Yonge.

    Under these circumstances, if subways were treated anything like streetcars, be prepared for “trains entering station 10 km/h max”.

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  18. Start planning for platform edge glass walls and doors. Very costly, and only possible with Automatic Train Op. I know, but inevitable if use increases and a long future is to be guaranteed. Several systems in European and Asian cities have these, as we must someday. Otherwise riders (especially women alone) will avoid the system entirely. The wicked and deranged will have won.

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  19. There are surely various ‘levels’ of platform edge doors (or protection). The most complex/expensive would be full height with opening doors (which would also mean ventilation changes), then waist-height walls with doors. Then simply waist-height barriers with openings (not doors) in the right places. All would reduce possibility of someone being pushed (or jumping) on tracks. The TTC seems incapable of thinking about levels of ‘improvements’ – whether its platform edge protection or streetcars running in a segregated ROW.

    Steve: I believe that the TTC is considering both version of PEDs. You might recall that they were cut from the TYSSE to Vaughan as one of many cost-saving measures even though this extension was provisioned with ATC from Day 1. Line 1 will be fully ATC by the end of 2022, and this begs the question of what provision there might be in the 2023 capital budget.

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  20. So, I take that the replacement of the SRT in July of next year is a 100 per cent given, right?

    Steve: November is the date the TTC is currently talking about. Given how the schedule periods work, that is effectively mid-November.

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  21. “The 101 Downsview bus will operate from Wilson Finch West to Downsview Park Station, while the 107 York University Heights will operate from Sheppard West to Finch West over a large almost-loop. Bidirectional service will be provide over the entire route 107.”

    The new 101 is actually from Wilson to Downsview Park. After Line 6, it runs from Wilson to Finch West. The route was originally the 128 STANLEY GREEN but they decided to modify the 101 DOWNSVIEW PARK instead.

    Steve: Sorry about that. I was fixing the text and fouled up the edit. Thanks.

    “[Brimorton] That one is still up in the air subject to community and Councillor input.”

    The fate of the 178 BRIMORTON is unclear as election season is near. This will be subject to change if Paul Ainslie will win or lose the election. However, the TTC may decide to retain the current routings of the 54B LAWRENCE EAST and 86D SCARBOROUGH for a while unless changes will come this fall or next because the 178 was delayed due to the Omicron wave.

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  22. Could [you] find what are ’10 minute base network’ and ’30 minute service standard’?

    Steve: The TTC does not make these easy to find. Both of them are covered in documents on the TTC’s Planning web page.

    There is a complete list of routes and service levels in the Scheduled Service Summary (page 3) which shows the routes where a 10 minute headway is supposed to be guaranteed. Scroll down on the page a little bit to the “Service Summary” section.

    The 30 minute minimum is part of the Service Standards, also linked from that page. Basically, no route is supposed to run less often than half-hourly. There are occasional exceptions, but they are rare.

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