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.
- Scarborough RT Express Bus Replacement Plan
- Line 3 SRT Replacement Options
- What Bus Service Will Replace the SRT?
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.