Service Standards, Metrics and the CEO’s Report (I)

Some of the material in these articles will be familiar to readers, but my purpose here is to consolidate many thoughts, some old, some new, in one piece. My hope is to inform discussion about transit’s recovery in Toronto and in particular to provide context for the inevitable political debate about what we should attempt, and the managerial issues of knowing whether we have succeeded.

Updated Aug. 30/22 at 1:25pm: Sundry typos and grammatical faux pas corrected. No substantive change to the text.

Since early 2020, the TTC and transit systems everywhere have wrestled with the ridership and revenue losses of the pandemic era. The goal of both management and politicians has been to just “keep the lights on” and provide some level of transit service. Toronto, with the aid of Ontario and Canadian governments, has worked particularly hard to continue an attractive service, at least on paper.

Service quality is a real bugbear for me, and the widening gap between the advertised service and what is actually provided should be a major concern. Next year, 2023, Toronto will likely see the end of special Covid-related subsidies, and a growth in demand back to pre-pandemic levels, although the timing of these events could prove challenging. Meanwhile, City Council “net zero” emission plans call for a major shift of travel onto transit. This will not happen with a business as usual approach to transit.

The focus must shift from muddling through the pandemic to actively improving the transit system, and to doing that with more than a few subway lines whose first riders are almost a decade away.

Key to running more and better transit is a solid understanding of how the system performs together with a planning rationale for growth. This brings me to two documents: the TTC’s Service Standards and the monthly statistics included in the CEO’s Report.

In this first of two articles, I will review the Service Standards and discuss some general principles about reporting system behaviour. In the second, I will turn to the CEO’s Report.

There are two essential problems:

  • The actual machinery of the Service Standards is not well understood, and the current document was endorsed by a previous TTC Board almost without debate. Superficially, the standards appear to call for good service, but in practice they hide as much as they show in reporting on quality. The Board did ask for follow-up information on improving standards (more service, less crowding), but management never delivered this feedback.
  • To the degree that management reports system performance, this is done at a summary level where the day-to-day reality of transit service and rider experience are buried in averages that give no indication of how often, when or where the standards are not achieved.
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Service Quality on 23 Dawes: July 2022

This is a companion article to Service Quality on 64 Main: July 2022.

The 23 Dawes Road bus, like 64 Main, is a short route operating out of Main Street station. Where the Main bus goes south to Queen, the Dawes bus runs north to St. Clair. The north end of the route is a large on-street loop.

The scheduled service is shown below:

This route shares the same characteristics and problems with its southern cousin:

  • Missing vehicles cause large gaps in service.
  • There is little traffic congestion to disrupt service on a regular basis.
  • Vehicles have adequate time for drivers to take layovers at terminals.

Updated August 30, 2022: Information about the cause of missing vehicles has been added, with thanks to an anonymous reader.

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Service Quality on 64 Main: July 2022

Updated August 24 at 11:10am with information about the sources of delays mentioned in the article.

This article is a follow-up to Service Quality on 64 Main: Oct-Dec 2021 to see how this route is behaving under summer conditions.

The 64 Main bus operates between Main Station at Danforth Avenue and Queen Street in The Beach looping at the south end via Wineva, Queen, Hambly and Williamson.

In the previous article, a major issue for the 64 Main bus was inadequacy of scheduled travel time. This was adjusted in November 2021, and the times were extended further in March 2022.

Scheduled service effective November 2021:

Scheduled service effective March 22. In general, headways are a bit wider and running times extended without the addition of vehicles to the route except during the AM peak and Sunday afternoons.

Data presented here cover the month of July 2022. Note that Friday July 1 was a holiday. and its data are included in the Sunday charts.

The overwhelming problem on 64 Main was not that schedules were impossible for operators to keep, or that buses were running in twos or threes. Quite commonly, one or two buses were missing from service, a major problem when the scheduled service is at best three buses.

How much service is lost because there is nobody to drive a vehicle, and why this is not regularly reported as a measure of service quality in the CEO’s Report?

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TTC Service Changes Effective September 4, 2022


  • The spreadsheet detailing all of the changes has been added at the end of this post.
  • The number of the Mimico GO shuttle has been corrected to 176.
  • Transfer arrangements at Queen & Dufferin for the 501 bus and streetcar services have been clarified.
  • Transfer arrangements at Queen & Roncesvalles for the 501 and 504 bus services have been added.

Updated September 5, 2022:

  • The spreadsheet listing all of the changes has been corrected for route 504 King. The original version included a description of the route carried over from the August version. This has been changed to reflect the September arrangements.

The TTC will make many changes to its scheduled service on September 4, 2022 with restorations of previous service levels on many routes. This will not get the system back to 100% of pre-pandemic levels.

An important distinction is between three values:

  • The amount of service scheduled before Spring 2020
  • The amount of service budgeted for 2022
  • The amount of service scheduled for 2022

The TTC plans to be back to 97% of budgeted service for bus, 84% for streetcar and 92% for subway. The overall numbers are compared below.

January 2020 Scheduled185,8257,068192,893
September 2022 Budgeted186,3796,398192,777
September 2022 Scheduled177,9304,965182,895

In the original 2022 service budget, the TTC planned to be back to roughly the same level of service as in January 2020 by September 2022. However, slower ridership recovery coupled with staffing constraints produced a lower scheduled service expressed as hours/week.

There are further caveats:

  • The distribution of hours by time of day might not be the same in 2022 as in 2020 because of changing demand patterns.
  • Changes in running times to deal with congestion or service reliability can mean that the same service hours are stretched over wider headways. Not all vehicle hours are created equal.

All that said, there are many changes in service levels, and with the bus network being back to 97%, the schedules for September 2022 are often based on old versions before service cuts were implemented. Another change for this month is the reintroduction of school trips on many routes.

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TTC at (Almost) 101

The TTC hit its centenary a year ago, September 1, 2021, right in the middle of the pandemic shutdowns. A planned very public event to mark the occasion turned out to be a private affair at Roncesvalles Carhouse.

Almost a year later, the TTC mounted a similar event with the doors open for everyone at Hillcrest Shops.

Here is a selection of photos of the event for those who were unable to attend.

Local and Express Service on 41/941 Keele

A few weeks ago, in a conversation on Twitter, there was a remark about the tendency of express and local buses to run in pairs on the Keele route. Normally, when I do service analyses, I keep the express and local routes separate partly to see each service on its own, and partly because some riders can only use the local service at the origin or destination of their journeys.

That comment led me to examine the two services in the same set of charts to see how they behaved. First off, however, a look at them separately. An important issue for all local/express pairs is that the chronic unreliability of TTC headways means that there is no “blended” service in any sense even when it is scheduled that way. Moreover, the difference in travel times over the length of an express route is usually fairly small. Achieving that “saving” can be offset by the unpredictable wait for an express bus to actually show up.

The data presented here are from June 2022.

Updated August 18, 2022 at 11:55pm: Charts of travel time averages for express and local services have been added at the end of the article.

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Queen West Construction Update: August 14, 2022

Various projects on the west end of the 501 Queen route continue, some faster than others, with one real surprise.


Little has changed here since my last visit except that the new contact wire is now attached to span wires in places, and some of the frogs (crossing pieces) have been installed.

The new contact wire still ends just east of Sunnyside Loop. Until reconstruction of the south side of The Queensway including bases for new overhead poles has completed, the loop’s overhead suspension system cannot be installed.

Further west at Glendale (St. Joseph’s Hospital), the concrete work now extends to the west side of the intersection, and the beginnings of a new eastbound stop stop are evident.

Lake Shore & Kipling

The TTC is rebuilding both the intersection at Kipling as well as Kipling Loop. To my amazement, they have not only replaced the rarely used east-to-north curve, but have added a new south-to-west. It will now be possible to short turn a Queen car eastbound at Kipling!

This is the same organization that forgets to add much-needed curves during other reconstruction projects or leaves them out on the basis that the budget won’t handle the expense. There is probably a special award for this sort of thing.

In a classic right hand, left hand, situation, note that the new pantograph compliant overhead includes the east-to-north curve, but does not include the south-to-west.

Just east of the intersection, rails have been removed on the approach for replacement. This is a particularly clear example of how the “new” method of track construction adopted in the 1990s pays off with the need to only strip the top layer of concrete and expose existing attachment points to existing ties.

Looking east on Lake Shore east of Kipling

Louisa to Mimico

The track replacement and repaving of Lake Shore from Louisa to Mimico is complete, and only a few traffic cones prevent full use of the roadway.

The Myth of “No Short Turns” (July 2022)

This post includes short turn counts for the month of July on the major east-west streetcar routes downtown. See also:

Updated August 14, 2022: Charts of travel times on King between Strachan and Dufferin have been added to show that although there were congestion problems, they existed only on specific days due to special events, not pervasively through the month of July.

According to the TTC CEO’s Report, short turns (a situation where a vehicle does not reach its scheduled destination but instead turns back at an earlier point) were all but eliminated in May 2019.

This is not to say that short turns should not exist. They are an inevitable part of transit operations where delays can occur, and are essential to restoration of regular service. Back in 2019, the TTC’s problem was that they were used very frequently either as a lazy way to manage service or in response to unrealistic schedules. Now they occur but are not reported.

Meanwhile, other problems with service such as bunching, gaps and missing vehicles are not reported or tracked (at least publicly) at all.

There is no way to avoid saying this: the reported level of short turns is a total misrepresentation of what actually happens on the street as any regular rider knows. Management gets to claim they have eliminated a problem, but in fact it persists.

  1. Methodology
  2. 501 Queen Eastbound at Kingston Road
  3. 504 King Westbound at Spadina and at Bathurst
  4. 504 King Eastbound at Parliament
  5. 504 King Eastbound at Dundas/Broadview
  6. 505 Dundas Westbound at Lansdowne
  7. 505 Dundas Eastbound at Parliament
  8. 506 Carlton Westbound at Lansdowne
  9. 506 Carlton Eastbound at Coxwell


From TTC vehicle tracking data, it is possible to count the number of streetcars passing any point on the line. In order to determine how many short turns occur at a specific location, counts on either side of a turnback will reveal the answer.

For example, if the screenlines for counts on Queen are defined as Coxwell Avenue and Woodbine Avenue, then the difference in counts shows how many cars short-turned at Woodbine Loop.

For these analyses, the counts are grouped by hour and by day through a month. Next, all weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays are consolidated to show the difference between types of day. The weekday counts are broken out by week to catch short-lived effects.

Friday, July 1, Canada Day, is counted as a Sunday. Note that this means that there are six “Sundays” and only five “Saturdays” included in the totals. That is the reason the count of trips within the month is higher for Sundays than for Saturdays.

An important distinction in any analysis is between overall averages and a detailed view of operations. TTC has a bad habit of reporting stats, when they do so at all, on a monthly average basis. This blends together periods when service is good with periods when it is very bad giving the impression that things are going fairly well. Riders, of course, encounter and are angered by the bad times which happen too often and fairly predictably.

The raw data are at a minute-by-minute, vehicle-by-vehicle level. In the charts here, I have tried to strike a balance between “information overload” with too much detail, and high level views that obscure what is happening on the street.

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TTC 100th Anniversary Display

The TTC will host the final event in their centenary year on Saturday, August 20, 2022 at their Hillcrest site on Bathurst Street south of Davenport from 10am to 2pm. The event takes place in the employee parking lot south of the Gunn Building which is on the southwest corner at Davenport.

There will be static displays of vehicles and future plans, but the shops will not be open.

A free shuttle bus will take visitors to the Toronto Archives on Spadina north of Dupont where they can view the TTC 100 Years of Moving Toronto exhibit.

Service Analysis of 53/953 Steeles East for May-July 2022

This article continues a series reviewing the service on major routes in Scarborough. Previous articles include:

Other routes to be reviewed include 85/985 Sheppard East, 102/902 Markham Road, 43/943 Kennedy and 68/968 Warden. Routes in the Eglinton-Kingston corridor will be reviewed as part of a “red lane” update in the Fall.

  1. Overview
  2. Service Standards vs Service Reliability
  3. Service Eastbound From Finch Station
  4. Service Westbound From Staines
  5. Service Westbound From Passmore
  6. Service Westbound from Markham Road
  7. Express Vs Local Travel Times
  8. Service Charts
  9. The Last Two Weeks of June 2022
  10. Saturday May 7
  11. Victoria Day Monday May 23
  12. Saturday July 30


Scheduled service on Steeles East is unchanged since Fall 2021. There are various route branches which overlap to provide a frequent combined service on paper, although individual branches on wider headways can be less reliable.

Peak service is provided by three branches:

  • 53B Finch local to Markham Road
  • 953A Finch express to Staines
  • 953B Finch express to Markham Road

The scheduled headway on the express service is every 7’00” (am) or 7’15” (pm) as opposed to every 6’00” on the local service. This means that even if everything runs exactly on time, there will be uneven spacing between the express and local buses.

Midday and early evening service operates with 53A and 53B local buses to Staines and to Markham Road respectively, but the 1-in-3 (midday) or 1-in-4 (early evening) pattern of 53A buses produces gaps in service on the 53B branch that serves the Amazon fulfillment centre via Markham and Passmore Roads. Late evening weekday service alternates between the branches.

There are similar uneven weekend headways on the 53B because of the gaps produced by the occasional 53A trips.

Service Standards vs Service Reliability

A point worth mentioning here is that even the fairly well-behaved periods of service on both the local and express branches show a problem with an on-time target window that is close to the scheduled headway. Service can be “on time” within a six minute window, but still operate in bunches.

For example, if the scheduled departures are on the 0, 6, 12, 18 … minute marks, buses could actually leave on 5, 5, 17, 17 … and be “on time” by TTC standards. Half of the buses would be five minutes late (the upper bound allowed), while the other half would be 1 minute early (the lower bound). This is a worst case scenario, but it shows what the standards allow.

In effect, the six minute window allows gaps of up to twelve minutes followed by a pair of buses to be considered “on time”. This allows reported service quality to be much better than what riders actually experience, and leaves a gap (so to speak) between the claimed and actual service quality.

Overall, service reliability on Steeles East is fairly good simply because it is so frequent on weekdays on the common part of the route west of Markham Road. However, the outer branches suffer from gaps and bunching that is hidden by the frequent service further west. Weekend service is particularly uneven, and the degree of headway management varies from one weekend to another. The express service headways are spread over a range wider than the time saving an express trip offers.

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