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.

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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