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

Overview

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.

Service Eastbound From Finch Station

Local service from Finch Station is at roughly the same level through the weekday. It is supplemented in the peak periods by express services. Note that the charts are separated only by local and express trips and do not distinguish by trip destination. As long as a rider is bound for a stop west of the point where branches diverge, it does not matter whether they are on an “A” or a “B” bus.

Headway reliability on weekdays is mostly within the TTC’s standard of a six minute window. This is seen by the consistent lines for average headways and the low standard deviation values in the first chart below, and the cluster of headway values in a band from about 4 to 10 minutes in the second chart.

(In all of these charts, the second week of the month is shown, but it is representative of values for any week.)

There is a change in the data starting in the fourth week of June both for the weekday early morning and for a period just before the PM peak. Although there was no change in the published schedule summary, it is clear that something changed in the schedule as operated. More about this later.

Weekend service is quite another matter and headway values are very widely scattered. This is generally not a question of missing buses because the averages lie roughly where they should, but the individual values are widely spread, particularly on Saturday, May 7 (red) with many wide gaps and corresponding short headways indicating a great deal of bunching. Sundays are almost as bad. The situation in June is somewhat better than in May and July, but bunching is still common.

Note that these data are for buses just north of Finch Station where roughly on time, or at least well spaced, departure should be fairly easy to achieve.

Express buses depart Finch Station on a range of headways thath exceed the target six minute window, particularly in the PM peak. As we will see later, the irregular headways can more than offset the travel time benefit of an express trip.

Service Westbound From Staines

The 53A local service to Staines Road operates only outside of peak periods. During the peaks, it is replaced by the 953A express. During many periods, this branch operates as every second, third or fourth bus east from Markham Road where most of the service on the 53B branches off.

The screenline for these headway data is at Seasons Drive and Steeles, the point where the 53A buses turn west onto Steeles. This was chosen to eliminate inconsistencies due to varying layover points used by buses making the loop south to Finch.

During some periods, headways can be quite reliable, while at others wide gaps in an already infrequent service occur. As with the service eastbound from Finch Station, Saturday May 7 was particularly bad.

Express service to Staines Road operates only during the peak periods. Westbound headways there are fairly reliable in the AM peak, but badly scattered in the PM peak. Note that the y-axis on these charts runs to 60 minutes so that all values fit. That this is necessary says something about service reliability.

Service Westbound From Passmore

Most of the Steeles service operates as 53B or 953B to Markham Road and loops over various streets enroute to and from the Amazon fulfillment centre. The screenline is south of Steeles and is defined to track buses running north either on Markham Road or Tapscott Road depending on the direction that they loop.

The weekday average headways are consistent except for a change in the last two weeks of June that carries through July (more about that later), but the values are scattered:

  • During periods when the 53A service operates as every third or fourth bus, gaps are created in the 53B service. When buses alternate on each branch, there are no scheduled gaps. (This pattern can be seen clearly for Sunday/Holiday service notably on Monday, May 23 (Victoria Day), and on June 5 and 12.
  • Even allowing for uneven scheduled headways, some weekend service shows bunching with headways of only a few minutes, notably on Saturday, May 7.

The 953B express service to Markham Road operates only during peak periods. As for the charts on the Staines branch, these are scaled at 6- minutes so that the outlying data points will fit.

Service Westbound from Markham Road

The screenline for these charts is at Marydale Avenue, one block west of Markham Road where the “A” and “B” branches of service merge.

Express headways west of Markham Road are spread over a broad range showing that service on each branch, with already erratic headways, is even worse when the two branches “blend” at Markham Road. Although the headways are, broadly speaking, clustered around the 7 minute line as scheduled, the scatter in values is very wide.

Express Vs Local Travel Times

The express portion of the route is between Finch Station and McCowan Road. East of McCowan, the 953 buses run local.

During the PM peak, westbound 953 express buses reach Finch Station via Bayview and Finch rather than via Steeles and Yonge.

The screenlines for arrival times at Finch Station are just north of the station on Yonge and just east of the station on Finch.

The difference in express and local travel times for the two months shown here was about five minutes in each direction over the express portion of the route.

Service Charts

For selected days, as examples of how service behaves, I have included charts showing the movement of all buses. Below are the charts showing a reasonably well-behaved day, Tuesday, May 10.

Each line represents one bus, and these move back and forth showing trips each vehicle takes across the route. Because there are two branches, the Staines service is charted separately at the botttom of each page. You can match up buses appearing and disappearing near Markham Road with the continuation of lines of the same colour at Tapscott. These lines only exist during periods when the 53A local service to Staines operates.

In these charts, the spacing between lines (and hence buses) is fairly even and there are few examples of buses running in a pack. There are a few cases where traffic congestion slows buses (visible by a change in the slope of the lines), but this is not chronic. Buses generally have time for layovers at terminals (indicated by the horizontal lines there).

The Last Two Weeks of June 2022

Although the scheduled service did not change, there was a clear difference in actual service during certain periods.

Here are the headways as seen west of Markham Road (Marydale Avenue) and on the Passmore (53B) branch of the service in the weeks of June 6-10 and June 20-24. Both sets of data show widened headways in the early morning and at about 4 pm on many days in week 4. This pattern continued into July.

The date of the change corresponds to a new schedule period for the TTC, although there is no information in their Scheduled Service Summaries or service change notices to suggest that a new schedule was implemented.

Here are the service charts for Tuesday, June 7 and for the week of June 20 for the period between 1 and 4 pm. There are various points to note here:

  • On June 20-23, a gap opens up eastbound from Finch Station and this is reflected westbound and wider than it started.
  • Just before 3pm, the transition to express service begins and trips operating east to Staines as 53A locals return as 953A express buses and therefore disappear from this plot.
  • On June 7, the gap this creates in local service is filled by buses entering service from Passmore, but these trips do not operate on June 20-24.
  • The combined effect of the local to express transition and the missing added local service produces large westbound gaps.

Saturday May 7

May 7 is an example of a very bad day for bunching and irregular service. Bunching is shown by lines close together and there are corresponding gaps between groups of buses. One parade gradually assembles over several hours with a bunch of five buses at Finch Station just before 1 pm. Most of this group makes two round trips to Passmore, and there is no apparent effort to space out the service. Other smaller groups of buses can also be seen making full trips across the route together. There is almost no traffic congestion, and no excuse for such disorganized service. Simply put, nobody was “minding the store”.

Victoria Day Monday May 23

May 23 differs from May 7 in that although there is some bunching, this generally lasts for half a trip at most. A pair or triplet of buses might arrive at a terminal together, but they leave spaced apart so that the bunch and gap do not perpetuate and grow over the day.

Saturday July 30

July 30 is another particularly bad day for bunching and gaps with pairs and triplets of buses running close together for extended periods. Again, nobody is making any effort to space service.

3 thoughts on “Service Analysis of 53/953 Steeles East for May-July 2022

  1. Another route where the headway charts have been splattered by a colourful confetti cannon.

    There is a reason I prefer express buses, especially for longer hauls. Fewer next stop announcements, doors going beep-beep, etc. (Mr Lepofsky is now mad at me.)

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  2. Steeles Avenue is the 2022 Toronto Transit Commission versions of 1922 transit routings for the Toronto Transportation Commission along St. Clair Avenue West and Danforth Avenue. Back when Toronto border proper ended just north of those streets. North of St. Clair Avenue West, we had the Township of York, while north of Danforth Avenue we had the Township of East York (incorporated 1924). North of Steeles Avenue, we have the Region of York (Vaughan, Markham).

    The bad news is that users of the buses along Steeles do not contribute subsidies for the fares the users deposit in the farebox.

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  3. wklis wrote: The bad news is that users of the buses along Steeles do not contribute subsidies for the fares the users deposit in the farebox.

    How do you figure? I would argue majority of users of the 53/953 live in Toronto rather than in York Region. There are far more houses/buildings within walking distance south of Steeles then north of Steeles.

    Liked by 1 person

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