Service Quality on 85/985 Sheppard East: May-June 2022

This article continues a series reviewing service quality on major routes lying primarily in Scarborough. See also:

Routes still to come in this series include:

  • 102/902 Markham Road
  • 43/943 Kennedy
  • 68/968 Warden
  • 38 Highland Creek

Routes in the Eglinton-Kingston corridor will be reviewed as part of a “red lane” update in the Fall.

Service on Sheppard East has three distinct components:

  • The main 85 route operates from Don Mills Station to Rouge Hill GO Station with a short turn service to Meadowvale Loop and limited service on a branch to the Toronto Zoo.
  • The express service operates two branches from Don Mills Station to Scarborough Town Centre (985A) and to Meadowvale (985B). Weekend service was restored on May 8, 2022. The express service is scheduled to operate with articulated buses.
  • A separate branch operates between Yonge-Sheppard and Don Mills Station providing a surface alternative to Line 4 Sheppard Subway.

Here is the summary information for schedules in effect during May and June 2022.

85 Sheppard East Local Service

985 Sheppard East Express

The service in effect until May 7 is shown below. Express service was suspended on weekends as part of the pandemic cuts. Sheppard East is an unusual route in that the “express” service runs more frequently than the “local” service. The express portion of the route extends east to Morningside Avenue during peak periods. During off-peak periods, the express service ends at Midland where the 985A branch turns south to Scarborough Town Centre.

On May 8, the weekend express service was restored. Note that there was no corresponding reduction in the local service, and so this was an improvement to the route.

  1. The Short Read
  2. Local Service Eastbound From Don Mills Station
  3. Local Service Westbound From Meadowvale
  4. Local Service Westbound From Rouge Hill GO
  5. Express Service Eastbound From Don Mills Station
  6. Express Service Westbound From Scarborough Town Centre
  7. Express Service Westbound From Meadowvale
  8. Combined Express Services Westbound At Kennedy
  9. Local Service Eastbound from Sheppard-Yonge Station
  10. Local Service Westbound from Don Mills Station
  11. Express Vs Local Travel Times
  12. Detailed Review of Selected Dates
    1. Friday, May 6
    2. Saturday, May 7
    3. Friday, May 13
    4. Tuesday, May 17
    5. Wednesday, May 25
    6. Saturday, May 28
    7. Sunday, May 29
    8. Thursday, June 2
    9. Saturday, June 4
    10. Wednesday, June 8
    11. Sunday, June 12
    12. Wednesday, June 15
    13. Friday, June 24
    14. Tuesday, June 28

The Short Read

The major points in this article are:

  • Local weekday service on 85 Sheppard East operates in a wide band of headways from 0 to 15 minutes with some trips further apart than this. Bunching is common from both terminals (Don Mills Station and Meadowvale).
  • Weekend and off peak service is just as bad as weekday peaks. Problems on this route are not due to traffic congestion, but simply to a lack of headway discipline.
  • Service from Rouge Hill GO Station is much less frequent than from Meadowvale, and it is fairly well-behaved during the AM peak and weekday midday. At other times, however, headways can be erratic with problems of bunching and of missing vehicles.
  • Headways on the 985 Sheppard East Express from Don Mills Station are somewhat more reliable than for the local service during the AM peak and weekday midday, but at other times the same problems of gaps and bunching appear.
  • Express headways westbound from Scarborough Town Centre lie mainly in a band from 0 to 20 minutes with higher values particularly in the evenings.
  • Express headways westbound from Meadowvale operate lie in a narrow band in the AM peak. but are much more widely scattered in the PM peak.
  • Westbound at Kennedy, both the STC and Meadowvale express branches combine, and the headway lies generally in a 10 minute wide band centered on the scheduled headway.
  • Service on the Yonge to Don Mills branch keeps reasonably close to the scheduled headways except when missing buses can create large service gaps.
  • On some days there are very wide gaps and corresponding bunching of service, notably in June.

Note re Early Morning Data: Due to a problem with the TTC’s source data, some trips very early in the day are missing because some revenue trips were treated as non-revenue and were not included. This causes the headway charts to show larger than scheduled values. This problem began to appear in Spring 2022 data and only on certain routes, but the source of the problem was not identified until recently. Where these occur, they are flagged in my commentary.

Local Service Eastbound From Don Mills Station

May 2022

In these chart sets, the first one gives the average and standard deviations of headways on a weekly basis for weekdays through each month. The standard deviations (dotted) are a measure of the scatter of values around the averages. Note that for the most part the averages lie roughly at the level of the scheduled headways indicating that all buses are present. However, they do not arrive on a reliable spacing. Many run close together (headway values near the x-axis, zero) and a corresponding number are far apart (points well above the 10 minute line).

There is little noticeable effect for peak periods other than that the period before 8am shows relatively few gaps and bunches. This is reflected in the lower SD value for that period.

In a few cases buses are missing, but as these charts combine data from five days, the effect on the averages is small, although the SD values can jump if the remaining service is not “smoothed” by line management.

The weekend service shows a similar pattern to weekdays.

This pattern is consistent through the two months.

The service here is leaving a terminal where headway regulation should be easy to achieve, and where the TTC Service Standards targets should apply.

June 2022

Note that weeks 4 and 5 show the problem of missing trips in the early morning data which causes wider average headways for those weeks.

Local Service Westbound From Meadowvale

Headways westbound from Meadowvale show a similar pattern to those eastbound from Don Mills Station (above). The values lie in a band roughly from zero to 15 minutes with some outliers well above that line.

Again, even though this is a terminus, the headways vary considerably from the Service Standards targets.

May 2022

June 2022

Note: Weeks 4 and 5 are missing some early morning data causing wider than actual average headways to be shown here.

Local Service Westbound From Rouge Hill GO

A portion of the 85 Sheppard East service continues beyond the Meadowvale terminus and operates south to Rouge Hill GO Station. Headways leaving Rouge Hill are wide, but are better behaved during some periods than on the main part of the route. Evenings and weekends, however, can see spotty service partly from bunching and partly from missing buses. Wednesday May 11 shows an example of the effect of missing trips on service where the scheduled service is already infrequent (yellow line, second chart on the left).

A serious issue for the credibility of transit service reporting is shown by cases where there are headways of close to one hour that do not shift the averages much, if at all, because they are balanced by short headways from bunching. There is no report to the Board or the public tracking service quality.

Note that these charts use a y-axis of 60 minutes while those above use 30 minutes.

(See the detailed daily analyses later in the article for examples.)

May 2022

June 2022

Express Service Eastbound From Don Mills Station

The express service on Sheppard runs more frequently than the local service, and the scatter of headways leaving Don Mills Station is tighter most of the time, with a few notable exceptions particularly on Saturdays. Bunching during peak periods is common.

May 2022

June 2022

Express Service Westbound From Scarborough Town Centre

Note: Some early morning data are missing causing wider than scheduled headways to be shown for some weeks, and a zero average (no service) for others.

During peak periods, half of the express service goes to STC while the other half goes to Meadowvale. During May, headways at STC were more scattered than in June, but instances of bunching and gaps persist over the two months.

Weekend service resumed on Sunday, May 8, although reliability left a lot to be desired especially on May 14.

May 2022

June 2022

Express Service Westbound From Meadowvale

The Meadowvale express service operates only during peak periods. Headways are better behaved in the AM peak than in the PM when bunching is common (note the higher SD values for the PM peak period, and the number of data points near the x-axis).

May 2022

June 2022

Note: Weeks 4 and 5 are missing early morning data causing an average headway of zero to be shown.

Combined Express Services Westbound At Kennedy

Kennedy is west of the point (Midland) where the STC and Meadowvale branches merge during peak periods. These charts show the range of headways and degree of bunching during peak periods when the two services cannot be described as “blending”. For midday periods, the service comes only from STC and headways lie in a narrow band with some outliers typically caused by missing buses. (The difference between a missing bus and bunched service is that a missing bus creates a gap with no corresponding very short interval to the next bus.)

May 2022

June 2022

Local Service Eastbound from Sheppard-Yonge Station

The local service between Sheppard-Yonge and Don Mills Station provides a surface alternative to the subway, but it does not operate very often. Headways are generally in a narrow band except when buses are missing producing very wide gaps due to the infrequent scheduled service. Note in particular Saturday May 7 when one of two buses was missing almost all day.

May 2022

June 2022

Local Service Westbound from Don Mills Station

The service westbound from Don Mills Station reflects the pattern of service eastbound from Sheppard-Yonge.

May 2022

June 2022

Express Vs Local Travel Times

The following charts compare the 985 express and 85 local service travel times between Meadowvale and Don Mills Station. The local stats are on the left and the express on the right for each set. (The Meadowvale express service operates peak only.)

The express service has only a small advantage over the local service, on average.

For the more congested part of Sheppard between Kennedy and Don Mills Station shared by all of the 85/985 services, the comparisons for June are shown below. The express service has a slight edge, moreso westbound than eastbound. Something was clearly affecting westbound service in weeks 1 and 2 because the standard deviations in travel times (a measure of scatter) are very large. I will turn to these in the detailed daily reviews below.

Detailed Review of Selected Dates

Service on Sheppard East has a problem with bunching and, to a lesser extent, missing buses. Practically any day could be chosen as an example, but to keep this article within reason, I have selected only sample weekdays and weekends. The point is that the poor state of service is not an occasional event, but a day-to-day experience for riders.

Description of Charts

The local charts show the movement of buses on 85 Sheppard East over the course of a day from 7am to 1am. The route is mapped as a continuous line from Rouge Hill GO in the east (bottom) to Sheppard-Yonge Station in the west (top). The majority of the service occupies the central part of each chart between Don Mills Station and Meadowvale. The Rouge Hill service extends below this to the x-axis, and the Yonge to Don Mills shuttle occupies the top part of the charts.

The express charts for 985 Sheppard East Express are similar to those for local service except that they have to account for the branched service to STC. The main part of the chart covers the route from Don Mills Station to Meadowvale, while the STC branch is shown separately at the bottom. Buses “disappear” eastbound (lines heading downward to the right) eastbound at Midland and reappear at the bottom of the chart. Westbound buses from STC similarly reappear at Midland.

There is no Meadowvale express service during off-peak periods and so that portion of the charts is empty.

The slope of the lines indicates the speed of the vehicle, and areas of congestion are easy to spot because of changes. One notable area is westbound (upwards) approaching Don Mills Station after 9am. There is a noticeable change for about one hour in both the local and express services on their approach to the station. Other locations where congestion is regularly evident are:

  • Westbound from Kennedy to Birchmount in the PM peak until mid-May.
  • Westbound to McCowan from mid-May until mid-June, although the effect wanes later in this period, primarily in the PM peak.

Where lines are horizontal, this indicates that a bus is laying over at a terminal or waiting for something (typically a crew change, or to space service) enroute.

Friday, May 6

Local

  • The AM peak runs fairly smoothly with only a small amount of bunching typically where Rouge Hill and Meadowvale branch buses travel together westbound. Congestion problems approaching Don Mills Station begin just before 9am and persist until after 10am.
  • Midday service is more problematic with several buses running in twos and threes in both directions, and some wide gaps in service to Rouge Hill GO.
  • PM peak service shows some bunching mainly eastbound from Don Mills Station.
  • Through the evening some bunching continues even though the buses involved appear to have had adequate time for terminal layovers and simply chose to depart together.
  • Service on the Sheppard-Yonge branch is regular except in the AM peak and late evening when one of two buses runs off schedule causing uneven headways.

Detailed headway charts:

Express

  • The express service shows many of the same problems as the local service including a greater degree of bunching in the PM peak and early evening.
  • One bus on the STC branch (dark blue) as an affinity for running close to another from about 3pm until 7pm.

Saturday, May 7

Local

  • Local service starts the day fairly regularly spaced, but becomes progressively more bunched as the day goes on with pairs and triplets.
  • There are large gaps to Rouge Hill in the afternoon and evening.
  • The service west of Don Mills operates with one bus for almost all of the day, and at times no buses at all. A second bus finally joins the service at 10pm.
  • Note that this was the last weekend day without an express service.

Detailed headway charts:

Friday, May 13

Local

  • The local service shows a similar pattern of bunching as on other weekdays.
  • Some of the daytime service to Rouge Hill is missing.
  • Congestion westbound from Kennedy to Birchmount appears during the PM peak.

Express

  • The express service is better behaved than the local service at least until mid-morning when some bunching occurs.
  • PM peak service is irregular with some large gaps in the Meadowvale service.
  • Late evening service is interrupted at about 10pm when the transition to two buses from three includes the replacement of one vehicle (note the colour change in the lines) and a 40 minute gap in service.

Tuesday, May 17

Local

  • The location of congestion shifts this week to McCowan, primarily in the westbound direction.
  • From about 9am onward, bunched departures from Don Mills Station are common. In some cases, two or more buses arrive and leave together without being spaced to provide even service.

Express

Wednesday, May 25

Local

  • Congestion near McCowan continues.
  • Bunching shows a similar pattern, but is more severe especially in the afternoon. Large groups of buses persist into the early evening.
  • Service to Rouge Hill GO is very erratic from mid-afternoon onward.

Express

  • By contrast to the local service, the express bus spacing is more reliable.
  • In the evening one missing bus produces gaps in service.

Saturday, May 28

Local

  • Service was particularly disorganized with major bunching problems from noon onward. Groups of buses travel together separated by wide gaps. Even the service between Yonge and DOn Mills became irregular.
  • There was no eAlert issued signalling any problem or advising riders of service issues on the route.

Here are detailed headway charts for selected locations on the route. Buses routinely leave terminals in groups as shown by the data points near the x-axis, and very wide gaps are common. Note that the chart for Rouge Hill GO is scaled with a two-hour y-axis to fit in all of the data.

Express

  • The express service is disorganized from noon onward to mid-evening.

Sunday, May 29

Local

  • Service on May 29 was less of a mess than on May 28, but bunching and wide gaps were still common.
  • There is no sign of any attempt to regulate the service with pairs of buses (or worse) arriving and leaving together at Don Mills Station.

Express

Thursday, June 2

Local

  • Congestion at both Don Mills Station westbound and at McCowan westbound continues to be a problem during certain parts of the day.
  • Gaps in service from Don Mills Station, Rouge Hill GO and Meadowvale remain an issue.
  • Uneven spacing between the two buses west of Don Mills sets in between 4:30 and 7:30pm.

Here are headway details for selected locations.

Express

  • Some express buses run in packs, notably a pair that make over two round trips to Meadowvale, sometimes accompanied by other buses.

Saturday, June 4

Local

  • The situation on June 4 is similar to the previous Saturday with the accumulation of a pack of buses in the late afternoon. Headways are irregular from midday onward.

Detailed headway charts:

Express

Wednesday, June 8

Local

  • Although congestion near Don Mills Station and at McCowan remains, it is not as severe as in past weeks.
  • Bunching continues but it also is not as severe.

Express

Sunday, June 12

Local

  • One of two buses is missing from the service west of Don Mills between about 5:30 and 9:00pm.
  • Local service is fairly reliable during the daytime east of Don Mills, but the evening service sees a lot of bunching and gaps.

Detailed headway charts:

Express

Wednesday, June 15

Local

June 15 is somewhat better behaved as weekdays go, although bunching and gaps remain a problem from mid afternoon through the PM peak and early evening.

Express

The express service is unusually affected by bunching and gaps from midday onward.

Detailed headway charts:

Friday, June 24

Local

  • Little congestion is evident at the “usual” points on June 24, but this does not prevent bunching and gaps in the service.

Express

Tuesday, June 28

Local

  • As on June 24, there is only a minor amount of congestion, but bunching and gaps appear anyhow.

Express

2 thoughts on “Service Quality on 85/985 Sheppard East: May-June 2022

  1. How much is it costing us (the taxpayers and the fare payers) for your garbage analyses? Come clean Mr Munro, how much is the TTC paying you for your useless analyses?

    Steve: This comment has been published only so that I can reply. I comes from a troll who posts regularly under a variety of false user names, often with obscene or racist comments.

    The analyses I publish are my own work and I am not paid for them by anyone, certainly not by the TTC. As for “garbage”, I am amused that anyone would consider the quality of service the TTC provides on many routes to be worth defending.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Steve, the service summaries show a lot more recovery/layover time than I remember there being 10 or 20 years ago. Do you think this additional layover time has resulted in more reliable service?

    Steve: That was the intent, but in practice what happens is that ops know the schedule is padded (some routes have to drive glacially slowly to stay “on time”) and so they leave terminals more or less when they feel like it and then drive (this is always buses) as fast as possible to the other end for a nice long siesta. One of the worst example is the Queen West shuttle where buses routinely get a 20 minute layover at Long Branch. It used to be even worse and one could see half a dozen buses queued up outside of the loop waiting for their time.

    There has to be a graceful medium somewhere, but it only works properly with mid-route headway management and time points.

    Liked by 1 person

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