Service Analysis of 38 Highland Creek for August 2022

Back on August 20, when I was part of a Twitter thread about lousy service on 7 Bathurst, the day of the TTC’s birthday party at Hillcrest, one person said “I have the same problem on Highland Creek”. When I looked at the tracking data, the result was stunning, and not in a way anyone would like to see.

This article reviews 38 Highland Creek for the month of August 2022. The short version is that on weekdays, the route is somewhat unreliable and suffers at time from missing buses, but on weekends, the problems are worse than anything I have seen in my travels through operating stats.

The route originates at Rouge Hill GO Station, and travels west to Scarbourough Town Centre. There is a bit of a meander via Lawrence, Port Union and Lawson to get across the 401 to Kingston Road, thence via Military Trail and Ellesmere to STC.

Map credit: TTC

There is a 38B/938 split operation to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, but that is not currently running. Only the 38A to Rouge Hill GO is part of the scheduled service in August 2022.

The Short Read

Service on 38 Highland Creek can operate on fairly reliable headways, but is often disrupted, especially on weekends. The primary issues are:

  • Missing buses create service gaps that are not filled by re-spacing other vehicles.
  • Travel times on Saturday afternoons appear to be inadequate leaving no margin for recovery at terminals.
  • Bunching on weekends, and particularly on Saturdays, is chronic to the point that four or more buses operate in packs for extended periods with little apparent effort by line management to space out the service.

Eastbound from Scarborough Town Centre

Average headways eastbound from STC lie in a band roughly along the line of scheduled service, although the standard deviations rise during the late afternoon and evening.

On some days, buses are missing. These conditions can be spotted where there are headways at roughly double the typical values, and no corresponding near-zero values. This indicates that a bus is missing causing a double headway, as opposed to two buses running together on a long-short headway pattern. This is evident for a few days in Week 1 data below. In Week 2, Tuesday (red dots), there are pairs of above average and below average headways. This indicates gaps and bunching.

Note that in Week 1, there are no data before about 3pm on August 4 (yellow trend line begins).

In Week 3, the trend line is pulled away from the scheduled/average values by some very wide headways on Monday and Tuesday August 15 and 16.

Westbound from Rouge Hill GO

The data at Rouge Hill mirror what we saw above at STC except that some of the gaps here are even wider.

Detailed Daily Analyses

Tuesday, August 2

  • During the am peak, one of the six scheduled buses is missing, and this creates a travelling gap (between the yellow and pink line below, first panel).
  • The bus appears at about 10am and the gap is filled through the day.
  • There is supposed to be a seventh bus in the PM peak, but it does not appear, and a gap opens up between “mauve’ and “pink” after 4:30pm. This gap continues into the early evening.
  • This an example of the effect of leaving buses running on the planned schedules rather than adjusting headways to even out service with the vehicles available.

Saturday, August 6

  • The charts for August 6 show a pattern that will appear on succeeding weekends. Two problems develop at midday and they affect service until mid-evening.
    • The time available for terminal layovers and recovery of regular bus spacing disappears.
    • Bunching develops well beyond what we might think of as “normal” pairs of buses with trios, quartets and worse that are left more or less “as is” with no short turns or headway spacing.
  • One bus, “green”, disappears just after 5pm. A replacement bus “brown” appears at about 9pm.
  • “Pink”short turns westbound at UTSC at about 6pm.
  • “Turquoise” drops out of service at 10pm, and two others, “pink” and “yellow” short turn to restore proper vehicle spacing.

Sunday, August 7

  • Early service has a gap because one bus, “turquoise” does not appear until about 9:30am.
  • One bus, “yellow” joins the service at 12:30pm, but it runs as a pair with “pink” until 4pm creating paired gaps and very short headways.

Tuesday, August 9

  • At about 3pm a seventh bus that should be added for the pm peak is missing eastbound from STC. This creates a gap that travels back and forth on the route through the early evening.
  • Bunching of other buses contributes to uneven headways after 5pm.

Saturday, August 13

  • The service on August 13 shows a similar pattern to August 6, and this will be repeated on August 20
  • “Dark blue” and “pink” operate close to each other through the late morning. This continues in the afternoon, but is compounded as other buses join the parade.
  • Three buses drop out of service: “green” after 11am, “mauve” at about 3:30pm, and “turquoise” at 4:30pm. The remaining buses run in a parade of three, “brown”, “blue” and “pink” with “yellow” running solo. This pattern continues until after 10pm.

Monday, August 15

  • As on some previous weekdays, one bus is missing during the pm peak and this vehicle does not appear until almost 8pm (“yellow”).
  • A security incident at STC caused all service to turn back east of the station for about one hour starting just before 5pm.

Tuesday, August 16

After 3pm, extreme traffic congestion on the eastern part of this route produced severe delays and bunching. Even after this cleared at about 8pm, service was irregular including late evening when two buses (“dark blue” and “yellow”) travelled as a pair continuously.

Saturday, August 20

August 20 shows a spectacular example of utter abdication of line management. On Saturday afternoons there are supposed to be six buses on the route, one every 10 minutes. As the afternoon wears on, they gradually coalesce into a parade, and at about 3:30 pm, every bus on the route is at STC, then travel to Rouge Hill, and back again within a block of 15 minutes or less.

On the westbound trip, one of these, “yellow”, short turns at UTSC and returns to Rouge Hill while the other five buses continue to STC. Of those, two (“brown” and “dark blue”) disappear at STC (probably missed crew changes) while the other three travel back to Rouge Hill leaving STC at about 4:20pm. These three continue to travel in a pack until 6:30pm. Meanwhile, “yellow” which had short turned to split the gap, finds itself back in the parade just before 7pm.

Two more buses (“dark green” and “mauve”) go out of service at 7pm leaving “yellow” and “pink” to run as a pair westbound from Rouge Hill GO. “Yellow” short turns at Markham Road while “mauve” (which has reappeared) and “pink” run east as a pair. It does not take long for the trio to meet up again at UTSC.

Service through the evening is uneven and sme short turns attempt to sort out the mess, but often without actually breaking up the parade.

Two things are evident here: There is little time for terminal layovers, indicating a tight schedule, and even allowing for that, there is no attempt to operate the route on a headway regardless of scheduled times. Moreover, there is little traffic congestion that could be cited as a reason for running late.

Finally, the number of buses in service does not always match the schedule which calls for five in the early evening and four in the late evening. In practice the route is running short buses from about 4:30pm onward, and those that are operating provide extremely uneven service.

Monday, August 22

  • August 22 shows a much more common day with fairly regular service except where a bus is missing through the PM peak and early evening.

Sunday, August 28

  • Service runs normally through the day until about 5pm when a combination of factorsleads to very erratic service.
    • One bus, “turquoise” drops out of service. It will reappear at about 9:45pm as “brown”.
    • Two buses, “pink” and “mauve”, operate as a pair from about 4:40 pm until after midnight.

Tuesday, August 30

  • On August 30, there is the by-now familiar problem of one missing bus through the PM peak, but another (“brown”) goes out of service just after 5pm. It is replaced at about 8pm by “green”.
  • Late evening service is irregular thanks to “pink” and “turquoise” running as a pair.

2 thoughts on “Service Analysis of 38 Highland Creek for August 2022

  1. A couple of notes.

    (This is on the main issues of many routes & poor management of them.)

    I have been told by many drivers, new ones especially, that they are no longer given individual route maps, rather tend to now rely on the less than stellar GPS tracking system (I have threatened several times, to give ‘vision’ my white came, to see if it helps with its ‘blindness’!)

    Many new operators do not have cars or do not take the time to ‘drive’ the route, also many are RAD buses, or call ins from other divisions.

    New drivers are told to ‘follow the leader’ so to speak, as in follow the operators that have been on the route for a while or ask them questions. (Yes, this has actually been told to me by both division supervisors & older drivers.)

    I used to rely on the 38, often, when I lived in Scarborough & also when I use Rouge Hill GO a lot, now, yes, this was 10yrs ago, it was still horrible, even back then.

    The 38 Highland Creek is one of many Scarborough based routes that seem to be left to fend for themselves.

    It’s so frustrating.


  2. Breaking off a chunk of the 95 York Mills route into a shorter and more digestible form in the 38 was supposed to improve reliability, not make it worse.


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