How Many Buses Does The TTC Use?

In recent articles, I commented on the size of the bus fleet claimed in the CEO’s Report, the number of buses actually shown as active in the Scheduled Service Summary, and the ratio of spares to scheduled service.


Updated April 24, 2023 at 6:30pm: The chart of average daily mileage by each bus has been amended to show the garage assignments of each vehicle.

An underlying issue for a transit system with a large proportion of spare vehicles is that the active vehicle count can be lower than the total count. Poor-performing vehicles, be they near retirement or simply lemons that cannot travel far without a breakdown, can be sidelined with no effect on service.

However, this can create two key problems:

  • A culture of indifferent maintenance while keeping only the best buses on the road can minimize repair costs and keeps service quality up, at the expense of garage space and the capital value of the unused vehicles.
  • The headroom to improve service is lower than it would appear from the raw vehicle count if vehicles shown on the active roster are there in name only. If they were actually needed, they might not be reliable enough to provide service.

To determine the actual usage of the bus fleet, I obtained a summary of tracking data from Darwin O’Connor, proprietor of the TransSee website, for the period from March 1 to April 21, 2023. This allowed me to plot actual usage of the fleet in various ways. Many thanks to Darwin for this assistance.

First is a simple plot of active vehicles by day. The chart below shows the number of buses with non-zero mileage by day over the period. There are several interesting features of this chart:

  • The regular pattern of weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays is clear. Note the three-day weekend for Easter in early April.
  • Although scheduled service cuts were implemented on March 27, there was no change in the count of active buses which, if anything, rose slightly. There is a drop in the following week.
  • The number of active buses exceeds the peak scheduled service by about a hundred vehicles. These are not necessarily extra “run as directed” buses, but rather vehicles that only operate for part of the day and are replaced by others (for example, AM and PM peak trips).
  • The spike on March 13 appears to have been caused by a single day on which buses that were otherwise inactive were sent out in service. Looking at the detailed tracking data, they did not stay in service for long. However, this spike distorts the apparent number of active buses if one looks only over a wider range of dates.

Another way to look at the data is to plot the number of days buses were active over the 51-day period. The chart below shows the number of buses with non-zero mileage and the count of days active. For example, the high point shows that 141 buses were active on 47 of the 51 days. By contrast, 72 buses were active on only one day, and a further 43 for 2 to 10 days.

This means that 115 buses did not venture into service much during the period. In addition to these are buses still counted as active, but which did not operate at all. The TTC might nominally have a fleet of about 2,040 buses (although they claim 2,114 in an outdated chart in the CEO’s report), but the number actually available for service is likely below 1,900.

Yet another way to look at the data is to plot the daily average distance traveled by each vehicle considering only the days on which it was active. In other words, if the bus went out in service, how long did it stay there?

In the chart below, buses with no tracked mileage are not plotted. Note that the horizontal axis skips over breaks in fleet numbering. For example, there are no buses in the 2000, 4000, 5000 and 6000 ranges.

Items of interest here include:

  • A few buses sprang to life briefly, but have daily averages very close to zero.
  • Low average mileages are evident for older buses in the fleet:
    • 7900 to 7979: 2006 Orion VII Diesel
    • 8000 to 8099: 2007 Orion VII Diesel
    • 1000 to 1149: 2006 Orion VII Hybrid
    • 1200 to 1423: 2007-2008 Orion VII Next Gen Hybrid
    • 1500 to 1689: 2008 Orion VII Next Gen Hybrid
  • The battery buses 3700 to 3759 stick out with consistently lower average mileage than other parts of the fleet. Some eBuses were completely inactive during the 51-day period:
    • New Flyer: 3705, 3706, 3715, 3720, 3724 (5 of 25 buses)
    • Proterra: 3729, 3732, 3736, 3739, 3744 (5 of 25 buses)
    • BYD: 3750, 3751, 3752, 3754, 3757, 3758, 3759 (7 of 10 buses)
  • Buses assigned to 900 Airport Express have higher daily mileages (3330-3341, 8007, 8008) because they run on a very fast route.
  • Blocks of buses have higher daily mileage than others because they operate from garages with faster routes.

The TTC has just started to take delivery of over 300 new hybrid buses, and hopes to buy a comparable number of eBuses starting in 2024, subject to federal funding. If these displace the little used older fleet and increase the number available for sustained, all day service, this will be a significant contribution to what the TTC could achieve.

There will be a jump in service requirements in November 2023 when the SRT Line 3 is replaced by a bus shuttle from STC to Kennedy Station. That new fleet is arriving just in time. A budgetary oddity is that this service will be paid for from the Capital Budget as part of the cost of the Scarborough Subway Extension, and so it does not represent a net new cost to the TTC. Meanwhile, Queen’s Park is foot-dragging on paying for conversion of the SRT right-of-way as a bus roadway that would speed travel and reduce bus requirements.

Having more, working active buses to provide better service requires more operators and mechanics. A bus that sits in the yard costs next to nothing to “operate”. If hundreds of new buses sit idle (or allow middle-aged buses to be sidelined) this would be both a waste of capital and a betrayal of the promise of better service with a rejuvenated fleet.

The TTC has not produced a public fleet plan in years, and especially not one showing the effect of various scenarios for service growth or retrenchment. Current plans see only a 1% growth and this translates to small expansion of the bus fleet, especially considering that some bus services will convert to LRT when and if Lines 5 and 6 ever open.

Council’s goal to “green” the fleet may reduce diesel emissions, but the much larger target and goal is to move riders from private autos to transit. This cannot happen without better service and a working, fully available fleet.

Updated April 24, 2023

The chart below contains the same data as the scatter chart above showing average daily mileage for each vehicle, but with the dots colour coded to show the division to which the bus was assigned as of January 2023. The variation due to service characteristics in different parts of the city show up particularly for buses operating on faster suburban routes.