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.
- TTC Board Meeting April 13, 2023
- TTC April 13, 2023 Board Meeting Follow-Up
- TTC Bus Fleet 2013 to 2023
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.
The spike on March 13 may be because some vehicles with invalid fleet numbers, like 0015 and 23892 was tracked on TransSee due to some kind of data glitch. Perhaps some there was also some with correct looking, but wrong fleet numbers as well.
Run as directed and subway shuttles would not be included in TransSee tracking.
Steve: That may well be, but it’s odd that over 70 buses that were inactive for 7 weeks came alive for one day. There are trips associated with many of them. As for subway shuttles, they don’t happen every day and are mainly on weekends. My interest was to see if there was a large pool of buses that were almost never used, and that’s what the data show.
Steve, the TTC has started to receive the new Nova HEVs, I just saw one popping out at Wilson today, it had frameless windows and chrome hubcaps.
Steve: Yes, I have seen reports of them arriving, but this started after the period of the data I am reviewing.
Hi Steve, my question relates to your comment:
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
I live out in Etobicoke and see these buses running all day, all the time. Is this correct about low mileage?
Steve: The average mileages for the 7900s and 8000s vary a lot both from vehicle to vehicle as shown in the chart and from day to day. The latter drags down the average over the days they are out on the road.
The low-floor buses carry less people than the obsolete high-floor buses because of the front wheels protruded into the space behind the driver and front doors. Leaving space only for parcels or computers (whatever is in that big black box) behind the driver.
From my perspective at a much smaller transit operation there seem to be buses that confound maintenance attempts at resolution for prolonged periods of time. Those buses, and waiting times for parts or repairs factor in too.
I have seen buses sidelined in my workplace for months with issues that can’t seem to be resolved (usually electrical) and end up being pushed aside and parked, possibly in hopes that no one will notice and the bus quietly be replaced at some point (they are usually older ones anyway). But often someone higher up finally realizes buses are missing from action and they get some repair action going, possibly involving external contractors.
The complexity of buses today combined with what often appears to be poor engineering or cheaply made components seems to make these issues more pronounced. Again in my smaller workplace it has been electrical issues that might cause the greatest amount of maintenance frustration. A bus will come in with no marker lights or tailights after hours on the road but will be fine in the morning and not act up in the garage or on road tests, yet it can’t be trusted to run after dark in case it acts up again. Wires are traced, and other remedies tried but the only way to know is to send it out and see what happens. If it persists it’s off the road and someone has to figure out what the next step is. While this is happening it sits at the back and gathers dust.
And then you need to realize that bus drivers have some bizarre quirks and many develop pet buses, and conversely buses that they hate, often because they are “too slow” off the line. I’ve seen large variations in odometer readings between fast buses and slow buses simply because drivers whine to the point that Management looks the other way and let drivers pick what they prefer. Over years this effect piles the miles on the popular ones and leaves others underutilized.
Not saying this is the case at TTC, as I believe buses are assigned, but then I’ve heard TTCers say that buying the clerk a bottle at Christmas can get you the buses you prefer.
Steve: Yes, buses are more complex today and that increases the spare ratio a system has to maintain in order to guarantee scheduled service. But there are two aspects here. If long repairs are a parts issue, but the repairs do get done, then that’s factored into the spares. However, if it’s just a case that a bus can be sidelined because the fleet is bigger than it strictly needs to be, well that’s a combination of management indifference and the plentiful availability of capital to buy new buses. Fleets can be bigger because, hey, why fix a bus when the province or feds will buy you a new one. This is also related to the decline in the design life cycle of a bus to 12 years on a system like the TTC where significant overhauls are common (formerly 18 years) and even less on systems that do not have that capability (7-8 years). It makes the bus builders very happy because a shorter replacement cycle drives up business.
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Do the buses still have no diesel fuel gauges? This was because the buses were refuelled each day or night. Supposed to that is. Occasionally, the buses have run out of fuel, and would need refuelling or a tow.
What about the electric buses? Is there a gauge that tells them they need recharging?
Since battery buses 3700 to 3759 have lower average mileage, does this imply they are less reliable than hybrid-electric buses? This seems to be a bad omen for upcoming ebus purchases.
Steve: Yes, they have been less reliable, although it varies between the three vendors. My concern is that we will commit to a large purchase before seeing good performance, but politically “going green” is the done thing these days.
I think that it seems there is a little too much trigger happiness to replace buses these days, but the upper levels of government make funds available so it’s taken advantage of.
It’s interesting to compare the TTC of twenty years ago when it was all about state of good repair, and the large amount of work they did to (much) older buses than they run now, often pointing out the need to manufacture parts in-house due to obsolescence. Nowadays it seems the pendulum swung completely to the other side, and new buses are growing on trees, relatively speaking.
Of course the manufacturers would notice the tendency to replace buses at younger ages than in previous decades, and probably engineer and build them with a reduced lifespan in mind. A few years of this and we get new buses sooner and sooner and we all pay for this, somewhere.
I sense from my own experience in my smaller transit workplace that there is a lack of desire on Management’s part to get into the nitty gritty of bus fleet maintenance. The maintenance department keeps their cards close to their chest, repairs and decisions are their domain. A David Gunn figure may have been much more hands-on, and interested in the day to day nitty grittiness of running a bus garage than most management officials in Transit are today?
As with politicians, it seems that any management level bureaucrat in any level of government today spends most of their day trying to find ways to get money out of other branches/levels of government.
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I can tell you with absolute certainty that operators can never choose a bus…They are assigned by the garage dispatch and posted on the board where the operators report for work and grab thier waybill and vault and then head out to thier assigned bus…Never ever can we choose a bus. The idea is ludicrous. I’m an operator at a west end division.
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Wow, what an interesting report, what a great analysis, Steve! Is this data available to TTC management? Can the data be sorted by garage, considering that the bus numbers are known? It might be insightful.
Steve: All of the data is available to the TTC. I considered splitting it out by garage, but will have to make some assumptions about the fleet allocations as I do not have a current list, and they appear to be hard to come by now that the TTC has become more secretive. There will definitely be variations by garage due to the nature of routes each one serves.
Updated April 24, 2023: A chart showing the garage allocations of the buses has been added at the end of the article.
I am not familiar with how TTC buses and operators and routes get matched up. I see that Monique has explained that drivers are assigned to their buses, and given their waybill. But do operators need to register for shifts?
Back in the day, right out of university, I drove taxi full-time for a good number of years. The bigger garages had 50+ cars under various banners (Metro, Diamond, Yellow, Co-op, ABC, Go-West, etc., and I could choose). The owner/managers gave the best cars to the best drivers – steady & full-time, no accidents or damages, no incidents. I remember that I had #307 for more than a year, and later I got a really nice 1973 Plymouth Fury V-8 cream puff painted metallic green, green upholstery, and matching carpeting. A nice car was good for business. Plus, I had a regular clientele. Meanwhile, the new drivers, the casual drivers, and those with a bad record got the heaps. It makes good business sense.
Obviously, good business sense does apply to the TTC, too. Or does it?
Steve: Operators sign up for their crews roughly every six weeks corresponding to the implementation of new schedules for what are called “Board Periods”. The selection is by seniority within a division. Opportunities to move to another division come up from time to time in “master sign-ups”, again based on seniority. These usually accompany major changes such as the opening of a new garage.
As for vehicle selection, this is done by the dispatchers in the garages, not by the operators. “Favourite” buses might exist on smaller transit systems, but not on the TTC. An operator has a duty to inspect a bus before taking it into service, and can reject a vehicle that is defective, but it is the dispatcher who assigns a replacement. Obviously for crews that take over vehicles in service through the day, the operator takes whatever they get. The TTC is working with its provider of the “Vision” vehicle tracking system on garage automation so that the dispatching is handled automatically. A current problem lies with the ability to resolve vehicle locations accurately in the yards, and so this has not been implemented yet.
Buses generally parked in rows at garages, and picking one out of the line is simply not possible.
Btw, a couple of weeks ago, I was on a Wellesley bus pulling eastbound out of Wellesley station, and the operator ran over a whole bunch of bollards marking off the bike lane. Surely that bus was damaged.
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I suspect the electric buses have lower mileage because the maximum distance they can travel on one charge is about half of what a diesel and hybrid can go in one day. This is going to have a massive impact on service improvements in the future unless the range improves as one diesel bus will be need to be replaced with two electric buses.
Much needed, I see!
From Government of Canada announcement:
Steve: The TTC has still not announced who the successful bidder(s) are for the contract. I have asked, and await info from their Media Relations folks.
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