Service Reliability of 29/929 Dufferin

This article is another in a series reviewing the behaviour of routes where RapidTO “red lanes” exist or are proposed.

Previous articles in the series:

The 29 and 929 Dufferin services operate between either from the western gate Dufferin Loop or the eastern gate Princes’ Gate Loop to Wilson Station. Except for the stopping pattern, the routes are identical between King and WIlson Station, the portion of the route reviewed here.

The 929 Dufferin Express bus began operation in mid-November 2020 with standard sized buses, but converted to the larger artics in the second week of May 2021 at roughly the same headway thereby increasing route capacity. The 29 Dufferin local service has been operating with articulated buses throughout the period of the data presented here.

Schedules for both the local and express services were adjusted on May 9, 2021, to add more running time for reliability.

This article deals with:

  • The change in travel times for the local 29 Dufferin Jane service between King and Wilson (the portion of the route proposed for Rapid TO) from pre-pandemic traffic conditions and their evolution through the low point of demand and congestion in 2020 through to June 2021.
  • The difference between local and express services.
  • The reliability of service.

The High Points

Although the Dufferin corridor saw a drop in travel times co-incident with the pandemic’s onset, this effect was short-lived and travel times have grown in the past year, in some cases above April 2018 (the reference date for “before” conditions).

(Why April 2018? This was the point where bus tracking started the transition from the old “CIS” monitoring system to the new “Vision” system and historical tracking data for bus routes were not reliably available for an extended period.)

Dufferin has suffered from construction interference at Eglinton on-and-off for several years, although this effect varies. However, that is not the only location where slowdowns occurred. Any review of red lanes needs to consider which locations will provide the greatest benefit, although these tend to be places where resistance to dedicating capacity to transit will be very strong.

There is a consistent difference in travel speeds between local and express services, although for some periods and locations, the pre-pandemic service was faster.

Headways on Dufferin are quite irregular and much of the service is bunched. In late June, travel times rose markedly due to construction, and headway reliability declined even more. This condition probably persisted into July, and the data for that month are still to come.

Reliability issues occur in the off-peak and on weekends, not just during the traditional peak periods.

An important distinction in discussing transit priority lanes will be the degree to which they contribute to service reliability. The King Street transit mall was a very different location from the bus routes where red lanes are proposed. King Street has very frequent transit service and strong transit demand, not to mention pedestrian activity and crowd-generating events year-round. It also has parallel streets to which traffic could shift.

How much benefit can actually be achieved on Dufferin is quite another question. A political challenge lies in the fact that there are problem areas on Dufferin, but not all of the time. Red lanes are a 7×24 change in a street’s configuration and their overall benefit must be strong enough to survive challenges. A good analogy on King Street is the carve-out for taxis that was implemented and contributed to motorists generally ignoring the traffic rules even before 2020.

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A Dashboard for Scarborough Red Lanes

Recently, I published an article about the evolution of travel times and service quality on the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside corridor since the installation of the transit priority “red lanes”, a project which has been branded RapidTO by the City. See: Red Lanes, Express Buses and Service Reliability in Scarborough

For clarity, although I have done work for City Planning as part of the King Street Priority project, I was not involved in the City/TTC Scarborough project. Analysis presented in my previous articles is my own work separate from the official reports.

One of the challenges of presenting this material is that there is a lot of data between transit vehicle tracking, ride counting and general traffic monitoring. In my articles, I only deal with the transit tracking component and even that is a lot. The City and TTC have boiled down the data further to present the major issues.

The City’s project page contains an overview and links to various resources including the TTC’s RapidTO page. The heart of reporting on the project is in the Project Dashboard which summarizes data showing effects on transit and general road user travel times as well as service reliability.

The High Points

The RapidTO lanes in Scarborough were the low-hanging fruit of potential transit priority projects. Much of their length already had peak period diamond lanes. The streets were not dependent on parking to serve commercial properties along the route, and they were mostly wide enough to leave two traffic lanes in each direction even after dedication of the curb lanes for transit.

Travel time changes were modest, and the savings cannot all be ascribed to the red lanes because other changes were made concurrently or after implementation, notably the elimination or relocation of stops.

Traffic and ridership volumes have not yet returned to pre-pandemic conditions and so we are not yet seeing either the roads or transit service stressed to previously-normal levels. Whether the red lanes will limit transit times from rising back to or above 2019 levels will probably not be known until sometime in 2022.

Service reliability continues to be the bugbear of TTC operations, and we are finally seeing figures to support this in a report from the TTC. When only half of service can achieve a rather generous target range of headways (time between buses), the service is not very reliable.

Update: Of particular note is the high reliability factor shown for the express routes, particularly 905 Eglinton East. The metric is defined as ±50 percent of scheduled headway, and the express routes have much larger headways than the 86 and 116 local Scarborough and Morningside services. Therefore, service on the 905 can be much more erratic because there is a wider acceptable window of values using the 50 percent rule. This is not necessarily better service, only a side-effect of a poorly-chosen metric.

The City and TTC present this metric as an “improvement” relative to October 2019, but the change is only a slight improvement on appallingly bad service. If this were a report card, it would generously have changed from an “F” grade to “E”.

External, physical changes to the route environment such as reserved lanes and stop consolidation will not, by themselves, produce reliable service, and the TTC has yet to address headway reliability management as a core function.

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Ontario Line 2041 Ridership Projections

Several weeks ago, when Metrolinx began publishing its Neighbourhood Updates and Station Profiles, I asked for a consolidated set of ridership estimates. The material originally presented varied slightly from location to location, depending on each profile’s author. Most importantly, the numbers showed the utilization of each station, but not the projected loads on trains.

The stations might be a nice place to visit, but the real purpose of a transit line is to move people. For that, an important planning question is how many people actually want to ride in the peak period.

Metrolinx has now supplied this info (the have also updated some of their online information), and I present it here for readers’ interest.

The table below combines information from two Metrolinx sources:

  • The station-by-station projections sent in reply to my request, and
  • The projected numbers of transfer passengers, population and jobs taken from the station profiles.

To this data I have added a few extra columns to show the degree to which demand originating at each station is in the “inbound” direction heading toward downtown, and the proportion of demand at a station that walks in or out rather than transferring from another route. (Click on the image below for a larger version.)

A few things leap out of this table, notably the variation in usage at each station, and the large variation in whether traffic originates from or transfers to other transit routes, or is “local” to the neighbourhood.

Science Centre Station is particularly striking because 86 per cent of riders boarding or alighting there in the AM peak hour are projected to transfer to or from the Eglinton Crosstown line or from the local bus routes. Considering the scale of development projected for Don Mills and Eglinton, both commercial and residential, 14% for local walking access is a surprisingly low proportion.

Pape Station also has a low proportion of walk-in trade because activity there is dominated by transfers to and from Line 2 Bloor-Danforth.

Transfers to/from GO Transit are projected at 8,600 for East Harbour and 6,300 for Exhibition, and almost all of these are GO-to-Ontario Line given the highly directional nature of GO’s demand. These are the riders that Metrolinx hopes to divert from Union Station.

Metrolinx commonly cites the 14-15k total of GO-OL transfers for the two stations as if this were the benefit for each of them. The Exhibition Station Profile claims:

Giving customers another way to transfer between GO Transit’s regional rail services and the local subway system will take pressure off of Union Station, the country’s busiest transit hub. This new interchange will help reduce crowding at Union by about 14 per cent – or 14,000 fewer people – during rush hour.

Similar text is used for East Harbour Station. Moreover, this claim did not change after the much-vaunted “across the platform” transfer connections and their supposed convenience were dropped from the plans.

Where Are Riders Going?

Published Metrolinx data do not contain cross-tabs of origin-destination pairs and so we cannot see the details of where these riders are going, but one can get an idea of the popular locations by charting the boardings, alightings and accumulated loads on the Ontario Line for each direction of travel.

Westbound demand is the strongest in the AM peak hour accumulating to just over 20k on-train passengers in the peak direction during this hour. The overwhelming sources of riders in this projection are, in declining order:

  • Line 2 at Pape Station,
  • Riders boarding at East Harbour, primarily from GO Transit, and
  • Riders boarding at Science Centre, mainly as transfer traffic from Line 5.

The primary destinations are Queen, Osgoode and Exhibition Stations in that order.

Eastbound traffic will originate mainly at Exhibition Station. This demand is comprised partly of transfers from GO Transit, and partly of walk-in trade from Liberty Village. There is no local transit transfer component.

East Harbour is the principal destination along with the two downtown subway stations.

These charts show how important both the East Harbour development and the anticipated transfer of riders from GO onto the Ontario Line are for counterpeak demand. The inbound traffic is far more oriented to Queen and Osgoode Stations (showing the “relief” function of the corridor) than it is to East Harbour.

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Street Construction Project Update: July 2021

Although this is high construction season, various projects are moving along more slowly than hoped.

Broadview from Gerrard to Danforth

Work on the watermains in this area was delayed by a shortage of pipe. This has now been solved, and work is in progress north from Hogarth/Montcrest to Danforth (as of July 22). When that is done, the southern section will follow.

Queen Street West from Bay to York Street

The work here includes both watermain and track renewal. As of July 22, saw cutting of the pavement was underway.

As previously reported, the track and watermain work on Queen will occur in stages west from Bay to Spadina, and then east from Fennings to Spadina. There is a supply of new track strings on the north side of Queen in front of City Hall and on the north side of Queen at Trinity-Bellwoods Park.

Queen Street West from University to Spadina

New support poles will be installed here in anticipation of conversion of the overhead for pantograph operation.

King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles

As of July 4, the switches for the yard leads from The Queensway had been installed, but not the connecting tracks across the north sidewalk to the yard. Excavation and some foundation work for Sunnyside Loop was underway.

On the north side of The Queensway from Sunnyside west to Claude (the beginning of the streetcar right-of-way), the curb lane was excavated and a new north curb poured. The situation was identical on July 22.

Looking West on The Queensway at Sunnyside Loop Entrance July 4/21
Looking West on The Queensway from Sunnyside Avenue July 4/21
Looking West on The Queensway at Claude, July 4/21

The photo below shows the south side of Roncesvalles Yard including the forest of poles holding up the overhead.

Looking East on The Queensway toward Roncesvalles July 22/21

On July 22, the connecting switches to a realigned Sunnyside Loop were in place. In the photos above and below note that the existing loop tracks do not align with the new switches. This intersection will be revised with signals for autos and streetcars with, in theory at least, priority for streetcars leaving the loop.

Looking East across Sunnyside Loop July 22/21

Queen/Kingston Road Overhead Replacement July 26 to August 5

Streetcar service on Queen east of Leslie Street will be suspended from July 26 for overhead upgrades and track repairs on Queen from east of Leslie to Woodbine.

501 bus service that now ends at Broadview will be extended east to Neville Loop.

A 503 bus shuttle will operate on Kingston Road between Bingham and Woodbine Loops.

Brown’s Line & Lakeshore Queue Jump Lane

The project to create a queue jump lane on the approach to Long Branch Loop is on hold. I await feedback from the TTC on the status of this project.

Photo credit: All photos are by me.

Service Reliability on 35/935 Jane

This article continues a series reviewing the behaviour of service on routes that are either part of the RapidTO bus lane network or have been proposed for inclusion in future stages of its rollout.

See also:

The 35 Jane and 935 Jane Express buses operate between Jane and Pioneer Village Stations and follow identical routes except for a peak-only 35B Jane branch that operates via Hullmar between York Gate and Steeles.

This article deals with:

  • The change in travel times for the local 35 Jane service between Eglinton and Steeles (the portion of the route proposed for Rapid TO) from pre-pandemic traffic conditions and their evolution through the low point of demand and congestion in 2020 through to June 2021.
  • The difference between local and express services.
  • The reliability of service.
  • The effect of construction of the 6 Finch West LRT.

The High Points

Although much of Toronto’s traffic congestion and transit riding have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, the travel times on the Jane bus are now as high as or greater than values in November 2019, particularly in the PM peak. Southbound travel times were historically longer than northbound, and this pattern continues today.

Construction at Finch produced substantial congestion on the approaches in both directions during the latter weeks of June 2021. However, this was not the only location where traffic congestion, as measured by slower travel speeds, rose later in June.

Headways (the time between buses) are less reliable in the afternoons and evenings on both the local and express services, and this worsened in late June with the combined effect of construction delays and schedule changes. Waits for express buses can be so long that they outweigh the benefit of an “express” trip.

Service can be irregular even on weekends when conditions that disrupt weekday operations are either absent or at a much lower level. This shows a need to better manage service so that disruptions, when they occur, are clearly the product of external conditions, not of laissez-faire operations.

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TTC Service Changes: August 1, 2021

Updated July 20, 2021 at 11:00 am: An explanation from the TTC for the routing choice for the 504C King West shuttle has been added at the end of this article.

The schedule changes for August 2021 primarily bring adjustments to running times and headways on several route. Continuing a recent pattern, the TTC has started to trim back extra travel time that buses do not require. This results in a combination of effects including:

  • Identical service is provided by fewer vehicles
  • Better service is provided by the same or fewer vehicles
  • On only a few occasions are headways widened

The affected routes are:

  • 28 Bayview South
  • 30 High Park
  • 37 Islington
  • 50 Burnhamthorpe
  • 52 Lawrence West
  • 55 Warren Park
  • 60 Steeles West
  • 64 Main
  • 65 Parliament
  • 95 York Mills
  • 120 Calvington
  • 952 Lawrence West Express
  • 953 Steeles East Express

For details, refer to the spreadsheet linked at the end of this article.

Royal York Station Construction

Remedial work is needed at Royal York Station left over from the Easier Access Program. For the period of the August schedules, bus routes will not loop through the station, and service south and north of Bloor Street will be interlined. The hookups are the same as during the previous construction work: 15/48 Evans/Rathburn and 73/76 Royal York North/South.

One Person Train Operation Trial on Line 1

On a trial basis, trains on Line 1 will operate between Vaughan Metropolitan Centre and St. George Station with one person crews on Sundays.

Track and Watermain Construction on Queen

As previously announced, the track on Queen will be rebuilt between Bay and Fennings (near Dovercourt). Work will be done in stages with complete shutdowns of the street including auto access and curb lane CafeTO installations. For ongoing details, please refer to the City of Toronto’s page for this project, and pop open the “Construction Phases and Details” tab.

The TTC has been upgrading the overhead wiring on Queen for pantograph operation from Parliament Street westward, and it is reasonable to hope that once the track project passes McCaul Street, the 501 streetcars can return to Queen from their current diversion via Parliament and King. There is no announced date for this.

Watermain Construction on Broadview Avenue

For those who might have been wondering about the lack of activity on Broadview, the problem was a widespread shortage of materials and this deferred the start of the watermain replacement. Work began recently working north from Hogarth toward Danforth. The southern part of this project, to Gerrard, will follow.

The TTC plans to replace the track on Broadview between Gerrard and Danforth in 2022. In the previous round, a little over two decades ago, the street was rebuilt to modern standards with a full concrete base and steel ties. Only the top layer of concrete will have to be removed, and the rails will be installed onto the existing ties and foundation. The same type of work is now underway on Queen.

The cycle time for track replacement is measured in decades, and we have now reached the point where most of the tangent (straight) rails are laid on a modern foundation. Intersections started later, and so there is still some special work where more extensive reconstruction is needed. Renewal projects on modern track are simpler because the street does not have to be excavated to the depth of a new foundation.

King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles Project

The changeover to the Phase 2 configuration was originally anticipated for Wednesday, July 21, but the project is running late and this has been deferred.

When the area is ready, the replacement bus services on King and Queen will be reconfigured as shown in the map below, and track work will shift to the King Street leg of the intersection.

Service on the 501/301 Queen bus will run through east-west on Queen on the normal route rather than diverting via Dufferin and King.

The 504C King shuttle will amalgamate the existing Roncesvalles and King West shuttles into one route between Dundas West Station and Princes’ Gates Loop. 504C buses will run westbound via Queen, eastbound via Triller and King.

Updated July 20, 2021 at 11:00 am: A reader asked in the comments why a street further west was not used for the westbound trips to shift north from King to Queen so that bidirectional service could be provided on more of King Street. The TTC replied:

Wilson Park and Beatty were not acceptable for use by buses for the following reasons:

Both Wilson Park and Beatty are narrow one-way roads. There is on-street parking on the west side of both roads which severely limits clearances for buses on these roads and leaves little room for error which is a safety concern.

TTC’s Policy On Traffic Calming And Speed Humps opposes transit service on roads with speed bumps. Similar to many side streets west of Dufferin that were considered for potential use, Wilson Park and Beatty were eliminated as options since both roads have speed bumps.

In addition to Wilson Park and Beatty, TTC evaluated every road west of Dufferin as a potential turnaround option. Unfortunately, it was determined that none of the roads were suitable for a safe bus operations as similar clearance issues were present on each of these roads. As a result, we determined the only suitable option for northbound bus operations was Dufferin Street.

Email from Stuart Green, TTC Media Relations, July 20, 2021

The Details

Service Changes 2021.08.01

Red Lanes, Express Buses and Service Reliability in Scarborough

Four routes in Scarborough benefit from the introduction of reserved lanes on Eglinton Avenue East, Kingston Road and Morningside Avenue.

  • 86 Scarborough
  • 186 Scarborough Express
  • 116 Morningside
  • 905 Eglinton East Express

In previous articles, I looked at the change in travel times with the onset of covid-era drops in traffic levels beginning in Spring 2020, and the effect of the “red lane” implementation in mid-October 2020. This is an update to bring the review to the end of June 2021.

On five other corridors (Jane, Dufferin, Finch East, Steeles West, Lawrence East), there are plans for reserved lanes, although the proposals have not met with universal acclaim. In future articles I will bring the review of their routes’ behaviour up to date. The map below shows the affected routes as proposed in the Service Plan. Lawrence Avenue East was added to this list by the TTC Board.

My underlying premise is that pre-pandemic conditions are a reference point for travel times. Across the entire transit network, traffic congestion and boarding delays fell with the onset of covid. This has been building back gradually, but the effect varies from route to route. There are also external events such as the LRT construction on Finch Avenue West that affect intersecting streets. Finally, the transit red lanes were introduced concurrently with two other changes: the removal of some local stops and the restoration of express service.

This makes identification of the actual cause of shorter travel times more difficult to isolate, and the answer is probably “all of the above”. Each street and route is different, and the benefits, such as they are, of the red lanes should not be assumed to apply on every route segment in the city.

A concurrent issue for transit riders is the dependability of service. It may well be that five minutes is shaved off of their journey with a reserved lane, but if the service is erratic and the wait time for a bus is unpredictable, this benefit can be sabotaged. The situation is further complicated by a mix of local and express buses. If an express can serve a rider’s planned trip, it might save time thanks both to the red lanes and to the fewer stops enroute. However, if the likely wait for an express bus exceeds the time saving (and desire for certainty), a local bus could prove “faster” if it shows up first.

The TTC forever talks about optimization of service and schedule adjustments to make things work better. Problems should be “solved” with schemes like reserved lanes and express buses, so they say. However, headways (the time between buses) continue to be irregular leading to rider frustration and complaints, some of which are due to overcrowding caused by irregular service.

The TTC is good at getting the City to make changes to roads to “improve” service, but not so good at managing the service it has.

The short version of this article is that the red lanes on Eglinton/Kingston/Morningside improved travel times somewhat although we have not yet seen the real test of whether they prevent a return to pre-pandemic, pre-red lane conditions. The benefit varies from route to route, time of day, and day of the week. In spite of the claims that transit priority would lead to more reliable service, gapping and bunching remains a problem on most of the route using the red lane corridor.

This is a key issue for expanding the program: transit priority on its own does not guarantee regularly spaced and, by extension, evenly loaded vehicles.

A Note About Data

Since the idea of the red lanes first appeared, I began to collect data on the proposed routes. This was complicated by a few factors:

  • The red lanes, aka RapidTO, were proposed in the Service Plan issued in December 2019, before the pandemic. In anticipation of studying their benefit, I began collecting vehicle tracking data for the affected routes in 2020.
  • In some cases, because I was already tracking major routes, I had data from April 2018, but there is a big gap until late 2019 because this was the conversion period from the old CIS tracking system to the new Vision system. Data extracts were not available from Vision until late 2019. Therefore, I have very little pre-2020 data that is recent enough to be used for comparison.
  • With the effects of the pandemic on traffic and riding levels in 2020, the travel times are no longer representative of worst case conditions. A silver lining is that for the period when traffic was very light, this gives a best case situation for transit travel, in effect setting a bound on the improvement we could expect if we could just make the traffic disappear.
  • Almost all 900-series Express routes were dropped in Spring 2020, and they have only slowly been returning (more are planned later in 2021 or early 2022 including a few new routes). Therefore an express-vs-local comparison is not available on all corridors.
  • Before the Express network existed, express trips (typically the “E” branch of a route) ran with the same route number and their data are mixed together with the local trips. It was not practical to attempt to fish the express trips out of the tracking data in part because local and express runs did not always make their trips as scheduled, and this varied from day to day. Some buses alternated between making express and local trips. Therefore, data from 2018 represent a mix of times for local and express trips. This understates the time needed for local trips and overstates the value for express trips.

I will not burden the reader with a discussion of the methodology for converting CIS and Vision data to the format used in my analyses. There are two articles on this:

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GO Expansion Don Valley Layover Update

On June 24, Metrolinx held an online consultation session for its proposed Don Valley Layover. I wrote about this on June 27 in Metrolinx’ Ill-Considered Don Valley Layover. This article is an update based on that session.

There have been many Metrolinx consultations recently, and a few common threads appeared sitting through this many hours of their presentations and Q&A sessions. Some of the frustration with Metrolinx comes from the way they present material, and from what appear to be shifting positions on key issues.

What Is The Don Valley Yard?

As a quick review, this “yard” is in fact a single storage track, the former CPR, now Metrolinx, Don Branch that once connected the CPR mainline at Leaside to Union Station. It is called a yard because the original proposal was for a three track yard south of the Prince Edward Viaduct.

Metrolinx proposes to convert the portion of this line for storage of three trains between the point where the line crosses to the east side of the Don River roughly at Rosedale Valley Road and the high level bridge near the Brick Works. The site is not accessible by public transit, although it is passed on one side by the DVP and on the other by the Don Valley Trail with many cyclists and pedestrians.

Here is the aerial view.

Metrolinx June 29, 2021 Presentation, p. 2

This will require the creation of a service road alongside the track for access to and from stored trains as well as supporting buildings and a small parking lot just north of the Prince Edward Viaduct. The site servicing plan, which includes buildings, roads, utilities and elevations (grey numbers on the diagonal giving the height above sea level in metres) is shown below. The buildings (from south to north) include an electrical building, and air compressor, a staff building and a sanitary waste building.

Click for a higher resolution image.

The valley floor rises gradually to about 80m at the western edge of the Metrolinx site, but the roadway linking the buildings is at about 88m. The parking area shown is on the valley floor, but there is a ramp for vehicles up to the level of the rail corridor. There is also a stairway from the parking up to the staff building. The land owned by Metrolinx is outlined in a broken black line “— – –”. Because of the change in elevation, a retaining wall (yellow in the aerial view) at least 8m high will be required except adjacent to the rail line.

The claimed purpose of the facility is to store three trains between the AM and PM peak periods and, possibly, to perform some light servicing on them. This does not align with the original proposal that clearly talked of a 7×24 operation with three shifts of staff. That might have been an error, a cut-and-paste job from one layover site to another, but the traffic study does speak of arrivals and departures corresponding to shift changes well outside of the midday period.

In any event, there is no provision in the plan for fuelling and Metrolinx claims that they intend to operate here only between the peak periods. We shall see.

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