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.
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Service Analysis of 7 Bathurst for August 2022

The 7 Bathurst bus is notorious for its irregular service, a rather comic situation considering it passes right by the TTC’s main shops and offices at Hillcrest including the building housing Transit Control.

During many periods, the scheduled service is every 10 minutes. Additional capacity is provided on weekdays by operating some runs with articulated buses. This has the effect that service is more frequent at times on weekends than on weekdays.

A common sight at Bathurst Station is at least one Bathurst bus taking an extended layover, or considerable periods where there is no bus to be seen. I have reviewed this route before, but a recent event triggered my return visit. On August 20, 2022, the TTC held its covid-delayed 100th anniversary public celebration at Hillcrest, and the Bathurst bus was the logical way to get there by transit for most people.

Alas, this was something of a challenge thanks to service gaps. When I left Hillcrest, I gave up waiting for a southbound bus due to crowding and walked north to Davenport and the infrequent, but also reliably uncrowded bus there. Was this a one-day problem, or was the Bathurst bus really that bad all of the time? This article reviews vehicle tracking data from August 2022 in an attempt to answer this question.

Something worth mentioning here is that if there is a very wide gap followed by multiple buses close together, the number of long headways is outnumbered by the short ones. However, most would-be riders see and are affected by that single long wait for a bus.

Stats that only count the long headways can give the erroneous impression that they don’t occur often enough to be a problem. Stats that only report average headways will not see a problem at all because all buses are present even if they are running in packs.

With a six-minute wide target for acceptable headways, a service that runs more often than every 10 minutes will only count the one very wide headway as being off-standard, while a parade of buses bunched behind it are considered to be “on time” for headway reliability. This is utter nonsense as any would-be rider will know.

These are fatal flaws in TTC service quality reporting.

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Where is my Streetcar?

TTC website and related services claim to provide riders with information about streetcar and bus routes so that riders have up-to-date information. This is critical not just for schedule changes, but many diversions and special services related to construction, street festivals, civic events, to name a few.

Alas, the actual structure and behaviour of the TTC’s website works against easy navigation. Information is scattered in different parts of the site. Some of it is out of date. Some of it is incorrect and contradictory. Some notices that should be there just don’t exist at all.

The current site is the product of a redesign that is now about a year old. There has been some tweaking along the way, but the site still leaves a lot to be desired. This article is an exploration of the TTC website structure as it relates to current service information and planned changes.

Updated September 13, 2022 at 12:50pm: Sundry typos and grammatical fixes.

The Short Read

The TTC Website has evolved since the current version went live. It was far from perfect then, and has since grown additional problems even as those from version one were fixed.

This article looks mainly at service information, probably the most common reason someone would go to the TTC site. There is a big problem that this information is scattered through many places and is rarely complete on one page. Attempts have been made to cross-link some pages, and more of the frequently used pages have gained banner links on the main page.

However, the whole thing has a feeling of being built and maintained by multiple people who do not talk to each other, and who do not explore the various places information might hide to ensure that “their” part of the site is consistent and complete.

This compounds problems that arise when the announced version of services do not match what is actually operating. You might or might not track down information about your route, or even worse be given wrong info. A related problem is that trip prediction and planning apps do not necessarily use the live configuration of routes and can mislead riders about how they might travel and where vehicles actually are.

The TTC really needs to do a thorough review of how it publishes service information and ensure that “one stop shopping” is available for information about routes, or where appropriate, areas of the city that are affected by multiple changes.

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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.

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TTC Announces 2022 Tiff Diversions

Updated September 7, 2022 at 3:30pm: The TTC has updated its description of the 504 King diversion to reflect the fact that the King/Sumach intersection is not yet open. All east end 504 streetcars will run as 504B between Broadview Station and Church. There will be no service on Sumach/Cherry to Distillery Loop.

The Toronto International Film Festival will block King Street again this year causing chaos on transit service downtown. However, the planned diversions are different for 2022 given that 504 King is already broken into two routes, east and west, thanks to various construction projects.

Here is the map of the planned service. (Sorry about the resolution. This is what is on the TTC’s site.)

Update: The map below has been revised to show only the 504B service. It also shows the Dufferin/Queen diversion in Parkdale, but as I write this, many buses are now operating via King Street both ways.

The 504C bus (the west end service already diverting around construction at Shaw Street) will divert around Tiff via Spadina, Richmond/Adelaide and University Avenue. Given the lack of bus-based transit signal priority in this area, the buses should spend a lot of time waiting to make turns.

The 504C bus now terminates at York, but it will be extended to loop via George, Front and Jarvis (another badly congested street). Extra service will be provided, according to the TTC, but as extras don’t show up on the vehicle tracking apps, riders will be frustrated in knowing when or if something will show up.

Meanwhile the King car will operate with a 504B service from Broadview Station to Church, and a 504A service to Distillery Loop (assuming that the King/Sumach intersection is actually open by then). This could very well be another case of the TTC issuing customer information that is not grounded in the reality of what is happening on the street.

The 503 Kingston Road service will be reduced to a shuttle between Bingham and Woodbine Loops on Kingston Road.

This operation is planned to occur from 5 a.m. Thursday, September 8 to 5 a.m. Monday, September 12, as well as from 3:30 to 6:15 p.m. and 7 to 9:30 p.m., Monday and Tuesday, September 12 and 13, 2022. It is not clear how the transition will occur for the PM peak periods on September 12/13.

The 304 King Night Bus is supposed to run from Broadview to Dundas West Station, but I suspect that it will have to divert around Tiff at least for the period of September 8-12 due to the Tiff Festival setup in the road lanes of King Street.

Service Changes Effective September 4, 2022 (Updates)

Updated September 3, 2022 at 8:45am: Additional diversion details with maps added.

Updated September 3, 2022 at 1:40pm: Photos of Church & Carlton added.

Updated September 3, 2022 at 4:10pm: Route of 506 shuttle bus clarified.

Updated September 5, 2022 at 7:30am: Additional details regarding 504 King and 63 Ossington diversions which are not yet operating as advertised.

Updated September 10, 2022 at 6:25pm: The City of Toronto has announced that the KQQR intersection and construction will switch to “stage 3” configuration on Tuesday, September 13. Construction work on College Street will begin on Monday, September 12. There is no announced re-opening date for King & Sumach yet.

Updated September 13, 2022 at 10:15pm: As of about noon today, the 504C King bus was operating via the “Stage 3” KQQR routing using Parkside Drive.

Some of the streetcar service changes originally planned for September 4 will not occur on that date because of construction projects that are running late.

503/504 King/Kingston Road Diversion via Queen & Parliament

The construction at King and Sumach is not yet complete and this will have the following effects:

  • The 503 Kingston Road cars will continue to divert via Queen & Parliament to route.
  • The 504A King to Distillery cars will be routed nominally to Broadview Station via Queen & Parliament, although I suspect there will be a lot of short turns as their schedules do not have enough running time for this.
  • The 504B King to Broadview Station cars will continue to divert.

The 504/506 shuttle bus which, at least in theory, provided service to the Distillery District, will not be continued due to low ridership. One might observe that the appalling headways on this route contributed to its invisibility and low use.

Riders are advised to use the 121 Esplanade/River service instead.

KQQR Project Diversion

The TTC has a handout for the change to the 504C west end bus diversion around both the Roncesvalles project and the new project at King & Shaw starting this month.

Note that this map shows the 504A service restored to Distillery Loop which is not yet the case (see above).

Updated September 5 at 7:30 am: Although the new diversion via Parkside and The Queensway was supposed to begin on September 4, buses are still operating via Roncesvalles. Also, the south leg of the KQQR intersection is not yet open, and so the diversions through Parkdale via Triller to King eastbound and Dufferin to Queen westbound are still in effect.

The intersection of King and Shaw has not closed yet, and eastbound buses are operating straight through without diverting via Douro Street. Westbound buses are diverting via East Liberty Street as shown on the map.

According to the City’s project site, the north leg of the KQQR intersection is to close on September 6, but the same page also advertised the opening of the south leg on September 2.

At Dundas West Station, 504 King buses appear to still be loading on the street, not in the loop, based on tracking data from NextBus.

Updated September 13, 2022 at 10:15pm: As of about noon today, the service was operating via Parkside Drive as shown in the map below.

63 Ossington King/Shaw Diversion

In addition to the diversion of bus replacement service for the 504 King car shown above, the 63 Ossington bus will change its south end loop as shown below.

Updated September 5, 2022 at 7:30 am: The extended loop had not yet gone into operation because the King & Shaw intersection is still open.

506 Carlton Diversion

By September 4, the work at Church & Carlton was supposed to be complete and the streetcar diversion for the Bay-to-Bathurst project was supposed to begin via Bay-Dundas-Ossington. However, there was a surprise thanks to Toronto Hydro at Church and Carlton where a vault under the intersection conflicts with the new, lower foundation that the TTC would have installed.

Pending a resolution of this problem, the 506 Carlton cars will divert via Parliament-Dundas-Ossington.

The 506 shuttle bus was already planned to operate from Ossington to Castle Frank Station, and so it will cover the extended diversion to Parliament Street although how the transfer connection to the streetcars at Gerrard will work is not yet clear. The service announcement on the TTC’s website does not include a map showing the relationship between the shuttle bus and the diverted streetcar.

Update: A reader has advised that there are notices showing that the bus will divert via Sherbourne, Gerrard and Parliament to retain a connection with the streetcars at Parliament and Gerrard. The stop on Carlton at Ontario will be skipped.

Here is the state of the Church/Carlton intersection on September 3, 2022:

King / Sumach Construction Progress

The intersection of King and Sumach Streets is the point where the former 514 Cherry, now the 504A King branch, splits off southward to Distillery Loop. It has been the subject of many complaints about noise over the years. The TTC has attempted various fixes with less than ideal results.

At the beginning of August 2022, the 504 King and 503 Kingston Road services began diverting around this location via Queen and Parliament, although actual construction did not get under way for a few weeks. Now, the work is incomplete, and the originally hoped-for restoration of service on September 4, something that is built into the September schedules, will not actually happen until later in September.

During that period, the “504A” cars will continue to operate as “504B” to Broadview Station, although I suspect that many will be short turned as they do not have enough running time to make such a long extended trip.

When this project began, I thought that we might see the implementation of double blade switches here, but that is not the case. There is no change in the facing point switches at this intersection.

Here some photos of work at King and Sumach as it progressed. The purpose was not a complete replacement but rather to do selective maintenance. In a way, this makes the work a bit more tedious than simply ripping up the whole thing, trucking in new, pre-assembled track on panels, and dropping the rails into place over a week or less.

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Service Standards, Metrics and the CEO’s Report (I)

Some of the material in these articles will be familiar to readers, but my purpose here is to consolidate many thoughts, some old, some new, in one piece. My hope is to inform discussion about transit’s recovery in Toronto and in particular to provide context for the inevitable political debate about what we should attempt, and the managerial issues of knowing whether we have succeeded.

Updated Aug. 30/22 at 1:25pm: Sundry typos and grammatical faux pas corrected. No substantive change to the text.

Since early 2020, the TTC and transit systems everywhere have wrestled with the ridership and revenue losses of the pandemic era. The goal of both management and politicians has been to just “keep the lights on” and provide some level of transit service. Toronto, with the aid of Ontario and Canadian governments, has worked particularly hard to continue an attractive service, at least on paper.

Service quality is a real bugbear for me, and the widening gap between the advertised service and what is actually provided should be a major concern. Next year, 2023, Toronto will likely see the end of special Covid-related subsidies, and a growth in demand back to pre-pandemic levels, although the timing of these events could prove challenging. Meanwhile, City Council “net zero” emission plans call for a major shift of travel onto transit. This will not happen with a business as usual approach to transit.

The focus must shift from muddling through the pandemic to actively improving the transit system, and to doing that with more than a few subway lines whose first riders are almost a decade away.

Key to running more and better transit is a solid understanding of how the system performs together with a planning rationale for growth. This brings me to two documents: the TTC’s Service Standards and the monthly statistics included in the CEO’s Report.

In this first of two articles, I will review the Service Standards and discuss some general principles about reporting system behaviour. In the second, I will turn to the CEO’s Report.

There are two essential problems:

  • The actual machinery of the Service Standards is not well understood, and the current document was endorsed by a previous TTC Board almost without debate. Superficially, the standards appear to call for good service, but in practice they hide as much as they show in reporting on quality. The Board did ask for follow-up information on improving standards (more service, less crowding), but management never delivered this feedback.
  • To the degree that management reports system performance, this is done at a summary level where the day-to-day reality of transit service and rider experience are buried in averages that give no indication of how often, when or where the standards are not achieved.
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Service Quality on 23 Dawes: July 2022

This is a companion article to Service Quality on 64 Main: July 2022.

The 23 Dawes Road bus, like 64 Main, is a short route operating out of Main Street station. Where the Main bus goes south to Queen, the Dawes bus runs north to St. Clair. The north end of the route is a large on-street loop.

The scheduled service is shown below:

This route shares the same characteristics and problems with its southern cousin:

  • Missing vehicles cause large gaps in service.
  • There is little traffic congestion to disrupt service on a regular basis.
  • Vehicles have adequate time for drivers to take layovers at terminals.

Updated August 30, 2022: Information about the cause of missing vehicles has been added, with thanks to an anonymous reader.

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Service Quality on 64 Main: July 2022

Updated August 24 at 11:10am with information about the sources of delays mentioned in the article.

This article is a follow-up to Service Quality on 64 Main: Oct-Dec 2021 to see how this route is behaving under summer conditions.

The 64 Main bus operates between Main Station at Danforth Avenue and Queen Street in The Beach looping at the south end via Wineva, Queen, Hambly and Williamson.

In the previous article, a major issue for the 64 Main bus was inadequacy of scheduled travel time. This was adjusted in November 2021, and the times were extended further in March 2022.

Scheduled service effective November 2021:

Scheduled service effective March 22. In general, headways are a bit wider and running times extended without the addition of vehicles to the route except during the AM peak and Sunday afternoons.

Data presented here cover the month of July 2022. Note that Friday July 1 was a holiday. and its data are included in the Sunday charts.

The overwhelming problem on 64 Main was not that schedules were impossible for operators to keep, or that buses were running in twos or threes. Quite commonly, one or two buses were missing from service, a major problem when the scheduled service is at best three buses.

How much service is lost because there is nobody to drive a vehicle, and why this is not regularly reported as a measure of service quality in the CEO’s Report?

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