Measuring and Reporting on TTC Operations: Part I

The TTC reports on its overall performance through the monthly CEO’s Report. This document is rarely discussed in detail at Board meetings, and often is the underpinning for “good news” about how well the TTC is doing, not about how it could be even better.

Regular readers here know that I often despair over the quality of the metrics used in this report. A few months ago, during a Board meeting, CEO Rick Leary mentioned that the metrics in his report were to be updated. This article is the first in a series discussing of what might be done to improve things. Future articles will review practices in other major North American transit systems, as well as the state of TTC service seen through a more rigourous reporting standard.

The pandemic era fundamentally changed the environment where the TTC operates. Ridership is down, but demand for reliable service is as strong as ever because social distancing is a new requirement. In past years, riders might complain about crowding, but this could be fobbed of with the usual excuses that things were not too bad on average – in any event, we could not improve service because either we had too few vehicles or too little budget room to operate more.

Plans were always tailored to available subsidy funding and the on-and-off-again political desire to “improve” transit by freezing fares. In spite of repeated requests from some TTC Board members, staff would never produce an aspirtional budget showing how much it would cost to plan for overall service improvement beyond a minimal level. That was the approach in the Ridership Growth Strategy, now almost two decades old, and hard fought-for in its time.

Today, a crowded bus represents more than an inconvenience – riders see crowding as a safety issue in this pandemic era.

Looking ahead in 2021 and beyond, there is a potential for resurging transit demand at a time when government support for emergency funding could wane. This could force cutbacks just at a time when transit needs to at least hold its own, if not improve.

The TTC reports superficial measures of its service that do not tell us much about rider experiences even though that is the “shop window” of the transit business. Far too few data are reported at a granular level where the variation in experiences is evident. Little data is available online for review, and much of that is not up to date.

The Tyranny of Averages

Riders do not consume “average” service. Getting to work on time, on average, is not an option. Riders have to assume that the service will be bad and build padding to compensate into their plans.

Riders usually board the first vehicle that shows up after an indeterminate wait compounded by potential crowding. Even if they allow for irregular service, they have no control over whatever shows up day-by-day. Both the physical environment and the need to be somewhere on time can add anxiety to their journey.

Many routes and trips are not crowded, considered on an all route, all day basis, but some are. A major problem here is how we count things.

If we count crowded buses, we might find that, over the day, ten percent of vehicles are crowded. However, there are more passengers on those buses and so the experience of crowding affects proportionately more riders. The same applies to long waits before a trio of buses appears at a stop. The “average” service might match the scheduled buses/hour, but the true experience is of a long wait followed by a crowded journey.

This is the basic reason why management can claim that “on average” service is pretty good, even in these difficult times, while riders complain bitterly that it is not. Service metrics are needed to reveal the variations, how often and how badly the TTC misses its targets, as well as the number of affected riders.

Big Data vs Big Reports

Over the decades, the CEO’s Report (formerly the Chief General Manager’s Report reflecting the position’s earlier title) varied in volume and complexity. This depended on the interests of the then-sitting Board and the style of the then-current management. For a time, it included detailed project status reports on everything from major subway construction all the way down to routine system repairs, but with no interpretive summary to flag problem areas.

Only the most dedicated would read every page, and the report accomplished its objective of appearing to inform while overwhelming with raw detail. Much more information was available about capital project status than day-to-day operations.

At the other extreme, performance data are consolidated to a level where Board members can digest them, but with a loss of detail.

In our time of Big Data, there is a danger of information overload. Readers who follow my route performance analyses know of the volume of charts and data published here, and those are only the tip of a very large iceberg. Nobody would read a monthly description of every route.

The point should not be to read all of the detail, but to have a summary that flags problem areas with the detailed information as a backup. If the same problems show up every day, they are systemic issues, not ones caused by occasional disruptions. The Board should know about them and about what management is doing to correct and improve affected areas. This is Management 101.

From an accountability viewpoint, riders and politicians are interested in their route, in their wards, but those responsibile for the entire system should be able to verify that overall behaviour is not consolidated beyond recognition into a meaningless average. This requires two important changes in how performance data are presented:

  • The granularity of analyses in time and space (e.g. by route and location) must be sufficient that it can be related to the experience of a rider making a specific trip at a specific time.
  • Exception reporting of problem areas should flag these for action and be tracked in overviews like the CEO Report, but the detail should be available online on a timely basis.

Those points as written are aimed at service reliability, but can easily apply with modifications to areas such as equipment and infrastructure.

Why Do We Measure?

The reasons for measuring things are summed up in this quotation from an extensve report on the subject that is now close to two decades old:

Agencies collect … measures to help identify how well service is being provided to their customers, the areas where improvement may be needed, and the effects of actions previously taken to improve performance. In these cases, agencies use performance measures to help provide service as efficiently as possible, monitor whether agency and community goals are being met, and—over time—improve service so that it attracts new riders. Changes in policy, procedures, and planning can result from an understanding and appraisal of certain measures.

… [D]ecision-making bodies, such as transit boards and funding bodies, need to have access to accurate information to help them make decisions on where and when service should be provided and to support actions designed to improve performance. The public is also interested in knowing how well service is being provided and may need convincing that transit provides a valuable service, for them, for someone they know, or for the community as a whole.

Performance measurement data provide transit agency management with objective assessments of current circumstances, past trends, existing concerns, and unmet needs.

A Guidebook for Developing a Transit Performance-Measurement System, Transportation Research Board, 2003, p. 4

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that I have not mentioned financial issues like fares, subsidies, cost control and “efficiency”. Too many transit discussions start with the question “how can we reduce costs” before asking “what quality do we want and are we providing it”. However, if the publicly reported data are spotty and do not address specifics rather than general averages, any political discussion of funding will be hobbled.

What might be “efficient” transit service depends on our goals, and use of that term typically implies that there is some way to do more with less, and that we should aim lower. “Good service” may not be viewed as a public good in some political circles except when the time comes to woo voters.

Finally, we must beware of metrics that allow management to “game the system” by hitting easy targets, or by measuring and reporting in a way that puts them in the best possible light.

Objectivity is another aspect of reliability. Those involved in developing measures, obtaining data, and analyzing performance should not permit their self-interests to affect the accuracy of the results. Performance measures should not be selected on the basis of which measures will make the agency look good and avoided where those performance measures make an agency look bad. Rather, selection of performance measures should be based on how accurately and fairly those measures assess agency performance and whether they can be used as a tool to measure goal achievement.

TRB, op. cit., p. 13
Continue reading

TTC Service Changes January 3, 2021: Part III Local Buses

Updated January 6, 2021 at 9:50 pm:

A revised version of the service change memo has been issued by the TTC. This article is updated to reflect new information.

Introduction

This article has been delayed from its usual publication a few weeks before changes go into effect. Schedule changes were still in flux, and information on what would actually operate was inconsistent.

There are many sources for service information:

  • An internal memo from Service Planning detailing the pending changes for a coming “board period” (usually a six-week interval). This exists in draft form a few months ahead of the implmentation date, but a final version is issued two-to-three weeks ahead of time. By this point, everything is more or less frozen in place because operators have picked their crews based on the new schedules. This is the memo on which I base my regular articles detailing pending changes.
  • At roughly the same time as the final version of the planning memo comes out, the TTC publishes electronic versions of schedules through the City of Toronto’s Open Data Portal. These are in an industry-standard format called GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) used by agencies to publish their schedules for use by trip planning applications.
  • A separate version of the schedule data is created for NextBus which has its own format different from GTFS. On occasion the conversion process goes awry and NextBus does not have correct info.
  • The TTC’s own publicly posted schedules on its website appear to be generated from the GTFS data, although this conversion process can also run into problems.
  • Finally, there are the Scheduled Service Summaries. These come from Service Planning and they give an overview of service on all routes. Under normal circumstances, a new summary is published on the TTC’s Planning page just after new schedules go into effect. With so much service operating ad hoc through crew cancellations and RADs through 2020, these summaries did not fully reflect what was going on. In practice they could not because their structure is intended for simpler times. Some periods had no published summary.

Throughout the pandemic period, and especially at its outset, the TTC service planners had to make many last-minute changes including the conversion of express operations to “tripper” local runs, selective cancellation of crews, and creation of a pool of “run as directed” [RAD] buses and streetcars. The RADs were used both to fill schedule gaps and to supplement service where needed.

A useful factor in this was the automated passenger counting (APC) data that could be mined to locate routes with capacity issues. Many would argue that the TTC did not do enough to deal with crowding problems on some routes, but a related issue often discussed on this site was service regularity. On paper, a route might have enough service to handle demand at acceptable crowding levels, but in practice if service is badly bunched some vehicles will be badly crowded while others run with light loads.

In 2021, Service Planning hopes to get back to schedules that are properly constructed for reliable service rather than ad hoc responses to the pandemic.

The January 2021 schedule change encountered problems because of last minute-changes that caused the various sources of information to go out-of-sync.

  • As of January 3, the GTFS schedules reflect plans in mid-December (their posting date is December 21), and plans for some routes have changed.
  • The information on TTC schedule pages appears to reflect more recent changes to plans implying the existence of a refreshed set of GTFS data. This has not yet been published.
  • For reasons that are not yet clear, the NextBus versions of the January schedules were both incomplete and included outdated routing information. This caused NextBus to display little or no data for many routes until mid-afternoon on Sunday, January 3. Some late-breaking changes/corrections to TTC plans do not yet appear in the NextBus versions of the schedules [as of January 3].
  • The generic Service Change page does not list all of the changes because (a) it appears to be based on the original version of the service memo, and (b) because some changes, notably major restructuring of streetcar routes, have been missed. This is complicated by the TTC’s placing notice of one change, the restructuring of Queen services, in the Route Diversions page, not together with the list of service changes. There is no notice of changes on 504 King or 506 Carlton which now operate as split routes.

This situation reflects problems of last-minute decision-making, of multiple sources for data, and of fragmentation of responsibility for managing updates into (at least) three groups: Service Planning, IT and Communications. When a lot is changing on the fly, some things slip through the cracks. This is not to criticize staff, but rather to point out a structure where co-ordination problems can occur.

I will update this article as additional information becomes available.

Continue reading

TTC Service Changes January 3, 2021: Part II Buses

Updated January 7, 2021: Comparative service level charts have been added for routes 53/953 and 60/960 showing changes between the November 2020 and January 2021 schedules.

Updated January 5, 2021: Information about express routes 953 Steeles East, 960 Steeles West and 984 Sheppard has been updated in the route summary. Comparative service charts will be added for weekday service on 953 and 960 in a separate update.

Updated December 26-28, 2020: This article has been extensively updated with charts to illustrate the change in service levels on corridors that have or had 9xx Express services. I will turn to other routes in a separate article.

Some of you have probably been wondering where my list of bus service changes for January 2021 has wandered off to.

The problem is that some of the information in the TTC’s service change memo is inconsistent, and a new version to be issued after Christmas. Some information about planned schedule changes is available through the City of Toronto’s Open Data Portal which has the electronic versions of all schedules for use by various trip planning apps.

Because the difference between some new and old schedules is not as straightforward as usual, I have added charts comparing service levels by time of day rather than the breakdown into peak, midday and off peak periods.

Information here should be considered “preliminary” in case the TTC makes further revisions before the new schedules take effect.

Scheduled Erratic Service

The schedules for many routes suffer from build-in irregular headways. If the route runs on time, the buses are not evenly spaced, and “on time” performance is the metric the TTC uses, for better or worse, to evaluate service. This irregularity arises from several factors that can also interact on the same schedule:

  • The route has branching services that are not on a compatible headway. For example, it is easy to blend two services running every 20′ to give a 10′ combined service on the common mileage. However, if it is a 25′ and a 10′ headway, this is impossible.
  • For pandemic-era schedules, some trips were cancelled without adjusting surrounding buses to even out the headways. This might have occurred unofficially, but it would take a lot of work to ensure that spacing stayed ideal even if the buses were not strictly “on time”.
  • For pandemic-era replacement of express services, “trippers” operated usually on schedules that did not blend with the basic service. These buses were typically in service from 5 am to noon, and from 3 to 10 pm.
  • Some “Run as Directed” (RAD) buses (aka Route 600 series) operated where needed to supplement scheduled service. These do not appear on any schedule nor in a route’s vehicle tracking logs.

My purpose in looking in detail at the January 2021 changes is to show how all of these factors interact.

Continue reading

TTC Service Changes January 3, 2021 Part I: Streetcars (Updated)

Updated January 7, 2021: Maps showing the revised operation of 501/301 Queen, 504/304 King and 506/306 Carlton have been added from the TTC’s Route Diversion pages.

Updated December 23, 2020: The operating schedules (in GTFS format used by various trip planning apps) for the January-February period have now been issued on the City of Toronto’s Open Data Portal. These confirm two outstanding issues with the service as it was described in the change memo:

  • The 304C King West night shuttle will operate on a 20′ headway, while the main part of the 304 King streetcar route between Dufferin and Broadview Station will operate on a 30′ headway. This means that timed connections between the two services will not be reliably possible for each trip.
  • The 310 Spadina night service appears to have escaped the cutback from a 15′ to a 30′ headway. The January schedules show service every 15′.

The TTC memo detailing service changes for January is a long one, and in the interest of breaking this up into more digestible chunks, I will deal with the streetcar and bus networks separately.

The usual summary of schedule changes (for the streetcars only) is linked here:

Some routes will see major changes beginning in January and continuing, with modifications as the year goes on.

In addition to various construction projects, the TTC plans to accelerate the retrofit of its Flexity fleet with various fixes and the major repairs to the early cars with frame integrity problems. The intent is to substantially complete this work by September 2021 by which time ridership recovery in the territory served by streetcars will be recovering from the pandemic ‘s effects.

The total scheduled cars in peak periods will be 145 out of a total fleet of 204. As I reported in a recent article about the 2021 Service Plan, the TTC aims to field 168 cars in peak once they have the fleet back at a normal 20 per cent maintenance ratio.

Queen Street will take the brunt of construction work for the early part of 2021 with a shutdown of streetcar service west of McCaul Loop. This will allow conversion of the overhead system for pantograph operation and, when construction weather allows, the complete replacement of the King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles intersection. See:

That project will also affect the King service west of Dufferin Street.

Streetcars will return to Bathurst and to part of the Carlton route.

Blue Night Service (Updated)

The overnight service on four routes (501 Queen, 504 King, 506 Carlton and 510 Spadina) was increased due to congestion at the carhouses when most of the fleet, including many still-active CLRVs, was “in for the night”. Service on all but Carlton operated every 15 minutes, while Carlton ran every 20, even when it was a bus operation.

The night service reverts to half-hourly headways in January, except for 310 Spadina which remains at quarter-hourly. Also, the 304C King bus between Dundas West and Shaw will operate every 20′ while the main 304 streetcar route will operate half-hourly.

501 Queen

The 501 Queen route will be split with streetcars running between Neville Loop and McCaul Loop, and buses between Long Branch Loop and Jarvis Street. The 301 Blue Night service will also be split, but the streetcar portion will loop via Church, Richmond and York to avoid causing noise from wheel squeal at McCaul Loop.

The western portion of the route will include a short turn with half of the buses terminating at Park Lawn during most periods of service. Buses will loop downtown via Jarvis, Richmond and Church Streets. The buses will be supplied by Mount Dennis and Birchmount garages.

Routings in the area of Humber Loop will vary depending on the branch:

  • Westbound 501L and 301L: From the Queensway, south on Windermere Avenue, west on Lake Shore Boulevard West to Long Branch Loop.
  • Eastbound 501L and 301L: East on Lake Shore Boulevard west, north on Windermere Avenue, east on the Queensway.
  • Westbound 501P: From the Queensway, south on Park Lawn Road, south on Marine Parade Drive to Park Lawn Loop.
  • Eastbound 501P: From Park Lawn Loop via north on Marine Parade Drive, north on Park Lawn Road, east on the Queensway.

501 Queen will operate from Russell Carhouse and will continue to use trolley poles as the east end of the route has not yet been converted for pantographs (that project is planned for fall 2021).

502 Downtowner

This route is still suspended and all streetcar service on Kingston Road is provided by route 503.

503 Kingston Road

The 503 Kingston Road streetcar will continue to operate to Charlotte Loop at Spadina. The City has just awarded the contract for reconstruction of Wellington and Church Streets from Yonge to King, and that will occur in the spring. This will complete the Wellington Street project which has been delayed by other utility projects in the same area.

503 Kingston Road will operate from Leslie Barns and, like 501 Queen, will continue to use trolley poles.

504 King

The 504 King route will be split with streetcars running east of Dufferin Street and a bus service operating from Shaw to Dundas West Station. Both the 504A Distillery and 504B Broadview Station services will terminate at Dufferin Loop.

To reduce congestion at Dufferin Loop, all service on 29/929 Dufferin will be extended to the Princes’ Gate Loop.

The 504A Distillery service will operate from Russell Carhouse, and the 504B Broadview Station service will operate from Leslie Barns. The route will continue to operate with trolley poles.

The west end bus service 504C and 304C Blue Night will loop via south and east on Douro Street, north on Shaw Street to King Street West. Buses will be provided by Mount Dennis Garage. Because service on the 304 streetcar and the 304C bus will operate at different headways, regular connections between them will not be possible.

The operator relief point for the 504B service will be shifted from Queen & Broadview to Broadview Station to avoid service delays on other routes caused by late arrivals of operators for shift changes.

505 Dundas

The cutback of 505 Dundas service to Lansdowne has already ended (on Dec 9) and all cars now run through to Dundas West Station. This change becomes part of the scheduled service in January. Headways will be widened slightly during most periods to operate the same number of cars over a longer journey.

Operation of this route will be split between Leslie Barns and Roncesvalles Carhouse, and that will continue until spring 2022. Cars running to and from Roncesvalles will operate with trolley poles and will change to pantographs at Dundas West Station. Cars from Leslie already run on pantograph on their dead head trips.

The eight AM peak bus trippers will be interlined with buses from other routes. In the west, four trips will originate at Lansdowne from trippers on the 47 Lansdowne route. In the east, four trips will originate at Broadview Station from trippers on the 100 Flemingdon Park route.

506 Carlton

The 506 Carlton route will be split with streetcars returning between Broadview and High Park Loop, and buses operating between Parliament and Main Station. Overhead conversion for pantographs is not completed yet on the east end of the route, and reconstruction of the bus roadway at Main Station is planned to start in March.

506 streetcars will loop in the east via Broadview, Dundas and Parliament. 506C Buses will loop via River, Dundas and Sherbourne Streets.

For the overnight service, the 306 streetcars will run to Broadview Station and will use the bay normally occupied by 505 Dundas which has no overnight service.

The looping shown for the 506B/306B buses is different from the version show in the service change memo. The TTC has confirmed that the map is the correct version.

All 506 Carlton cars will operate from Roncesvalles Carhouse. They will enter and leave service using trolley poles, but once on Howard Park Avenue will switch to pantographs as the west and central portions of the route have been converted. The 506 buses will operate from Eglinton and Malvern garages.

508 Lake Shore

This route remains suspended pending recovery of demand to the business district downtown.

509 Harbourfront

This route reverts to the February 2020 schedules. Extra service that was added to compensate for the absence of 511 Bathurst cars will be removed.

510 Spadina

This route reverts to the February 2020 schedules with minor changes in service levels.

511 Bathurst

Streetcars return to 511 Bathurst using the February 2020 schedules. If construction work on the Bathurst Street Bridge is not completed by January 3, streetcars will divert via King, Spadina and Queens Quay until the bridge reopens.

512 St. Clair

The 512 St. Clair route continues with the November 2020 schedules and a covid-era reduction in service.

Routes 509 through 512 will all operate from Leslie Barns and will enter service using pantographs from the barns to route via Queen and King Streets.

The allocation of streetcars to carhouses by route is shown in the table below.

TTC 2021 Service Plan

The TTC’s proposed 2021 Service Plan will go before the TTC Board at its meeting on Tuesday, December 15, 2021.

In September 2020, I wrote about the draft Service Plan as it was presented for public consultation. The final version has been amended in parts and contains more detail than the draft version.

The effects of the pandemic will run through service plans for many years, but the TTC’s approach is to maintain a relatively high level of service in support both of social distancing and of the large number of essential trips that are taken by transit. The Service Plan is silent on how this will funded, and that will no doubt be a topic of the 2021 Budget to be discussed at a special meeting on December 21.

Although the TTC plans to operate at close to 100 per cent of its pre-pandemic service level, the actual distribution of service may not be the same. Service will not return to its former state with recognizable peak periods and heavy demand to the core area as long as business and educational travel is replaced by work/study from home arrangements. Until the effect of the just-announced availability of a vaccine works its way through society, we will not know when and how various activities will return to “normal”.

Demand on the system had been growing through 2020 after a trough in the spring, but that growth was blunted recently by the renewed lockdown in Toronto. The strongest return of demand has been on the bus network which serves more areas where trips are taken by transit to jobs where work-at-home is not practical. In some locations demand is already over 50 per cent of former levels and, coupled with a desire for less-crowded vehicles, service at pre-pandemic levels is required.

The TTC anticipates that system-wide demand will return to 50 per cent of former levels by the end of 2021, and this implies higher values particularly on the bus network. It will not be possible to provide social distancing beyond whatever can be achieved by fielding as many of the buses the TTC already owns. One advantage of the flattened demand curve is that the fleet can achieve better utilization with demand spread out over more service hours.

The Service Plan notes that a common complaint during the consultation process was uneven vehicle spacing and bunching problems. This is extensively documented in many articles on this site and the problem continues to this day. The only “solution” proposed by the Plan is changes to schedules so that they reflect actual operating conditions, and there is no mention of the need for much better service management.

There is a lot to cover in the overall plan, and the remainder of this article will address major topics. Some items, notably those related to customer service issues at stops, are not covered here but I will turn to them as and when specific proposals appear. Interested readers should refer to the full document.

Continue reading

TTC Holiday Service for 2020-21

Normally December brings thoughts of celebration both for Christmas and New Year’s Day, but as with so many other things, 2020 will be very different. The TTC’s plans for the holiday period reflect these times.

Two notable changes:

  • There is no provision for extra shopping service or an early pre-Christmas rush hour beyond what might be added through run-as-directed (RAD) vehicles.
  • There will be no special late night service on December 31. Some RAD crews will be rescheduled into the evening in case extra service is needed in selected areas.

As usual, all school trips will be removed effective Monday, December 21. They will return on Monday, January 4, 2021.

The extra bus crews for subway shuttle service will be removed from Sunday, December 20 to Saturday, January 2 as there are no planned shutdowns for major construction or repairs. The regular RAD buses and streetcars supplementing day-to-day operations will continue.

The schedules to be operated through the period are:

  • Weekend of December 19-20: Regular Saturday and Sunday service.
  • Monday to Thursday December 21-24: Regular weekday service.
  • Friday December 25: Regular Sunday service. Subway opens at 8:00 am.
  • Saturday December 26: Regular Holiday service similar to Thanksgiving Day. Subway opens at 6:00 am.
  • Sunday December 27: Regular Sunday service.
  • Monday to Wednesday December 28-30: Regular weekday service.
  • Thursday December 31: Regular weekday service with no late-night extensions. Some 900-series express buses may be changed to operate as locals depending on demand.
  • Friday January 1: Regular Sunday service. Subway opens at 8:00 am.
  • Weekend of January 2-3: Regular Saturday and Sunday service.
  • Monday January 4: Regular weekday service including school trips restored.

Service changes for January 2021 have not yet been announced.

Better Transit Tomorrow, Maybe, But Not Today

Toronto City Council recently approved two related projects that, in theory, will help to improve transit operations.

The most striking point about these reports is that almost all of the benefits are in the future, they are confined to only part of the network, and there is no discussion of other factors affecting service such as the underlying capacity and the chronic lack of management and headway discipline.

Nowhere in these reports is there any discussion of the quality and quantity of service the TTC operates today. No mention of irregular headways and missing-in-action line management. No mention of the considerable pool of surplus buses that sit in garages rather than providing service on the street.

Far too much attention is focused on the premise that fixing transit is only possible with some sort of road intervention, and that this magic this will solve all our problems. Alas, that is not true, but the plans provide two rather large fig leaves behind which Council can hide claiming to have “done something”.

It is as if red paint alone will cure chronic problems. Can adverts for a TTC Miracle Tonic be far behind?

If we want less crowded buses now we must have more buses and better spaced buses. This cannot occur without a combination of better attention by the TTC itself to managing what it already has and by Council to budget realities of funding better transit service. Red paint on twenty streets over ten years will be an incremental change over a long period on those streets. It will not make the transit network, as a whole, noticeably better.

For its part, the TTC must not look at priority simply as a mechanism to reduce costs, but also as a way to improve service. This must be accompanied by much better line management and an ethos that makes well-spaced and evenly loaded buses a centrepiece of improved service. This would bring benefits across the city without a long wait for the red paint brigade.

Continue reading

TTC Board Meeting November 16, 2020

The TTC Board met on Monday, November 16.

This meeting saw the return of Chair Jaye Robinson, albeit in a supporting role. She has been on medical leave for several months, but her treatments are almost complete and she plans to return fully to her position in December.

Items of interest on the agenda included:

The Financial update refers to new vehicle programs but there were additional details that I requested from the TTC.

Continue reading

TTC Service Changes Effective Sunday, November 22, 2020

Updated November 20, 2020 at 11:00 am: The article has been updated with the usual detailed table of service changes and a comparison of pre/post service levels on routes where express bus operation will be restored.

The focus of changes in coming months is to gradually restore the system to a pre-Covid state allowing for differences in demand patterns. At this point, we do not know what the effects of 2021 Budget constraints will be. I will write about that in a separate article.

Restoration of Express Bus Services

The 900-series express bus services will be reinstated on several routes. These will replace the “trippers” that were added earlier in 2020 as a partial replacement for the express operations.

Weekend service formerly operated by these routes is not restored at this time, and this leaves some routes still with considerably less service than they had pre-covid because nothing replaced the weekend express operations during the cutbacks earlier in 2020.

The affected routes are:

  • 902 Markham Road
  • 929 Dufferin
  • 935 Jane
  • 941 Keele
  • 945 Kipling
  • 952 Lawrence West
  • 954 Lawrence East
  • 996 Wilson

The PDF linked below compares service on the affected routes showing the headway (time between buses), bus/hour values and the number of vehicles assigned in each corridor.

Construction Projects Affecting Streetcars

The service changes in place for the Dundas/College intersection reconstruction and for repair work on the Bathurst Street bridge will remain in effect until January.

Construction Projects Affecting Buses

Keele Station loop will reopen allowing 41 Keele, 80 Queensway and 89 Weston to use that loop. The interline between 30 High Park and 80 Queensway will end.

Construction at Scarborough Town Centre Station that required relocation of 38 Highland Creek will end, and that route will return to its normal location.

Subway Changes

Stand-by crews will be added to Lines 1 (YUS) and 2 (BD) to provide added “resiliency” for service. This will cover for situations when operators are not available when required to take over trains.

Many of the “Route 600” crews and buses (Run As Directed) will be dedicated to subway shuttles, notably for the shutdown between Finch and Sheppard from December 4th to 14th for asbestos removal. The shuttles will extend south to Eglinton during late evening closures.

Weekend closures between Broadview and Woodbine on Line 2 are also planned, but the dates have not yet been announced.

Bus Trippers

Additional service will be scheduled as trippers on many bus routes to reduce crowding:

  • 16 McCowan
  • 17 Birchmount
  • 24 Victoria Park
  • 25 Don Mills
  • 32 Eglinton West
  • 34 Eglinton East
  • 39 Finch East
  • 43 Kennedy
  • 47 Lansdowne
  • 68 Warden
  • 85 Sheppard East
  • 89 Weston
  • 95 York Mills
  • 100 Flemingdon Park
  • 129 McCowan North

New Service

A new 43C Kennedy service to Village Green Square will operate during peak periods every 30 minutes on a trial basis. This was part of the TTC’s 2020 Service Plan.

Scheduled School Trips

Many special trips operate to handle demands at various schools around the city. These have used buses from the “600” RAD pool which are not visible to riders using service tracking/prediction apps.

Effective November 23, these buses will be scheduled as part of regular service on the routes they serve making them visible for service tracking.

The list is very long, and I will consolidate this information in a future update.

Service Changes Effective December 20, 2020

Metrolinx Construction

Construction at Eglinton West Station for the Crosstown LRT will reach the point where 32 Eglinton West, 63 Ossington and 109 Ranee can return to their normal routes. The temporary 163 Oakwood route will be removed.

With part of the 32 Eglinton West service shifting back to Eglinton West Station, bus bays will be freed up at Eglinton Station. 56 Leaside and 51 Leslie will return to their usual location.

Scarborough RT Service

The project to rebuild the SRT fleet will end in 2020, but no change has been announced in the level of service once the full 7-train complement will be available.

Holiday Schedules

There will be no extra pre-Christmas shopping service nor extended late night service for New Year’s Eve this year.

As usual, all school trippers will cease operation for the winter break now planned as December 21 to January 1.

Crews for all 600 series buses associated with subway closures will be dropped as no shutdowns are planned through this period.

On Christmas Day, Friday December 25, a holiday service will operate with most routes beginning service at 8 am.

On Boxing Day, Saturday December 26, a holiday service will operate with most routes beginning service at 6 am.

From Monday to Wednesday December 28-30, a normal weekday service will operate except for school trippers and subway closure buses.

On New Year’s Eve, Thursday December 31, a normal weekday service will operate but some express buses might be changed to run as locals (TBA). Some of the RAD service for buses and streetcars will be switched to late evenings to supplement service as needed.

On New Year’s Day, Friday January 1, a holiday service will operate with most routes beginning service at 8 am.

From Saturday January 2 onward, operations will revert to normal schedules with subway standby and RAD buses. School trips will resume on Monday January 4.

Details of Service Changes

The PDF linked below details the service changes planned for November 22, 2020 and for December 20, 2020.

Can the TTC Report Meaningfully on Service Quality?

In many articles over several years, I have written about the quality of transit service in Toronto and the degree to which it varies from the sometimes sunny presentations by TTC management. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and heading into an extremely difficult budget year for 2021, understanding service from a rider’s perspective has become more important than ever to retain and rebuild demand on the transit system.

On the budget side, there are already harbingers of cuts to come. The TTC proposes to remove poor performing routes from the network and to trim hours of service on some routes. This includes the 14x Downtown Express services with their notoriously high cost/passenger and a few routes’ late evening operations. This is really small-scale stuff especially considering that the saving from cancelled express routes is already in place since Spring 2020.

The larger problem Toronto will face will be to decide what deeper trimming might look like, how candidates for cuts might be chosen, and how to evaluate the operation of what remains. There are already problems with erratic service that accentuates crowding problems coupled with an underutilized fleet of transit vehicles. Conversely, advocates for service retention and impovement, including, one hopes, TTC management, need solid ground to support calls for specific improvements and to measure them when they occur.

Management reports monthly on service quality and vehicle performance, but the metrics used fall far short of telling the whole story. Recently, CEO Rick Leary mentioned to the TTC Board that these metrics will be updated. This is worthwhile to the extent that new information is actually revealed, not simply a rehash of what we have already.

This article reviews the metrics now in the CEO Report and proposes updates both to the metrics and to the standards against which they report.

Broadly the areas covered here are:

  • Ridership and Trip Counts
  • Budget, Scheduled and Actual Service
  • On Time Performance and Service Reliability
  • Service Capacity
  • Vehicle Reliability and Utilization
  • Infrastructure Reliability

This is a long article because it covers many topics and I wanted to put the arguments together so that the way factors interact is clear. If you want to skip all the details, at least for your first read, there are consolidated recommendations at the end of the article.

Technical note: Many of the illustrations were taken from the October 2020 CEO’s Report. Although I have enlarged them for readability, their resolution is limited by the quality of the source document.

The Tyranny of Averages

Almost all TTC performance metrics consolidate data into monthly average values and, sometimes, into annual moving averages. While this approach simplifies presentation and shows long term trends, it hides a great deal of variation that is at least as important to quality measurement as the long term view.

As I have written many times:

Passengers do not ride average buses.

Telling riders that on average buses are not full and that their arrival is within standards is meaningless to someone who waits twice or more the scheduled headway (the time between vehicles) and finds a crowded bus when one shows up. This problem existed long before the pandemic, but crowding and the effect of service cuts combine to make it a greater concern than before.

Averaging in the performance of off-peak services such as evenings and weekends with overall route behaviour masks poor quality service. Conditions during busy periods are diluted by data from trips when demand on a route is lower.

Averaging performance across the network dilutes the behaviour on busy routes even further by including vehicles running with less crowding and better reliability.

Continue reading