Missing Riders, Uber and the TTC

It is impossible to browse the news online or in print without seeing an article about transit ridership. Will people ever go back to work in office buildings? Has work-from-home destroyed transit demand? What is the future of cities in general and our town, Toronto?

I am not going to attempt to peer into that crystal ball as there are too many possible futures. However, I want to throw out a few ideas that should be part of any debate or prognostication.

The transit market is not a monolith, not in Toronto and certainly not from city to city, system to system. There are different markets each with its own demand patterns and riders, and recovery of these markets will not all happen at the same time.

The TTC has a particularly broad reach in that, in “before days”, there was strong demand not just for downtown commuter trips, but around the suburbs. Many types of jobs do not have the work-from-home option. They are keeping us fed, alive, and supplied with an unending delivery of goods we once picked up from a local store.

Moreover, many trips are not “work” trips but are for other purposes.

  • School trips for all ages are an important market, and these are often overlooked as part of transit demand.
  • People make trips for shopping and other personal errands on the TTC, especially if they do not have a car (or if the only one in the family is being used by someone else).
  • Finally, there are leisure trips, broadly speaking, for outings to sports events, theatre, movies, an afternoon on the beach or a walk through the cherry blossoms.

Office commuting will resume when employers and employees feel safe gathering together. Yes some prefer working at home, at least some of the time, but others are just as happy to escape to the alternate universe of their work space and colleagues. There were already moves to reduce the space per office worker and design more for “hotelling” to make better use of expensive space, but there is still a demand for office space, at least in the core area. The creation of new space may halt or slow for a time, but “downtown” still has its allure.

We have already seen that workers in critical industries and in many settings where there is no online alternative are straining the transit service despite claims that crowding is rare.

School traffic is not going to disappear either, but it will return under different circumstances and at a different pace. Much depends on when it is really safe to resume gatherings on that level, based on actual health science, not on political pressure to reopen at whatever cost.

The last to return will be the leisure trips because here has to be something “there” to generate the traffic.

This affects the TTC in a different way from GO Transit which is almost entirely dependent on one market: downtown commuters. GO’s future is tied to these riders much more than is the TTC’s largely because it is the only market they pursued for most of their existence. They are highly dependent on parking lots and personal cars for “last mile” feeder service.

GO has tried to market itself for off peak traffic and group travel, but that demand is trivial. It is viewed as a loss-leader to get potential new customers onto GO who would try weekday service after they use it on the weekend. Of course, someone bringing their family in for a ball game might not actually work downtown, and GO has little service to other destinations.

GO’s daily ridership dropped much further than the TTC’s and it remains in single-digit percentages of its former level with some trains carrying loads that would fit on a bus.

The TTC is different as its stats show. Ridership (equivalent to fares paid, or “linked trips” in planning parlance) are at 25-30% of former levels across the system, with higher values in some areas. The budget plans for a growth to about 50% by fall 2021, but whether this is achieved depends a lot on the perceived success of the vaccination campaign and a big drop in future infection rates. In the first quarter of 2021, the TTC expected to see the first glimpse of a recovery but, thanks to political bungling, we got a third wave of infections and another “lockdown”.

That hoped-for growth starting in September may turn out to be wishful thinking, and that does not bode well for a transit system that cannot be kept on financial life support forever. The 2022 budget assumes a fairly healthy growth in demand, although not back all the way to pre-pandemic levels.

Source: April 2021 CEO’s Report

“Boardings” or “unlinked trips” count each leg of a journey separately. Any transfer between vehicles (except on the subway) counts as a new boarding. While all modes suffered a downturn through the fall and winter, the bus network did best of the three showing its relative importance to riders who continue to be on the TTC.

Source: April 2021 CEO’s Report

Crowding complaints come overwhelmingly on the bus routes, in part because there are so many more of them. The bus fleet has automatic passenger counters that can report real stats, but these are not yet widely available on the streetcar fleet.

Source: April 2021 CEO’s Report

In the near future, the TTC will provide a crowding level feed to two apps: Rocketman and Transit App. This will allow riders to see how crowded approaching buses are, although it will of course do nothing to prevent a bus, once boarded, from filling up later. This information, however, will make an interesting adjunct to real time and historical tracking analysis because it will allow crowding and service reliability to be compared.

The TTC’s analysis above fails to show the real situation riders face because it lumps every bus trip on every route all day together. Many routes are never crowded. Routes with chronic bunching might only be crowded on the “gap” bus. Routes with highly directional demand will have a lot of lightly-loaded counterpeak trips. Having “only” 5% of trips show up as “crowded” will understate the degree of the problems when and where they actually exist.

Moreover, there are more riders on a crowded bus than on an empty one, and so the “average” experience will be that more people to see crowding. A good analogy might be that someone trying to board the subway southbound at Bloor in the AM peak as opposed to eastbound at Broadview at the same time will have a very different experience of subway crowding. The same is true for bus routes.

With route level crowding stats, the TTC should be able to provide “hot spot” reports rather than simply averaging the entire system.

Clearly they are doing some of this already because service plans for coming months, including the May schedule changes, will reduce service on some less-loaded routes to be redeployed on other busy routes.

An important improvement would be to include the hot spots/hot time list in the Daily Customer Service Report so that riders can compare their experience with what the TTC thinks happened. The next challenge is to make the service run reliably, a frequent topic on this blog.

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TTC Service Changes: Sunday, May 9, 2021

The May schedules will bring many changes across the TTC network including:

  • Streetcar network changes due to construction projects
  • Route reorganizations in Downsview and Scarborough
  • Many service reductions due to reduced pandemic-era riding
  • Some service improvements to address crowding

Updated April 10, 2021 at 9:35 pm: References to “117 York University Heights” in the spreadsheet of detailed changes have been corrected to route “107”.

Streetcar Changes

Construction continues at the King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles intersection. Phase 1 now underway is planned to run through August 2021. In Phase 2, work will shift to other parts of the intersection. The full project is planned to run through late 2021.

The only schedule change in May for this project is to give the Roncesvalles 504G shuttle additional running time.

The central-west Queen reconstruction includes conversion of overhead west from Parliament Street for pantograph operation as well as track replacement from University to Fennings (west of Dufferin). The 501 Queen streetcar service will divert via Parliament to King and will loop at Spadina via Charlotte Street. The 501L/P Queen bus service will be extended to Broadview Avenue.

The 503 Kingston Road service which also loops at Spadina & King will be adjusted so that headways and service blend with the 501 Queen service.

Water main reconstruction on Broadview between Danforth and Gerrard will require a bus shuttle until late in 2021. A 504D King shuttle will operate from Broadview Station to Front & Parliament via King. This will replace both the 504 King and 505 Dundas streetcar service north of Gerrard.

All 504 King service will run between Dufferin and Distillery Loops. Service west of Dufferin will continue to be provided by the 504Q shuttle between Shaw and Triller. Service east of Parliament will be provided by the 504D shuttle.

All 505 Dundas service will terminate at Broadview looping via Parliament and Gerrard.

Reconstruction of the overhead for pantographs on the east end of 506 Carlton as well as construction work at Main Station will be complete, and streetcar service will resume over the full route from Main Station to High Park Loop.

Weekday service on 510 Spadina will all terminate at Queens Quay Loop. Riders bound for Union Station will have to transfer to 509 Harbourfront. Weekend and overnight 310 Spadina service is unchanged.

Streetcars from 512 St. Clair running out of service via Bathurst southbound will no longer loop through Bathurst Station to avoid blocking the road and sidewalk when the platform is occupied by a 511 Bathurst car. 512 cars entering service will continue to run through the loop northbound.

The resulting streetcar network is shown in the map below.

Service Reorganizations

Two service reorganizations will occur in May.

In Scarborough, the 116 Morningside service will be consolidated so that all trips operate to Finch. The branch to Conlins Road will now be served by an extension of the 905 Eglinton East Express route.

In Downsview, the 107 St. Regis and 117 Alness-Chesswood routes will be combined as one route 107 York University Heights as shown in the map below.

Service details are in the spreadsheet at the end of the article.

Service Reductions and Improvements

The list of changes for May includes many routes under the heading of pandemic-related service reductions. This is also a time of year when seasonal effects would normally trigger reductions across the system.

Routes with service improvements:

  • 35 Jane M-F peaks
  • 92 Woodbine South weekends (seasonal)
  • 96 Wilson M-F peaks improved; early evening service blended with 165 Weston Road North
  • 102 Markham Road service improvements and reallocation from 102A Centennial branch to 102B Steeles branch
  • 119 Torbarrie new midday service
  • 121 Fort York-Esplande extensions to Ontario Place and Cherry Beach (seasonal)
  • 126 Christie Sunday/Holiday service adjusted to be consistent with weekday schedules
  • 165 Weston Road North service improved; early evening service blended with 96 Wilson
  • 175 Bluffers Park (seasonal)
  • 509 Harbourfront M-F (seasonal)
  • 510 Spadina M-F service consolidated to Spadina Avenue
  • 924 Victoria Park Express weekday peak service restored
  • 927D Highway 27 Express M-F peak service to Steeles
  • 929 Dufferin Express: articulated vehicles replace standard length buses
  • 989 Weston Express weekday peak service restored

Routes with service reductions:

  • 1 Yonge University weekends
  • 512 St. Clair M-F
  • 6 Bay M-F
  • 7 Bathurst M-F
  • 11 Bayview M-F peaks
  • 23 Dawes AM Peak
  • 24 Victoria Park M-F early evening
  • 32 Eglinton West (weekday running times reduced due to less Line 5 construction delay)
  • 34 Eglinton East
  • 38 Highland Creek M-F early evening
  • 52 Lawrence West M-F midday and late evening
  • 60 Steeles West M-F midday and early evening
  • 63 Ossington M-F St. Clair 63B short turn trips reduced
  • 66 Prince Edward M-F peak service on 66B to Lake Shore reduced
  • 71 Runnymede M-F peaks
  • 73 Royal York M-F
  • 75 Sherbourne M-F (seasonal)
  • 76 Royal York South M-F
  • 88 South Leaside M-F peaks
  • 94 Wellesley M-F
  • 100 Flemingdon Park M-F AM peak and midday
  • 106 Sentinel M-F peaks and midday
  • 109 Ranee M-F PM peak
  • 113 Danforth M-F peaks
  • 129 McCowan North M-F
  • 134/913 Progress M-F
  • 900 Airport Express weekends
  • 927C Highway 27 Express to Humber College (seasonal)

Routes with revised schedules for reliability

The effect of reliability changes varies from route to route. Usually, the change involves adding running time without adding buses so that scheduled service becomes less frequent. In some cases, running times are trimmed to reflect changing traffic conditions such as the wind-up of construction projects

  • 14 Glencairn
  • 26 Dupont
  • 29 Dufferin
  • 32 Eglinton West
  • 34 Eglinton East
  • 86 Scarborough
  • 116 Morningside
  • 127 Davenport
  • 929 Dufferin Express
  • 941 Keele Express

For details of service plans and changes, please see the spreadsheet linked below.

2021.05.09_Service_Changes_V2

TTC Service Changes Sunday, March 28, 2021

March 28, 2021, will see revenue service begin from the TTC’s new McNicoll Garage. This will entail the reassignment of many routes between all garages as the TTC rebalances it fleet and service to relieve crowding and minimize dead-head times.

There are few service changes associated with this grand shuffle. The primary effect is that garage trips at the end of peak periods will change to reflect the shift of some routes to a new home in northern Scarborough.

For example, north-south routes that formerly had transitional peak-to-evening service southbound will go to evening service levels sooner because buses will dead head to McNicoll rather than making a southbound trip before running back to Eglinton or Birchmount Garage.

  • 17 Birchmount
  • 43 Kennedy
  • 57 Midland
  • 68 Warden
  • 129 McCowan North

The short-turn point for 39 Finch East and 53 Steeles East off-peak garage trips will change so that buses do not double back on themselves. These trips will be shortened to end at Kennedy rather than at Markham Road. Trips on 39C to Victoria Park will end at McNicoll & Victoria Park rather than at 480 Gordon Baker Road.

The 45 Kipling and 945 Kipling Express move from Queensway to Arrow. Trips to the garage after the AM and PM peak will no longer make southbound trips. Trips at the beginning of the PM peak will no longer travel north from Queensway.

The old and new garage assignments are at the end of this article for those who are interested.

Fleet utilization continues to be well below system capacity. In January 2020, the total AM peak buses in service was 1,625. In March 2021, it will be 1,527. This does not include buses used in Run As Directed (RAD) service. Although the TTC now has an additional bus garage, its capacity is not included in the table below.

For comparison, here is the January 2020 (pre-pandemic) table.

The number of buses used on streetcar routes continues to be high. These vehicles are included in the counts above, and represent additional capacity available for bus routes when the construction projects now underway finish. 506 Carlton will return to all-streetcar operation in May, but other routes will be affected by construction for much of 2021 notably at KQQR and on Broadview north of Gerrard (starting in May).

Here is the streetcar peak service table. Note that there is an error in the afternoon peak “base going into Mar 2021” column where the streetcar total should read 127, not 142.

Construction Projects

During the construction of McNicoll Garage, all trips on 42 Cummer were operated as 42A to Middlefield. This will continue, and the 42B and 42C services will remain suspended. An eight month long water main project on Cummer will require that westbound service divert via Leslie, Finch and Bayview. New farside stops will be added southbound on Leslie at Cummer, and westbound on Cummer at Bayview to serve the diversion.

At the King, Queen, Queensway, Roncesvalles intersection (KQQR) construction work will block transit service beginning on March 31. This will affect all services that pass through this busy location.

  • 501 Queen buses (501L Long Branch and 501P Park Lawn) will operate via King and Dufferin Streets to route. The official east end of the route will remain at Jarvis Street. In current operations, many runs have been extended as far east as River because the schedule is very generous in anticipation of construction traffic delays that have not yet materialized. Buses are also taking extended layovers at Long Branch Loop because they arrive early.
  • The 504 King west end shuttle will be broken into two parts.
    • A 504G King shuttle will operate between Dundas West Station and Roncesvalles Carhouse (entering and leaving via the North Gate).
    • A 504Q King shuttle will operate between Triller and Strachan. The west end loop will be via Dufferin, Queen and Triller. The east end loop will be via Duoro and Strachan. This is a change from the current shuttle terminus at Shaw.

Operation of the 506 Carlton bus shuttle will be officially changed to use the loop that was informally implemented almost immediately after this service began in January. All buses will loop via Gerrard, Sherbourne and Parliament. Full streetcar service will resume on 506 Carlton with the May 9, 2021 schedules.

Miscellaneous Route Changes

Weekday scheduled round-trip travel time on 1 Yonge-University-Spadina will be shortened from 161 to 154 minutes in recognition of time savings with Automatic Train Control. This will address some of the train queuing problems at terminals. Headways will also be widened slightly to reflect lower demand.

43C Kennedy service to Village Green Square will be modified so that all trips begin and end there. Half hourly service will be provided northbound from Kennedy Station from 6:30 to 8:30 am, and from 4:00 to 7:00 pm. Southbound service will leave Village Green from 5:58 to 8:28 am, and from 3:30 to 6:30 pm.

The Amazon Fulfillment Centre at Morningside & Steeles will be served by two routes:

  • 53B Steeles service to Markham Road will be extended via Passmore to the cul-de-sac at the site. This operation is already in place.
  • 102 Markham Road service will be routed north on Markham Road, east on Select Avenue, south on Tapscott Road, east on Passmore Avenue to cul-de-sac, west on Passmore Avenue, north on Tapscott Road, west on Steeles Avenue, to south on Markham Road. This route will be changed when the the intersection of Steeles & Morningside fully opens later in 2021.

Trip times on 167 Pharmacy North will be standardized so that the weekday and Saturday schedules are the same. The first trips will run northbound from Don Mills Station and southbound from Pharmacy Loop at 5:30 am. Service at all times will be on the half-hour (:00 and :30).

Articulated and regular buses will shuffle between routes:

  • Three artics now used on 60 Steeles West will be changed to standard buses. The artics will return in late May.
  • Most runs on 89 Weston will switch from artics to standard buses. In late May, all 89 Weston local buses will be standard-sized, but the 989 Weston Express service will resume.
  • Six standard buses now used on 929 Dufferin Express will be changed to artics.

310 Spadina night service will be cut to half hourly. This route was missed in January when other night services reverted to a 30 minute service (previously every 15 or 20 minutes).

Details of the changes and service plan comparisons are in this spreadsheet.

Revised Garage Assignments

TTC Board Meeting: February 10, 2021

The TTC Board met on February 10 with a thicker-than-usual agenda including:

  • A review of the Five Year Corporate Plan Status & CEO’s Report
  • A report on liquidated damage provisions within the contract for additional streetcars
  • Proposed asbestos removal projects at St. Patrick and Queen’s Park Stations
  • An update on the Presto contract with Metrolinx, and on the TTC’s pursuit of information on a possible replacement system from other vendors
  • An update on the Fair Pass program

The Board spent considerable time on the proposed shutdown of the SRT. Please see my original article Bye, Bye Scarborough RT on this issue which has been updated to reflect their debate and decision.

The Transit Network Expansion report also deserves its own article and will be reviewed separately.

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TTC Service Changes Sunday, February 14, 2021

There will be few service changes in February 2021 in anticipation of the reassignment of bus services with the opening of McNicoll Garage at the end of March.

Weekday service will be trimmed in response to passenger demand on the following routes:

  • 2 Bloor-Danforth
  • 509 Harbourfront
  • 510 Spadina
  • 512 St. Clair

The 9 Bellamy and 913 Progress Express routes will be changed to operate via Progress Avenue. Bellamy buses will no longer serve stops on McCowan Road, Corporate Drive and Consilium Place (these are served by other routes).

The service changes are summarized in the table linked below.

2021.02.14 Service Changes (ver 3)

The project list has been updated to reflect construction on various parts of the streetcar system as announced by the TTC. This includes:

  • Overhead and station construction work on the east end of 506 Carlton.
  • Overhead reconstruction on various parts of 501 Queen.
  • The King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles project.
  • Reconstruction of Dundas West Station Loop including expansion of streetcar platforms.

Between the construction projects and the reduced streetcar service, the peak scheduled streetcars now number only 126 (AM) and 127 (PM). Out of a fleet of 204 cars, this leaves a lot of room for “maintenance spares”. We must hope that when the TTC puts the entire network back together again late in 2021 that they will have enough working cars to operate it.

In spite of the considerable surplus of streetcars, there are still bus trippers scheduled on 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton.

The bus fleet will operate at less than capacity with a scheduled peak service of 1,520 vehicles compared to the garage capacity of 1,675 and a fleet size of over 2,000. Run-as-directed (RAD) buses are not included in this total, although there are fewer of them now that “regular” service levels have been restored on many routes.

The project list also includes some items for 2022 from the City of Toronto’s map of planned construction work, TOInview. This includes:

  • Completion of the KQQR project from Queen to Dundas (stop modifications).
  • Reconstruction of Broadview Station Loop. The status of a proposed expansion of streetcar platforms is not yet known.
  • Track construction on College from Yonge to Bathurst, and at the intersection of Church & Carlton. Whether the TTC will add curves in the southeast quadrant here to simplify diversions is not yet known. In a previous project at Broadview & Gerrard, the “institutional memory” forgot that there were plans to add a north-to-west curve, and a once in 25 year opportunity was missed.
  • Replacement of the intersection of King & Shaw.
  • Reconstruction of Adelaide Street from Charlotte to Yonge. It is not yet clear whether this will only involve the removal of long-inactive track or the restoration of Adelaide as an eastbound bypass for King and Queen service between Spadina and Church.

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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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