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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two essential problems:

  • The actual machinery of the Service Standards is not well understood, and the current document was endorsed by a previous TTC Board almost without debate. Superficially, the standards appear to call for good service, but in practice they hide as much as they show in reporting on quality. The Board did ask for follow-up information on improving standards (more service, less crowding), but management never delivered this feedback.
  • To the degree that management reports system performance, this is done at a summary level where the day-to-day reality of transit service and rider experience are buried in averages that give no indication of how often, when or where the standards are not achieved.
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TTC Service Changes Effective September 4, 2022

Updated:

  • The spreadsheet detailing all of the changes has been added at the end of this post.
  • The number of the Mimico GO shuttle has been corrected to 176.
  • Transfer arrangements at Queen & Dufferin for the 501 bus and streetcar services have been clarified.
  • Transfer arrangements at Queen & Roncesvalles for the 501 and 504 bus services have been added.

Updated September 5, 2022:

  • The spreadsheet listing all of the changes has been corrected for route 504 King. The original version included a description of the route carried over from the August version. This has been changed to reflect the September arrangements.

The TTC will make many changes to its scheduled service on September 4, 2022 with restorations of previous service levels on many routes. This will not get the system back to 100% of pre-pandemic levels.

An important distinction is between three values:

  • The amount of service scheduled before Spring 2020
  • The amount of service budgeted for 2022
  • The amount of service scheduled for 2022

The TTC plans to be back to 97% of budgeted service for bus, 84% for streetcar and 92% for subway. The overall numbers are compared below.

Hours/WeekRegularConstructionTotal
January 2020 Scheduled185,8257,068192,893
September 2022 Budgeted186,3796,398192,777
September 2022 Scheduled177,9304,965182,895

In the original 2022 service budget, the TTC planned to be back to roughly the same level of service as in January 2020 by September 2022. However, slower ridership recovery coupled with staffing constraints produced a lower scheduled service expressed as hours/week.

There are further caveats:

  • The distribution of hours by time of day might not be the same in 2022 as in 2020 because of changing demand patterns.
  • Changes in running times to deal with congestion or service reliability can mean that the same service hours are stretched over wider headways. Not all vehicle hours are created equal.

All that said, there are many changes in service levels, and with the bus network being back to 97%, the schedules for September 2022 are often based on old versions before service cuts were implemented. Another change for this month is the reintroduction of school trips on many routes.

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The Varying Strength of Ridership Recovery (2)

In a recent article, I reviewed route-level ridership data cited in the 2023 Annual Service Plan as well as the 2019-2021 numbers posted on the TTC’s Planning web page.

During debate at the July 14 TTC Board meeting, an issue came up about the unexpectedly poor performance during the pandemic era of 25 Don Mills. This got me thinking about how the “results” could be influenced by when counts were done and particularly on routes that have both express and local branches under different route numbers.

To explore this, I recast the 2019-2021 stats in tables with and without the express 9xx routes consolidated into their local equivalents.

First, here are the stats with the local and express routes separate. The gallery below contains the first set of routes, but the complete list is in the following pdf. The data here are the same as presented in the previous article, but reformatted for easier browsing.

Here are the stats with the 9xx routes’ data rolled into their local equivalents.

The three express/local routes on these sample pages show the differing effects.

Route201920202021% Recov 2020% Recov 2021
Victoria Park
24 local22,75112,23314,07754%62%
924 express6,4723,66357%
24/924 local+express29,23312,23317,74042%61%
Don Mills
25 local27,98816,48118,71959%67%
925 express16,6249,07455%
25/925 local+express44,61216,48127,79337%62%
Dufferin
29 local27,48723,02122,08784%80%
929 express15,72213,23884%
29/929 local+express43,20923,02135.32553%82%

In all three cases, the express service did not operate in 2020, and so all of the riding, such as it was, occurred on the local route number. This inflated the apparent ridership retention of the local route over the actual level on the corridor considering the two routes as one operation.

The effect was so strong on Dufferin that its local recovery rate went down slightly in 2021 because growing demand on the corridor was not enough to offset the shift of riders back to the express service.

The moral of the story here is that looking at stats in isolation can lead to incorrect conclusions if the underlying network and service plan are not taken into account. This applies to simplistic rankings such as “top 20” and “bottom 20” that can exclude routes with almost identical performance. A better metric would be the collection of all routes above or below a certain recovery rate.

Politicians who fund and, nominally, direct transit systems love easy-to-understand metrics that often hide or even distort what is going on. I will turn to TTC measurement indices and standards in a future article.

TTC Service Changes: July 31, 2022

There will be a small number of changes on July 31 for the schedule period running through to the Labour Day weekend.

Line 2 Service Improvement

Service on Line 2 Bloor-Danforth will be improved during all operating periods, notably off-peak and weekends. This will not fully restore pre-pandemic levels on the route, but should reduce crowding that has become a problem over past weeks.

King & Sumach Track Repairs

The intersection of King and Sumach (the point where the Distillery line branches off) will be rebuilt in an attempt to reduce noise and vibration.

During this work, all 504 King service will operate to Broadview Station via Parliament and Queen Streets. The 503 Kingston Road route will also use this diversion.

A shuttle bus will operate to provide access to the Distllery, and it will also provide coverage for the 506 Carlton line during construction at Church Street (see below).

Church & Carlton Track Repairs

The intersection of Carlton and Church will be rebuilt as part of the regular maintenance program. This work will not include the addition of missing curves in the southeast quadrant.

506 Carlton service will divert around construction via Parliament, Dundas and Bay both ways. A replacement bus service will operate from Spadina Station to the Distillery District. The map below shows a proposed alignment for this service. This is subject to change depending on possible modifications to turn restrictions due to construction at College & Yonge.

Updated July 28, 2022: This diversion has been changed. See Revised 506 Carlton Diversion Effective July 31, 2022.

Other Changes

Running times on 32 Eglinton West will be adjusted to provide for delays due to the Line 5 Crosstown Extension construction, as well as to restore covid-era service cuts.

A planned reconstruction of the terminal at Kipling Station will require consolidation of loading areas and move of some routes to stops outside of the station. This project has been deferred to 2023, but a schedule change to support this work was already in the pipeline for the coming period. The 40 Junction and 49 Bloor West routes will be interlined.

Route 172 Cherry Beach will shift from “Old” Cherry Street to the “New” street across the future path of the Don River between Commissioners Street and the Ship Channel. Buses will use Old Cherry Street north of Commissioners Street, then jog west to New Cherry Street to cross the new river course.

Route 174 Ontario Place weekend and holiday service was dropped in June due to conflicting activities at the CNE and Ontario Place grounds. This change is now officially in the schedules.

Details of the new service levels are in the spreadsheet linked below.

Major Construction at Russell Carhouse

Reconstruction of Russell Carhouse will begin both to make it fully compatible with the Flexity fleet, to improve the quality of yard paving and convert the overhead system for pantograph operation.

In the first phase of this work, the site’s capacity will be reduced to 28 cars including spares. Only the 504 King service will operate from the yard. Here is the new allocation of routes to the three carhouses.

Note that the maximum number of cars in service is well below the fleet of 204. Bus substitutions on portions of 501 Queen, 504 King and 506 Carlton will continue through the balance of 2022.

As the work at Russell progresses, the capacity of the site will change.

TTC 2023 Service Plan Survey

The TTC’s online survey for their 2023 Service Plan is now available.

It contains three sections, and you can submit answers to any or all of them.

  • Lessons learned from the Covid-19 era
  • Route changes associated with the shutdown of Line 3 SRT (November 2023)
  • Route changes associated with the opening of Line 6 Finch West

There may be added route changes proposed in a second consultation round later this year.

This consultation is for 2023 changes. A separate 2024-2028 Service Plan and Ten-Year Outlook is under development.

Note that the route arrangement for Line 5 Eglinton Crosstown’s opening is already settled from previous consultation in the 2022 Service Plan.

The Varying Strength of Ridership Recovery

This article continues and enlarges on information in TTC 2023 Annual Service Plan Preview with additional material from a report on the July TTC Board agenda Advancing the 5-Year Service Plan (2024-2028) & 10-Year Outlook Reset. That is a long report with several components, and I have pulled chunks of it out as they relate directly to information in the earlier article.

Of particular interest in the restoration of service to the transit network is the fact that recovery has been underway in some locations and times much more strongly than others. This corresponds to the difference in areas where work or study-from-home replaced commuting to an office or school. Maps in the previous article showed the top and bottom 20 routes for ridership relative to pre-pandemic levels in Spring 2020 (the point of lowest ridership) and in Fall 2021. For convenience, they are repeated here.

These ranking are by percentage of pre-pandemic ridership with no reference to absolute numbers. The busiest routes by ridership are shown in the maps below. This presentation inevitably displays the long routes which have a large number of boardings. Short routes like 65 Parliament may have recovered a large proportion of their demand, but the base number is necessarily small because of their smaller service territory.

This shows the danger of looking at absolute numbers out of a context such as riders per route kilometre (in effect, the density of demand), not to mention possible variations in the level of demand and boarding patterns along a long route.

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The Myth of “No Short Turns” (Revised)

Note: Calculations behind the charts in the original version of this article include a methodology problem. Short turn counts for vehicles crossing two screenlines (such as eastbound on Queen at Coxwell and at Woodbine) were distorted when these events did not occur in the same hour. Other problems included double counting of cars that looped twice at a short turn point (e.g. College Loop), and cars that were entering service via a loop being counted as short turns.

Changes in the text are shown by highlighting of the new version. All charts have been replaced.

My apologies for any confusion, but the charts used here avoid the potential confusion of values shown originally.

One of the many annoyances of trying to use transit service is to discover that your bus or streetcar has been “short turned”, that is to say, will not reach the destination advertised. This might happen before you board so that an arrival prediction turns out to be for a streetcar you can’t use, or as a “surprise” when the operator gets on the PA to announce that Transit Control wants to short turn the car.

This has been a problem for as long as I have been involved in advocacy for better transit service.

TTC Board members and Councillors hear about this problem a lot, and they in turn beat on management to eliminate the practice. This can produce unwanted side effects, notably the padding of schedules so that it is almost impossible, at least in theory, for a car to be late and, therefore, short turns should not be required.

Alas it is not quite that simple. Short turns occur for various reasons including schedule issues, crew change timing, major delays/diversions and “operational problems”, that catch-all phrase covering everything from a stuck door to a plague of locusts. (Some explanations for transit service problems have been with us so long they have taken on an almost Biblical character.)

Meanwhile, the CEO’s Report happily tells us every month that short turns are a thing of the past, that they are so rare that it might not even be worth tracking them as a service metric.

Source: June 2022 CEO’s Report

The big drop in the metric in spring 2019 coincides with a point where a “no short turn” edict was issued by the CEO. This is not really practical as there are many bona fide reasons for short turning vehicles, but the numbers obediently went down and have stayed down.

Regular riders, however, might choose to differ in their day-to-day observations.

Since 2019, we have come through the pandemic era when a great deal of traffic congestion and ridership disappeared. For a time, the type of event that would disrupt service was comparatively rare. However, with “normal” conditions returning, service is no longer insulated by these effects.

In my own travels, I routinely encounter streetcars that are not going to their scheduled destinations. Let me be the first to say that I understand the need for short turns, but am rather amazed that the reported counts stay very close to zero. This simply does not match actual experience. A short turn is a short turn, regardless of why it is required.

The question, then, is how to count these events reasonably easily without standing on street corners clipboard in hand. Vehicle tracking data that I already receive from the TTC’s Vision system (and which drives the many arrival prediction apps) provides a simple mechanism.

In this article I will review several common streetcar short turn locations to see what is actually happening.

If readers have specific bus routes and locations they would like to see, please leave your request in the comments.

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The Myth of “No Short Turns”

Note: The charts in this article include a methodology problem. Short turn counts for vehicles crossing two screenlines (such as eastbound on Queen at Coxwell and at Woodbine) are distorted when these events do not occur in the same hour. This article has been replaced with a revised version, but I am leaving the original here for reference.

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Service Quality on 26 Dupont: March-April 2022

Service quality and reliability are, as regular readers here know, central to many of my critiques of the TTC.

Whether a route is short or long, busy or not, the TTC seemed incapable of accepting much less addressing service problems. For years, long before the pandemic, riders have complained about long, unpredictable waits and crowded buses, but the answer has always been that things really are not that bad. This is demonstrably not true.

The TTC relies on metrics based on averages, not on individual vehicle behaviour and this masks the wide variation in rider experience. 26 Dupont is an infrequent route with few riders, and it does not figure in the high end of the TTC’s attentions.

We have been through two years where the pandemic and the need to keep something, anything running took precedence. Now, with the hoped-for recovery, the TTC must address long standing problems that predate covid.

Looking ahead to their 2023 Service Plan, the TTC will attempt to deal with this issue as it is essential to improving transit’s attractiveness and luring riders onto the system.

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TTC 2023 Annual Service Plan Preview

The TTC began consultations for its 2023 Service Plan on June 29 with a pair of online meetings for community groups, and more will follow. There will be an online survey available starting on July 11.

At this point, the Service Plan is only a collection of proposals. The TTC seeks feedback on them that will lead to a revised version in the fall and a second consultation round before they go to the TTC Board for approval. The round one proposals relate mainly to the SRT shutdown in fall 2023 and the opening of Line 6 Finch West. In the second round, these proposals will be fine-tuned and other possible changes unrelated to the rapid transit plans will be added.

2022 Service Plan Follow-Up

Some service changes proposed in the 2022 plan have been implemented, and others will follow later this year:

  • Seasonal service on the new 172 Cherry Beach route (replacing the former 121 Front-Esplanade bus) was implemented in May, but the planned route through the Distillery District was impossible due to construction on Cherry at Lake Shore.
  • 65 Parliament will be extended to George Brown College’s Waterfront Campus in September. There is no word on an extension of the 365 Parliament Blue Night bus which originally was going to be dropped. The 365 lost its weekend service in 2021, but that was recently restored.
  • The 118 Thistledown extension to Claireport & Albion and the 8 Broadview extension to Coxwell Station will occur later in the fall, date TBA.

With the completion of the Line 1 Automatic Train Control project later this year, the TTC will be able to improve service on the subway. However, just what this means depends on the base against which “improvement” is measured.

  • There is a planned service improvement in September. Current service is not running at pre-pandemic levels, and we do not yet know if September will see a full restoration.
  • ATC will provide two benefits: trains can run closer together, but also travel times can be trimmed to reduce the number of trains needed. The degree that each of these will show up in new schedules remains to be seen. A related problem is that more frequent service can compound with excess running time to worsen terminal approach queues driving up travel time for riders.

Overall system ridership was at 57 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in June 2022 and is expected to rise to 70 percent in the fall. The TTC is finalizing their fall service plan to accommodate some return to in person office travel and post secondary demand. They plan to restore services to post secondary schools that were cut because of online courses. Details TBA.

There is no announced date for the opening of Line 5 Crosstown by Metrolinx, and so the planned route restructuring to support that line will likely not occur in 2022.

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