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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This route reverts to the February 2020 schedules with minor changes in service levels.
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.
This is a companion post to the article on the 86/986 Scarborough bus services and the effect of the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside BRT corridor on them. It follows the same general layout and readers will be able to compare charts for the two routes.
116 Morningside shares with 86 Scarborough the portion of the BRT corridor from Brimley & Eglinton east to Guildwood & Kingston Road. From that point, route 116 turns south and then east through the Guildwood neighbourhoods, then north via Morningside. The route extends to north of Finch, but the BRT corridor ends at Ellesmere.
As with the 86 Scarborough bus, the travel time savings occur at locations where stops have been removed. The routes share this effect on Eglinton Avenue. Only one minor stop was removed on Morningside.
Unlike the Scarborough route, 116 Morningside has no express service, and so the speeds for all vehicles both pre and post-Covid are for local services.
The travel time savings on 116 Morningside are smaller than those on 86 Scarborough because it spends less time on the portion of the BRT segment where stops have been removed.
Effective in mid-October the City of Toronto began implementation of reserved bus lanes on the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside corridor between Brimley Road and University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC). This is intended to be the first of several transit priority measures that will be rolled out over coming years.
I will address the City report listing the various candidate routes in a separate article. This piece reviews the behaviour of the 86/986 Scarborough local and express services as the BRT lanes, dubbed RapidTO, came into effect.
Work to install them began at the outer end on Morningside, and then worked south and west. The full extent to Brimley on Eglinton is not yet in service and so the effect will continue into November. The data presented here show results to the end of October 2020.
Concurrently with the transit priority lanes, the TTC reinstated the 986 Express service that had been suspended in the spring. True to TTC form, the express buses are faster than the locals, but the headways are quite irregular making the saving from a faster trip a tradeoff against a potentially long wait for an express bus to appear at your stop.
This article reviews service on the 86/986 Scarborough routes. I will turn to 116 Morningside in a separate article.
The introduction of reserved lanes and the removal of stops in the Eglinton-Kingston corridor has resulted in a small reduction in travel times for 86 Scarborough buses over this portion of the route.
The effect increased slightly from week 3 to week 5 of October, and it somewhat offset the growth in travel times as road traffic returns to “normal” pre-Covid levels.
The travel time saving provided by the 986 express service is considerably greater than the saving provided by the reserved lanes.
The variability in travel times on this route did not show the same “before” level seen on King Street (often used as an example of what might be achieved) and the lanes did little or nothing to alter this.
Headway reliability is a severe problem on both the local and express services, and service gaps continue to bring more delay to rider journeys than the time saved by the reserved bus lanes.
Travel time savings, such as they are, are due in part to the removal of stops, not to transit priority per se. Claims made for the benefits of the BRT arrangement should be tempered by the fact that two major changes — reserved lanes and stop removals — were implemented at the same time.
Future transit priority proposals should avoid concurrent changes where the “priority” component’s effect might be artificially enhanced. If the TTC’s desire is to remove stops, this can proceed without waiting years for detailed design and approval of the RapidTO scheme. There must be full public consultation, not a masquerade under the rubric of a “transit priority” scheme.
The October tracking data from this route reveals just how bad the problem was, and shows that this is part of a constant problem on the route.
Buses run in convoys on 35 Jane on Saturdays, and to a lesser extent on Sundays, for hours on end producing extraordinarily irregular service. This would be bad enough in pre-covid times, but with crowding being such an issue in 2020, the TTC’s inattention to reliable service bears added responsibility.
This article reviews the route’s behaviour on October 17 in detail, and then turns to other weekends to see how common the situation might be.
A challenge both for someone like me who wants to analyze service “as operated” as well as for riders, and even for the TTC, is to track the hundreds of “Run as Directed” (or “RAD”) vehicles (mainly buses) in the system.
During the Covid pandemic, the TTC opted to cut back on scheduled service on many routes and run unscheduled extras to be used when and where required depending on demand. Their name for this is “demand responsive” service.
The idea is good as far as it goes, but it has produced many problems:
Internally, most of the vehicles are associated with a “route 600”. More accurately, that is where the drivers’ crews are. However, when one of these buses goes into service there are problems.
The driver does not “sign on” to the route they are serving, and so a RAD bus running on Steeles West does not show up under the route 60 tracking data.
Because the bus is not associated with a scheduled run, NextBus does not know what to do with it, and the bus does not appear in projections of vehicle arrivals. A RAD bus might be just around the corner, but riders will not see it on transit service apps.
From a service tracking point of view, the vehicle hours are not charged against the route where the bus operates (which could be several in the course of a shift).
There is a further problem with the tracking data in that a bus “dead heading” to or from service (or even between RAD assignments) looks exactly the same as one that is serving passengers on a route.
The TTC is aware of these problems, and hopes to enhance its tracking system, VISION, to compensate. Current plans are for more regularly scheduled service to return by February 2021, subject to budget issues, and the number of RAD vehicles will decline.
I have been working with TTC IT folks to figure out a data extract from their VISION system that will allow visualization and reporting on the RAD buses. The charts in this article are a first step and are provided for those who are interested.
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
Vehicle Reliability and Utilization
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.
In recent articles, I have reviewed a pervasive problem on the TTC’s network with uneven headways (the time between vehicles). This is annoying enough in “normal” times, but with the concerns about crowding during the pandemic, anything that contributes to crowding is more than just an annoyance.
The CEO’s Report presents only a few measures of service quality:
the proportion of service that is “on time” leaving terminals,
the number of short turns, and
the amount of service fielded compared to what is scheduled.
These metrics are utterly inadequate to showing how the system is behaving at the level seen day-by-day, hour-by-hour by riders for several reasons:
Most riders do not board vehicles at or near terminals, and measures that look only at terminal performance do not reflect most of each route.
“On time” is a meaningless concept for most routes because service is (or should be) frequent enough that riders do not time their arrivals at stops to meet their bus.
A count of short turns only indicates that most vehicles reached their terminals, not whether the absence of short-turns contributed to poor service quality. Moreover, there is good reason to believe that the number of short turns is under-reported.
Statistics are averaged on an all-day, all month basis and do not reflect route-by-route or hour-by-hour variations.
Riders to not ride “average” buses and streetcars – they take what shows up when they try to use the system. Indeed, if the TTC actually provided “average” service, a lot of problems would be solved because the service would be much more reliable.
At the recent TTC Board meeting, CEO Rick Leary noted that the metrics in his monthly report will be changed in the near future. This is long overdue, but it remains to be seen just how informative these will be.
This article includes displays of headway reliability in a new type of chart I have been working on recently. Reader feedback on this is welcome.
In a recent article, I reviewed the scheduled service for several routes and the potential problems associated with uneven headways and crowding. As noted in that article, several routes had their schedules modified in recent months to reduce or eliminate these problems.
In my review, I only looked at a subset of routes across the system. The TTC has provided a full list of the routes with new schedules and their plans for coming months.
We have been actively working to reduce uneven headways created by the cancellation of crews in the May 2020 board period.
In most cases, we utilized the built-in recovery time at the end of the route, and by shifting departure times, we were able to minimize significant gaps in the schedule. This approach allowed us to improve on most of the last-minute changes implemented in the spring while continuing to develop multiple service level scenarios through the summer and fall. Unfortunately, due to time constraints (working well past normal deadlines), full schedule re-writes were not possible and we continued to provide suboptimal headways on some routes across the system.
The shifting of schedules was implemented on the following routes in the September board: 7, 11, 25, 29, 32, 34, 51, 61, 63, 68 (gaps remain), 72 (southbound only), 74, 75, 79, 86, 88, 89 , 90, 98, 102 (northbound only), 105, 116, 124, 160 and 163.
We are currently working on the January boards. Most routes will return to pre-pandemic levels and scheduling anomalies resulting from cancelled crews and extra trippers will be eliminated.
Mark Mis Head, Service Planning & Scheduling
When the January updates are announced, I will publish the details as usual. Stay tuned.
This post arises from a Twitter thread in the early evening on Saturday, October 17. Photos of crowded TTC buses are not rare these days, and one appeared from the 35 Jane bus. Intrigued, I took a look at NextBus to see whether bunched service might be the culprit.
The first snapshot at 5:09 pm was what I found. All of the buses on the route were clustered in three groups with wide gaps between them. Oh well, I thought, maybe the route supervisor will sort this out at the terminals by spacing the service, or possibly by short turning a few buses. This was not to be.
Half an hour later, at 5:41, the only change was that the three groups of vehicles had rotated positions on the route, and this continued for the next hour. It was not until 8:15 pm that I came back to see what was happening, and found that almost all of the service was running southbound with an enormous gap northbound.
Regular readers here will remember that I wrote about route 70 O’Connor which had a chronic problem with buses bunching late on Saturday afternoons.
At the TTC Board meeting of December 12, a motion by Commissioner Brad Bradford asked staff to report back in the first quarter of 2020 on my findings. The pandemic emergency intervened, and there has never been a report.
The situation on 35 Jane on October 17 prompted me to look at vehicle tracking data for past months. Because this is a route with a proposed reserved lane similar to the BRT red lanes recently installed in the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside corridor, I have been collecting data for it for several months.