A Small Gap on the Bathurst Bus

From time to time, someone will tweet a complaint to @TTCHelps about a very long wait for a bus and copy me into the thread. This can set off an exchange which, to be diplomatic, can involve varying claims about what is actually happening.

For as long as anyone can remember, the TTC has a standard response to such complaints: that traffic congestion or some other transient event beyond their control is responsible. More recently a few new lines have been added to their repertoire including:

  • Due to inadequacies in the schedule, buses cannot stay on time, but this will all be fixed in a coming revision.
  • There are “run as directed” buses which are used to fill gaps in service and respond to problems of overcrowding. These buses are far less numerous than some at the TTC have claimed, and they are completely invisible to service tracking apps.
  • Riders concerned about crowding can refer to transit monitoring apps to see if an uncrowded bus is coming down the route. Of course if you’re on a streetcar, they don’t have passenger counters and there is no online crowding info for them, in spite of ads for this service up and down Spadina Avenue.

On top of this, the TTC produces monthly on time performance stats that purport to show that, overall, things are not too bad. They have “service standards” about what constitutes an appropriate quality of service, and they hit them to some degree some of the time, on average.

This is a long-standing response of “not our problem”, backed up by “we will fix the schedule eventually”, “we are meeting our standards most of the time”, and “riders can find uncrowded buses, so what’s the problem anyhow”.

This is cold comfort to riders waiting for service.

Problems of irregular service and crowding on the TTC predate the pandemic, and were starting to attract attention by the politicians who claim to set policy and could not square complaints from riders and constituents with management reports. Then the world changed.

But the world is trying to change back, and with it the desire for transit service to actually attract riders. The time is overdue for attention to quality of service as a basic marketing tool. A shop window does not attract customers with a photos of products that might arrive soon, maybe.

Bathurst Bus Scheduled Service

In January 2021, weekday service on 7 Bathurst changed from regular-sized to articulated buses (12m to 18m), and the January 2019 schedule was restored. As we will see later, there are still several 12m buses running on Bathurst, but on schedules that assume 18m capacity.

In May 2021, peak period service was trimmed in response to actual demand, and the service in effect until Friday, September 3, was to operate every 10 minutes throughout the day (see table below). Note that the schedule includes an allowance for construction of Forest Hill Station on Line 5, but actual operating data charted later in this article shows that this is no longer a source of delay.

The January schedule with slightly more frequent service will return on Tuesday, September 7 as part of the TTC’s overall restoration of service.

On Friday afternoon, September 3, 2021, a tweet popped up asking the perennial question “where’s my bus” from a rider waiting at Glencairn and Bathurst. The 7 Bathurst is a notoriously unreliable service even though, irony of ironies, it serves the TTC’s Hillcrest complex.

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Service Reliability of 54/954 Lawrence East

This article completes my analysis of corridors where RapidTO “red lanes” have been installed or proposed to speed bus operations. Previous articles in the series are:

This article reviews travel times and headway reliability (the intervals between buses) primarily through the pandemic era to July 2021 with April 2018 data as a pre-pandemic reference.

The High Points

The reduction in travel times on Lawrence East from mid-March onward was smaller than on some other routes, and this was confined to certain areas and directions. This implies that red lanes would not offer much change during many periods over the route from Don Mills to Starspray as proposed.

A further problem lies in the infrequent service particularly east of the 54B Orton Park scheduled turnback beyond which only half of the scheduled service (plus peak-only express buses) operates. A fully reserved lane is hard to justify if it will not substantially affect travel times and if only a few buses per hour actually use it.

The segment west of Victoria Park includes the DVP interchange where integration of red lanes would be difficult. The time saving from March 2020 onward is small or nil for most of the day.

By far the worst problem on the 54/954 Lawrence East service is headway reliability, and unpredictable gaps in service can contribute far more to journey times than any saving that might arise from reserved lanes. Service leaving Lawrence East Station both ways is very erratic even though this would be a logical place to space service.

The route is subject to congestion and construction delays along Eglinton from Leslie to Yonge, although the schedule is supposed to include extra time to compensate.

Headways inbound from eastern Scarborough are disorganized both at the very outer end, and west of the point where the 54B service merges in. The express service operates on wide-ranging headways to the extent that waiting for the next one to show up could add more to a trip than the time saved by “express” operation.

Average headways on a daily and weekly basis generally follow scheduled values indicating that most or all service is present, and the wide gaps cannot be explained by missing or untracked vehicles.

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Service Reliability of 39/939 Finch East

This article continues my analysis of corridors where RapidTO “red lanes” have been installed or proposed to speed bus operations. Previous articles in the series are:

This article reviews travel times and headway reliability (the intervals between buses) primarily through the pandemic era to July 2021 with April 2018 data as a pre-pandemic reference.

The High Points

Finch Avenue East is a corridor with a considerable amount of service through the combination of several express and local branches. Service will improve on weekends starting in September with the reintroduction of express service, but that is beyond the scope of this analysis.

As on many routes, travel times fell in March 2020 with the onset of the pandemic shutdown, the drop in road traffic and a big drop in transit demand. Through March, the travel time pattern changed from a pre-pandemic character with traditional peaks to an almost flat travel time value all day long. This drop, corresponding to a condition with little interference from traffic, probably represents a “best case” of the improvement that a transit priority lane can bring to Finch Avenue East.

This effect was primarily on weekdays on Finch with a smaller drop on weekends. The AM peak completely disappeared, and the PM peak has only re-emerged in recent months.

Travel times are climbing through 2021 and are in some cases back to pre-pandemic values, although not during peak periods.

Speed profiles for the local and express services based on the second and third weeks of July 2021 differ somewhat, but not as much as on other routes. However, a speed profile indicates how fast buses are moving when they are moving, and a stopped bus only counts as a “zero” once regardless of how long it sits serving passengers or waiting for a traffic signal.

Average speeds for buses at some times and locations on Finch exceed the posted 50 kph speed limit. This is no surprise to anyone familiar with suburban traffic patterns. Whether this will persist as traffic volumes build remains to be seen.

As in many of these route analyses, the weak point is headway reliability. All the speed in the world is of little benefit if a bus does not show up reliably and regularly. This can be compounded by vehicle crowding when buses are running in packs rather than on an even spacing.

The article includes charts of headways (the time between buses) in the first week of July 2021, a period when conditions were about as favourable as we will see for weather and the level of demand. At several points on the route, both the local and express service headways can vary quite widely with large gaps and groups of buses travelling together.

The average headways are close to the scheduled values indicating that all of the scheduled trips were operated. The problem simply was that they were not reliably spaced. This problem exists during all operating periods and on weekends, not just weekdays.

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Have Your Say on the TTC’s Plan for Lawrence and Leslie Bus Services

Updated Aug 21/21 at 5:00 am: Link to survey corrected.

Updated Aug 22/21 at 12:05 pm: For some unknown technical reason, the survey closed sooner than it should have done. The TTC is working with their vendor to get this fixed.

Updated Aug 22/21 at 10:00 pm: The survey is available once again.

The TTC plans to restructure the 54 Lawrence East, 954 Lawrence East Express and 51 Leslie routes as part of the changes for introduction of Line 5 Crosstown late in 2022. They are conducting a survey of rider opinions on their proposals that is open until August 30.

Route 54 now operates between Eglinton Station and Orton Park / Starspray via Eglinton, Leslie and Lawrence. The proposed new route will begin at Science Centre Station (Don Mills & Eglinton) and will run north on Don Mills, then east on Lawrence. Note that there is a separate proposal as part of a Scarborough route reorganization to split off the Orton Park service as a separate route.

Route 954 now operates during peak periods express between Starspray Loop and Lawrence East Station. The proposed route will be extended to Science Centre Station over the same route as the local 54 Lawrence East service. There is no word on whether hours of service will be expanded beyond the peak period. Note also that after mid-2023 when the SRT shuts down, there will not be an RT service from Lawrence East Station to Kennedy Station, although plans are now underway in a separate study for reconfiguration of routes after the RT closes.

Route 51 Leslie now operates between Eglinton Station and Leslie/Steeles via Eglinton and Leslie. Route 56 Leaside now operates between Eglinton and Donlands Stations via Eglinton, Laird, Millwood and Donlands. The proposed route would combine 51 Leslie with 56 Leaside to provide one route from Donlands Station to Leslie/Steeles. (A peak period short turn would duplicate the existing Leaside via Brentcliffe service, and only about half of the 51 Leslie buses would run north of Eglinton.)

The combined effect of these changes would remove routes 51, 54 and 56 from Eglinton between Yonge Street and Don Mills (except for the short jog between Leslie and Laird by the combined 51 route). Only the 34 Eglinton bus would remain.

Also, service on Lawrence between Leslie and Don Mills would be provided only by the infrequent 162 Lawrence-Donway bus which does not directly serve the intersection at Don Mills.

For further info on the 2022 service plan, please see TTC 2022 Service Plan Consultation.

Metrolinx Announces Construction Plans for Queen Station

Construction of a new lower level station at Queen and Yonge will close roads in the area for an extended period according to a new blog article from Metrolinx. Between early 2023 for about four and a half years, Queen street will be completely closed from Victoria to James Street.

Source: Metrolinx

James Street will also be closed as well as a portion of the west side of Victoria Street.

Streetcars will divert both ways around the construction site via Church, the Richmond/Adelaide pair, and York. This will require York to become two-way at least south to Adelaide Street (it is two-way only from Queen to Richmond), and new track will have to be installed. Although the map above shows partial occupancy of Victoria Street, it is not clear whether the tracks, long out of use thanks to construction at St. Michael’s Hospital and at Massey Hall, will finally be reactivated.

Source: Metrolinx

Reconstruction of Adelaide Street is already in the City’s plans for 2022. Originally, when I asked about the scope of work, the feedback I received from the TTC was that this would only involve track removal from Charlotte Street (east of Spadina) to Victoria. However, with these diversion plans it is clear that new track will be required at least to York Street.

An obvious question here is what plans Metrolinx has for Osgoode Station, and whether a Queen diversion west of York will be required. It is conceivable that the Adelaide trackage may yet live again further west. There will also be construction effects at Queen/Spadina and King/Bathurst. I have written to Metrolinx asking when details of these projects will be available so that the entire plan for downtown construction will be clear.

Source: City of Toronto, TOInview

A further issue is that there is a major reconstruction of King Street planned in 2023. This would have to be well out of the way before Queen Street could be closed. If there will be track on Adelaide to which a connection could be provided at York, a new east-to-north curve would be an obvious addition at King.

More generally, there should be a plan for the future use of downtown streetcar track to support the various diversions needed for construction and to restore some of the flexibility in streetcar operations that has been lost over the years as less-used bits of track fall victim to various construction projects. A list of potential locations includes:

  • Adelaide Street from Charlotte eastward, not just from York, including connecting curves at York.
  • An east-to-north curve at King and York.
  • Reactivation of track on Victoria between Queen and Dundas.
  • Addition of curves in the SE quadrant at Church and Carlton (reconstruction is planned there in 2022).

I have written to the TTC asking what their plans are.

Too often, chances to improve the network have been missed when track is rebuilt “as is”. This is an excellent chance to rectify past oversights.

A further issue in all of this will be the effect of redirected streetcar (and other) traffic on the cycling network downtown. I will seek info about this from the City of Toronto.

I will update this article when I receive additional information from Metrolinx and the TTC.

TTC Service Changes: September 5, 2021

September 2021 will see expansion of TTC service in anticipation of returning demand including in-person learning at schools and universities. Many express bus routes will be improved or enhanced.

In a reversal of past practice, schedule adjustments for “on time performance” will actually reduce rather than add to travel times in recognition that buses do not need so long to get from “A” to “B”, and that they can provide better service running more often on their routes than sitting at terminals.

Full details of the schedule changes are in the spreadsheet linked below.

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Travel Times on 512 St. Clair

This article is a follow-on to How Slow Is The 510 Spadina Car? and an update of The Gradual Slowing of 512 St. Clair (Parts 1, 2 and 3).

Like the Spadina route, St. Clair operates in a reserved lane with many farside stops. The route has also been through the transition from CLRVs to Flexitys, and is subject to many of the same operational rules as the Spadina car. However, there are a few significant differences: St. Clair has fewer intersections (special track work) where slow orders apply, and the transit priority signalling is supposed to be active except at major intersections where cross-street capacity takes precedence.

The charts here are in the same format as those shown in the previous Spadina article for ease of comparison.

Looking west on St. Clair from Caledonia, June 30, 2010. Photo by Steve Munro.
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How Slow Is The 510 Spadina Car?

A recent exchange on Twitter piqued my curiosity with the question “Is the Spadina car slower than it used to be”. A quick review of my archived tracking data for this route gave a simple answer “yes”, but there is more going on that just the speed of vehicles.

A related question dates back to a 2005 Globe article by Stephen Wickens comparing travel times on the 511 Bathurst streetcar which operates in mixed traffic to times for 510 Spadina which operates with “transit priority”. The Bathurst car won, much to the TTC’s displeasure.

Spadina looking south to College, September 2018. Photo by Steve Munro.
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Queen Street Construction Update: Aug. 6/21

Construction is moving slowly on various parts of the Queen route which will continue to operate with a mix of buses and streetcars until late in 2021.

King-Queen-Queensway-Roncesvalles

The planned move to “phase 2” on July 22 with through operation east-west on Queen Street has still not happened, and there is no announced date for this.

Here is a view of The Queensway looking east toward Roncesvalles taken on August 4.

In the foreground, the new leads to Sunnyside Loop are mostly completed within the streetcar lanes on The Queensway, but the majority of the new loop has not been installed. In the background, the leads to Roncesvalles Carhouse are now in place across the westbound road lanes and connected to trackage within the yard.

Aug 4/21. Photo by Steve Munro.

When the project moves to phase 2, work will shift to the King Street leg of the intersection. 501 Queen buses will revert to east-west operation via Queen rather than their present diversion via Dufferin and King. The two 504 shuttle buses will be linked via Queen although there will only be eastbound bus service on King Street east from Triller. Westbound service will operate via Dufferin and King as it does today.

This means that there will be no westbound service on King from Dufferin to The Queensway just as there is no eastbound service on Queen today in the phase 1 configuration.

The north leg of the intersection will be the last part of the reconstruction, and it will include the intersection at the north gate of the carhouse.

Queen From Bay to University

This first phase of a large-scale project to replace track from Bay to Fennings (west of Dovercourt) is not exactly speeding along. The trackbed has been partly excavated in preparation for rail replacement using the existing foundation and ties.

Looking east toward Bay Aug 5/21. Photo by Steve Munro.

Because this track was rebuilt two decades ago with a new foundation, concrete ties and Pandrol clips holding the track in place, the excavation only needs to remove the surface layer. The old track will be replaced and new rails clipped onto the existing base. Also visible below is the rubber sleeve for vibration isolation that was wrapped around the old track.

Aug 5/21. Photo by Steve Munro.

Pre-welded strings of track sit in the north curb lane (usually occupied by a fleet of fast food vendors and tour buses). A companion inventory sits in the north curb lane at Trinity-Bellwoods Park for the west end of the project.

Aug 5/21. Photo by Steve Munro.

East from University, the track excavation has not progressed to the same degree. A short section just west of York will be completely excavated to access utilities underneath. The special work at York will not be replaced as this intersection was rebuilt in 2013.

Work will continue westward from University to Spadina in stages, and then will jump to the west end of the project at Fennings and work eastward. There are no announced dates for future stages nor details of service arrangements for buses and streetcars.

Queen Street East from Leslie to Neville

Streetcars returned to the east end of 501 Queen and to the 503 Kingston Road route on August 5. During a shutdown that began on July 26, spot repairs were performed at various locations on the track, and work began on conversion of the overhead for pantograph operation.

Intersections at Coxwell, Connaught and both entrances to Russell Yard are in a transitional state with new and old overhead. The intersection at Kingston Road and Queen, including Woodbine Loop, was installed with pan-friendly overhead when the track and roadway were rebuilt here in 2019.

Two 503 Kingston Road cars sit in Woodbine Loop short-turned due to an overhead break near Bingham Loop. Aug 5/21. Photo by Steve Munro.

Service Reliability of 60/960 Steeles West

This article continues a series reviewing operations on existing and proposed RapidTO red lanes reserved for transit vehicles.

Previous articles in the series:

Service on Steeles operates from Finch Station north on Yonge and West on Steeles with three branches:

  • 60A local service to Pioneer Village Station
  • Local service (via Pioneer Village Station both ways)
    • 60D to Highway 27 (daytime, Monday-Saturday)
    • 60B to Martin Grove (evenings and Sundays)
  • 960 express service to Pioneer Village Station (peak periods only)

The 960 Steeles West Express bus was originally known as the 60E, later the 960. It was discontinued in Spring 2020, and resumed operation in January 2021.

Weekend 60 Steeles West service was reduced on June 20, 2021.

This article deals with:

  • The change in travel times for the service between Steeles & Yonge and Pioneer Village Station (the portion of the route proposed for Rapid TO) from pre-pandemic traffic conditions and their evolution through the low point of demand and congestion in 2020 through to June 2021.
  • Travel times for service west of Pioneer Village Station.
  • The speed difference between local and express services.
  • The reliability of service.

The High Points

As on other routes in Toronto, there was a drop in travel times across much of the route concurrent with the pandemic and lockdowns in mid-2020. However, unlike other routes, this effect was short-lived on Steeles and particularly on the section west of Pioneer Village Station.

Extremely severe congestion affects this route as of June 2021, although the degree varies from day to day with wide differences in travel times on some segments. I plan to follow-up this situation with data through July and August in a future article.

For the most part, scheduled travel times on Steeles provide generous layovers at terminals, and most congestion effects can be absorbed by them (whether the excess is officially called “recovery time” or not).

Headway reliability on the 60/960 Steeles West service is spotty. For the local buses, bunching and gaps are common, and this occurred even during mid-2020 when traffic conditions were much less of an issue. Express buses are infrequent enough that they do not run as pairs, but there is still a wide range of headways compared to the scheduled service.

The situation west of Pioneer Village Station where schedules service is less frequent is particularly bad.

It is quite clear that if there is any active attempt to manage headways on Steeles West, it is largely ineffectual and riders suffer as a result. Uneven headways lead to uneven loads and the perception that most buses are crowded even when average demand might not bear this out.

There is a RapidTO proposal for the segment of Steeles West between Yonge and Pioneer Village Station. Although Yonge Street itself between Finch and Steeles is also a source of congestion, there is unlikely to be much improvement for transit priority here because of the planned subway extension and construction disruption. This will make a bad situation even worse, and the subway project should be designed to minimize loss of road capacity and/or to prioritize transit within whatever remains.

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