The Reliable Unreliability of TTC Service

In a recent article, I reviewed the TTC’s Service Standards Update. These standards included targets for headway reliability which are extremely generous and allow the TTC to claim that services operate “to standard” when actual rider experience is less than ideal.

Reliability of service is a top concern for TTC riders, and it has also been identified by TTC staff. Where the problem lies is that the targets offer little incentive to improve or measurement of just how bad the situation really is.

When the TTC talks about reliability, they inevitably trot out excuses about traffic congestion and the difficulty of operating service in mixed traffic. This has been a standard response to issues with streetcar routes for as long as I can remember. However, the typical TTC rider is a bus passenger, and this group has flagged service reliability, frequency and crowding as issues just as important as for streetcar riders.

Regular readers will know that over the years I have published many analyses of route performance looking mainly at the streetcar system, but also at selected bus routes. Recently, I decided to expand this to a number of routes in Scarborough where the quality of bus service often comes up in debates about the Scarborough subway extension, and to revisit some of the routes affected by construction on the Spadina extension which has now pretty much wrapped up. Apologies to readers in Etobicoke because this gives a central/eastern slant to the routes reviewed here, but I have no doubt that route behaviour in our western suburb is similar to that on the rest of the network.

This post may give some readers that dreaded sense of “TL;DR” because of the amount of material it contains. It is intended partly as a reference (readers can look at their favourite routes, if present), and partly to establish beyond any doubt the pervasiveness of the problem with headway reliability facing the TTC. This problem exists across the network, and setting performance targets that simply normalize what is already happening is no way to (a) understand the severity of the problem or (b) provide any measurement of improvements, should they be attempted.

The data here are taken from January 2017. The analysis would have been published sooner but for a delay in receiving the data from the TTC, a problem that has now been rectified. As always, thanks to the TTC for providing the raw material for this work.

Although January is a winter month, the level of precipitation, and particularly of snow, was unusually low for Toronto, and so weather delays do not lead to anomalies in the data.

Toronto Precipitation and Temperatures for January 2017

The TTC’s current attitude to service reliability is to focus on conditions at terminals with the premise that if service leaves and arrives on time, then there is a good chance it will also be in good shape along the route. This is a misguided approach on two counts.

First and most important, there is little indication that service from terminals is actually managed to be reliable, and the “targets” in the standards provide a wide margin by which unreliability is considered acceptable. In particular, it is possible for services to leave termini running as bunches of two or more vehicles and still be considered “on target”.

Second, any variability in headway from a terminal will be magnified as buses travel along a route. Buses carrying larger headways (gaps) will have heavier loads and run late while buses closely following will catch up. The result can be pairs of buses operating at twice the advertised headway, and with uneven loads. Without active management of service at points along a route, the problems become worse and worse the further one progresses away from a trip’s origin. Again, the generous standards allow much of this service to be considered acceptable, and so there is no need, on paper, to actually manage what is happening.

TTC operators are a great bunch of people, overall, but the laissez faire attitude to headways allows those who prefer a leisurely trip across their route to run “hot” with impunity. The worst of them are, fortunately for riders, only a small group. The larger problem is the degree to which irregular headways are a normal situation across the system.

The balance of this article looks at several routes primarily for their behaviour near terminals as this matches the point where the TTC sets its targets, such as they are. To recap the Service Standards:

The TTC standards vary for very frequent (less than 5′), frequent (5′ to 10′) and infrequent (above 10′) services.

  • Very frequent services target a band of ±75% of the scheduled headway.
  • Frequent services target a band of ±50% of the scheduled headway.
  • Infrequent service aims for a range of 1 minute early to 5 minutes late.

The charts which follow look at actual headways, not scheduled values, and it is clear throughout that the typical range of values exceeds these standards.

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Does More Running Time Improve Service?

[This is a long article, and I won’t hold it against anyone for failing to read all the way to the end, or not looking at every page of every chart. The issue here is a system-wide one of how service is scheduled and managed using routes where the TTC is attempting to improve operations as a reference.]

At the TTC Board Meeting of December 2015, Chief Service Officer Richard Leary gave a presentation “Performance Based Service” outlining the work done to date to improve the reliability of surface routes. [A YouTube video of the presentation is also available.]

The focus of changes made to several schedules has been that end-to-end running times should reflect actual on-street conditions rather than presenting drivers with an unattainable goal that cannot be met during typical conditions, let alone anything unusual such as poor weather or unusually bad traffic congestion.

The changes to date are summarized in the table below.

201512_Leary_AddedRTT

In some cases, the extra running time is provided simply by widening the headway. For example, if a route takes one hour, and it has a bus every 10 minutes, that’s six buses. Extending the headway to 11 minutes would change the round trip to 66 minutes with no added cost. In theory, if this allows vehicles to stay on time, better service might actually be provided because all buses would show up as planned. That, however, depends on them being properly spaced so that their capacity is evenly used.

In other cases, where the problem is not just scheduled time but also capacity, more vehicles can be added. In the example above, a seventh bus would allow the headway to stay at 10 minutes while the trip time went up to 70. With the long-standing problems of a constrained fleet, this is only possible in off-peak periods, or by raiding other routes for vehicles.

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The Evolution of Service on 29 Dufferin: Weekdays 2011 to 2015

29 Dufferin is one of the TTC’s target routes for improved performance, and it also happens to be a route that I have been following with TTC vehicle tracking data from selected months going back to November 2011. This article reviews the line’s operation on weekdays.

This article is somewhat technical, but has been written for a general audience to the degree the subject allows.

Scheduled Service History

An important factor in reviewing service on the street is the schedule itself: the headways (time between vehicles) and the running times provided for each trip. Headways may look good on paper, but if service arrives unreliably, or if some of it never reaches the destination thanks to short turns, then the advertised service is a polite fiction. Running times also have an effect, especially if they are shorter than the typical time required to drive from one end of a route to the other. When an operator cannot make the scheduled trip, the bus runs late and is quite likely to short turn simply to get it back on time. In theory, this “restores” normal service, but if vehicles are chronically late, the process never ends. The “treatment” never cures the “patient”.

The months included in this article are:

  • November 2011
  • March 2012
  • May 2013
  • September 2013 (Dufferin Bridge at CNE closes)
  • March 2014 (Diversion from College to Queen southbound for water main construction)
  • November 2014 (Introduction of articulated buses)
  • April 2015 (Major schedule revisions to reflect actual operating conditions)

29_ServiceHistory

This spreadsheet shows the scheduled headways and trip times for all of the periods covered by this article. In a few cases, there are two schedules shown for the same month because a change was implemented part way through.

The Dufferin Bus operates primarily between Dufferin Loop (at the Western Gate of the CNE ground) to Wilson Station. During peak periods there is a short turn at Tycos Drive where half of the service returns south. During certain periods (with seasonal variations), half of the service runs through the CNE grounds to the Princes’ Gate (eastern entrance).

In September 2013, the bridge on Dufferin at the rail corridor north of the CNE closed on very short notice for repairs. Service that was scheduled to operate to the Princes’ Gates turned back at Dufferin Loop. This resulted in half of the buses having more running time for their trips between Dufferin Loop and Wilson Station. Concurrently, a diversion for water main construction was operated southbound between College and Queen. These two offset each other, at least for the buses that were scheduled to run through to the Princes’ Gate. Extra running time (up to 10 minutes)  was not added to the schedules until the end of March 2014 in anticipation of the re-opening of the Dufferin Street bridge.

In November 2014, the route officially switched to articulated bus operation Weekdays and Saturdays, although these vehicles had been present for some time before.

In April 2014, there was a major restructuring of the schedules: considerably more running time was provided to reflect actual conditions, and the split operation at the south end of the route was discontinued on weekends.

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A New Way To Measure Service Quality?

At its recent Board Meeting, the TTC received a presentation [scroll to p. 3] from Chief Service Officer Richard Leary on plans to update management and measurement of surface route service quality.

The monthly CEO’s report includes a number of “Key Performance Indicators” (KPIs) intended to track various aspects of the transit system. However, the methodology behind some of the KPIs, notably those related to service quality, leaves a lot to be desired. Moreover, information that could track basic issues such as vehicle reliability is not included. This begs the question of whether the indicators exist more as a security blanket (“we have KPIs therefore we are good managers”) than as meaningful management tools, not to mention as reports to the politicians and public.

A telling chart on page 6 of the presentation shows how badly the TTC has drifted from transit industry norms:

ServiceKPIsAssessment

The TTC aims to have almost enough vehicles available for service relative to actual needs, and operates with a lower spare ratio than the industry overall. This has two effects.

  • When unusual demands for service arise, there is no cushion to roll out extras.
  • Vehicles are not maintained often enough to prevent in service breakdowns. This shows up in a mean distance between failures that is very much lower than the industry average.

The situation is actually compounded by an internal measure of service delivery: a garage counts a bus as “entering service” if it makes it across the property line onto the street. Whether the bus runs for an entire day or breaks down a block from the garage, it counts toward service provided. This is complete nonsense, but shows how the construction of a metric can induce behaviour that is counterproductive. Actually keeping the bus in the garage could allow it to be repaired and improve reliability, but that’s not what the garage is measured for.

Moving to a higher spare ratio and more frequent routine maintenance on vehicles is expected to yield better service with fewer in service breakdowns. Late in 2014, the TTC began this shift by slightly increasing spare ratios at each garage, and the MDBF for the bus fleet has risen to 7,000km. This will have to be tracked over a longer time, however, to ensure that the improvement is permanent and can be linked to further increases in spares and maintenance work.

This has a non-trivial cost for the TTC. With a total scheduled service of about 1,500 buses, a 6% increase in spares represents 90 vehicles, or a substantial portion of a typical yearly bus purchase, not to mention a fair amount of garage space.

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TTC Service Changes Effective March 29, 2015 (Update 2)

Updated February 6, 2015 at 6:10 pm:

A change to service on 1 Yonge-University on weekday evenings was missed in the original version of my condensed version of the changes. This has been corrected.

Updated February 3, 2015 at 11:30 am:

In response to questions raised by the planned changes, I asked the TTC for more details on specific work.

  • At College & Spadina, the platforms used by 506 Carlton will be lengthened, but not widened. They are already wide enough for boarding via the ramps on the Flexities.
  • The 509 Harbourfront route will convert to PoP operation when the Flexities move there at the end of March.
  • Transit signal priority has been or will be restored at various locations on St. Clair:
    • On December 23, 2014, it was restored at Yonge and at Avenue Road.
    • Before March 29, 2015, it will be restored at Deer Park, west of Dunvegan, Russell Hill, Bathurst, Wychwood, Arlington and Caledonia
    • To be completed, but not necessarily by March 29: Ferndale (St. Clair Stn. Loop exit), Christie, Old Weston, Keele/Weston)

The original article from January 31 follows below.

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TTC Service Changes for June 22, 2014 (Update 2)

Service changes to be implemented on June 22 include a large number of seasonal cutbacks in service on a par with what was done in 2013. There is an unusually large amount of construction underway around the city and this is reflected both in adjusted schedules and in a much higher than budgeted number of hours for construction-related service. This activity is one of the constraints on service growth for 2014.

Updated June 18, 2014: With the reopening of Cherry Street south of Mill Street, the 172 Cherry bus will resume its normal routing through the Distillery District (via Parliament, Mill and Cherry) on Saturday, June 21.

29 Dufferin will be formally scheduled as an articulated bus route on weekdays. Although there will be fewer vehicles than at present, the reduction is smaller than the relative size of the vehicles giving an increase in route capacity. This may be offset by service reliability as happened already on 7 Bathurst.

The Queen and King streetcar routes will divert around track construction at Broadview & Queen from June 30 to July 25.

501 Queen cars which are now diverting both ways via Broadview, Gerrard and Coxwell will alter their route to divert via Parliament, Gerrard and Coxwell.

504 King cars now diverting both ways around the Don Bridge constuction via Parliament and Queen will alter their route to divert via Parliament and Dundas.

501/502 bus replacement service on Queen will divert both ways via Pape, Dundas and River. As with the diversion service already in operation for the Queen & Leslie track work, these buses will loop downtown via Church, Richmond and Victoria. There will be no 503 Kingston Road Tripper service to York & Wellington.

2014.06.22_Service_Changes (Updated June 13, 2014)

TTC Service Changes Effective March 30, 2014

On March 30, 2014, the TTC will make changes to many routes.  In the detailed listing linked below, these are broken into four groups for miscellaneous service changes, new construction projects, route restructurings, and seasonal changes.

2014.03.30_Service_Changes

Construction Projects

The 29 Dufferin and 329 Dufferin Night routes will divert southbound via College, Lansdowne and Queen around water main work on Dufferin.  The interlined operation with 316 Ossington will be discontinued until late 2014 when this diversion is scheduled to end.

Reconstruction of the Gardiner Expressway will split the 501 Queen, 301 Queen Night, and 508 Lake Shore routes at Humber Loop.  The schedule will be the same one used in fall 2013 during construction on Lake Shore.  This is planned to last only for one schedule period (to mid May).

The intersection of King & Sumach will be rebuilt to add special work leading to new tracks on Cherry Street.  Streetcar service here is already diverting around the closed bridge east of River and so the construction has no effect on service.

Articulated Buses

7 Bathurst will be scheduled to use 18m articulated buses on weekdays with resulting headway widenings.  The effect is greatest during peak periods when headways widen to match the higher capacity of the vehicles.  The changes by time period are:

  • AM Peak:  6’15” to 9’10”
  • Midday:  8’00” to 9’30”
  • PM Peak:  5’30” to 7’45”
  • Early Evening:  9’00” to 10’00”
  • Late Evening:  12’40” to 12’30”

This route is already notorious for erratic service which will likely become even worse with fewer buses.  I plan to compare vehicle tracking data for this route for the “before” and “after” operations in a future article.

Other Changes

Several routes have new and/or adjusted last trip times to meet last subway trains including an allowance for the time it takes riders to get from the subway platform to the bus.

322 Coxwell and 324 Victoria Park Night Buses will operate directly through Bingham Loop.  Eastbound 322 Coxwell buses will enter the loop at the west end via Bingham and exit directly onto Victoria Park as 324s.  Southbound 324 Victoria Park buses will enter the loop on the streetcar platform from Victoria Park and exit via Bingham to Kingston Road as 322s.

Service on 36 Finch West will be reorganized by removal of the scheduled short turns at Kipling (36A) and Jane (36C), and increase of service on the renamed 36 Humberwood (formerly 36B).

The express service on 35 Jane will be split off as 195 Jane Rocket and it will operate independently of the schedule for the local service.  Because the 195 will run during periods that the 35E does not today, the headways at local stops will widen considerably during many periods.

The 52 Lawrence West and 58 Malton routes will be combined as route 52, and the 58 Malton route number and name will be discontinued.  More service will run east between Lawrence West and Lawrence Stations as a result.  Service on the 52C Culford branch of Lawrence West will be provided at all times by 59 Maple Leaf.  Service in the 52G branch to Martin Grove will continue to run via The Westway over the existing Lawrence 52 route.

The 79 Scarlett Road bus will now have split operation via St. Clair during midday service all days, and during the early evening on weekdays.  This extends a practice already used during the peak period.

TTC Service Changes Effective February 16, 2014

The February 2014 schedules bring only minor changes on the system.

Exhibition Place

A new “walking transfer” will be added between services in the south end of Liberty Village and Exhibition Loop. This will link 63 Ossington at Atlantic and Liberty Streets to the 511 Bathurst, 509 Harbourfront and 29 Dufferin routes at Exhibition Loop.

Walking transfers are a quaint part of the TTC’s fare system where connections are permitted between routes that do not actually meet, but which operate nearby. This practice (and the rules governing where it is allowed) will not be needed as an exception within the overall system if the TTC moves to time-based fares.

A temporary Dufferin Street bridge will allow 29 Dufferin service to resume its operation into the park.  Service will be the same as in March 2013.

York Region Contracted Services

These changes are at York Region’s request.

The last afternoon peak trip of the 17A Birchmount route north of Steeles will be eliminated.  This trip now leaves Steeles northbound at 6:53, and returns from Royal Crest southbound at 7:06.

The last late Sunday evening trip of the 102 Markham Road route north of McNicoll will be eliminated.  This trip now leaves Nashdene & Markham at 11:14 pm and returns from Mount Joy GO Station at 11:42 pm.

An earlier trip will be added to 105B Dufferin North from Major Mackenzie on weekday mornings.  This trip will depart southbound at 6:29 am.

Pearson Airport Night Services

300 Bloor Danforth and 307 Eglinton West will change to use the same sequence of serving terminals as the daytime 192 Airport Rocket and 58 Malton routes. There will be no change in service levels, but scheduled times at stops will be altered by the new routing.

Other Service and Route Changes

142 Downtown Avenue Road Express was changed in late December by the elimination of a trial extension of its downtown loop west to Peter Street. This is now formally implemented in the scheduled route.

Service on 509 Harbourfront will be reduced in response to lower riding, and schedules will be changed to “improve reliability” with additional recovery time.

Service on some routes will be modified by adjustment of running and recovery times to improve reliability. Service levels are not affected, but some trip times will change.

  • 41 Keele will be modified in the evening on weekdays.
  • 30 Lambton will be modified during many periods, and recovery time will be shifted to Kipling Station to reduce bus idling at High Park Station.
  • 73 Royal York will be modified during peak periods.

Service to the Zoo on 86 Scarborough and 85 Sheppard East will be modified to reflect the change in closing time to 6:00 pm effective March 1, 2014.  Last trips will leave the Zoo at about 7:00 pm.

Service on 91 Woodbine will be changed on weekends to improve reliability with headways on both the 91C York Mills and 91A Parkview Hills branches changing from 20 to 24 minutes to provide extra running time.

Analysis of 29 Dufferin for March 2012 — Part III: Detailed Daily Operations

Earlier this year, I published two analyses of the 29 Dufferin bus operation for March 2012.  Part I dealt with headway reliability, and Part II looked at running times.

In this article, I will review the details of operations on four sample days from the month to illustrate the fine-grained detail of service on some representative days.

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Analysis of 29 Dufferin for March 2012 — Part II: Running Times (Updated)

In Part I of this series, I reviewed problems with headway reliability on the 29 Dufferin route.  An issue commonly raised by operators is that there are times when schedules do not provide enough time for vehicles to make their journey, and this results in a variety of problems including irregular service.

In Part II, I turn to the actual time required for buses to make their journey on the route during the month of March 2012.

Updated March 20, 2013: In the comment thread, there was a question about whether different vehicles operating on this route showed any difference in travel times.  I have added a section to the end of the article to address this.  (The short answer is “no”.)

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