Analysis of 29 Dufferin for March 2012 — Part I: Headway Reliability

[Apologies to those of you who are pining for even more articles on the Queen car.  They will show up in due course.  I have been diverted onto Dufferin by recent events.]

Service on the 29 Dufferin bus has been a burning issue for decades.  Buses run in packs, they arrive full of passengers, and the advertised service bears little resemblance to what riders see  on the street.

Recently, this was the subject of an article in The Grid by David Topping.  In it, the TTC’s Brad Ross trots out many of the usual explanations of why service is unreliable.  In deference to Brad (who is really a nice guy), I don’t want to spend an article eviscerating his comments line by line.  I will leave readers to contemplate information in this and following articles and make up their minds.

What riders see is “headways”, the time between vehicles, as well as the degree of variation in that time.  If the TTC says a bus will appear every 5 minutes, and the service manages to achieve this, more or less, most of the time, then a rider will consider this “reliable”.  Even on a wider advertised headway, if buses appear at roughly the expected interval, riders know what to expect.

However, if the headways vary widely from the scheduled value, this makes a service unreliable and riders must, at a minimum, build in additional travel time to account for the possibility of a long wait.  Moreover, at the end of the wait, they may be faced with a jammed bus they cannot board.  There might be another one (or two) right behind, but that makes no difference to the length of the wait, and those buses might not be going to the rider’s destination.  Providing frequent service “on average” is not what riders want to see.

In this article, I will review the actual headways provided by the Dufferin bus at various locations during the month of March 2012.  Although this is technically “winter” (most of it), 2012 was a balmy year and the route operated without the kind of severe weather delays we have seen in 2013.

In future articles I will turn to running times and the effects of congestion on the route’s ability to maintain regular service.  I will also look at a few days’ operation in detail to see exactly what was going on.

The information used for this analysis comes from the TTC’s GPS-based vehicle tracking system which reports the position of every vehicle every 20 seconds allowing fine-grained resolution of movements at any location.

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If One Bus Is Good, Seven Must Be Better

Recently, I received a note from a reader about bunching on the 29 Dufferin bus.  This is one of two routes on which increased supervision has led, or so the TTC claims, to improved service (as discussed in my recent article about the Customer Service plan).

I’m wondering what TTC is doing to prevent bus bunching as this seems to be a big problem on many routes…

I wrote to TTC customer service but of course I didn’t hear back from them. I would be interested to know what measures are in place to space out the buses. It seems to me that buses are just rushing to get to the end of the line; they basically do not care if they have 2-3 buses traveling together or if the last buses have no passengers.

I took this video as an example, there are 7 buses passing Bloor stop in under 3 minutes … such a waste from TTC. Just imagine being the “lucky” one that just missed all 7 buses. How long they will need to wait for another bus?

The TTC talks a good line about service management, but a casual look at any of the routes where real-time monitoring is possible (through the open data interface to GPS vehicle data) routinely shows bunching even at 7am when there cannot possibly be “traffic congestion” effects.  Two basic questions about bunching emerge from all of the service reviews I have done:

  • Why are vehicles allowed to leave termini very close together rather than regularly spaced?
  • Why are vehicles entering service from yards or from short-turns not spaced between through runs so that even headways are provided?

This does not require millions in high technology to implement, only the will to manage the service, something the TTC once did regularly with no more than route Inspectors on the street.  With the tools now available for vehicle tracking, it should be much easier as all vehicle locations are available online.

I plan to review the Dufferin bus operations again in the Spring (my last review was published in January 2008) once the effects of winter weather are not a concern.

Short turns disrupt service near the ends of routes, and on Dufferin this can show up as poor service to Liberty Village thanks to turnbacks southbound at Dundas.  On King, short turns eastbound at Parliament and westbound at Roncesvalles deprive riders on Broadview and on Roncesvalles (which have demands to some degree independent of the route downtown) of service.

If the TTC is going to strive for having 99% of the service advertised actually on the street, it must also strive to have that service on the route, not sitting in a short turn, or running in a pack followed by a large gap.

Service Changes for November/December 2010 & January 2011

There are few changes in service planned for the remainder of 2010, but many improvements for January 2011.

Continuing riding increases on the TTC network will pose an early problem for the new Commission in that these service improvements are driven by loading standards.  If the Commission wishes to save money by reducing (worsening) the standard, then it will have to answer to riders for the effect this will have.  Service is the only thing that the TTC has to sell, and cutbacks, as we have seen before, are counterproductive.

Service on the 28A Davisville to Brick Works which operates only on Saturdays was planned to be dropped in October, but will continue operation through the winter to serve ongoing weekend activities at the Don Valley Brick Works.

Effective Sunday, November 21:

501 Queen: Weekend bus replacement from Dundas West Station to Long Branch will end, and streetcar service will resume 7 days/week west of Roncesvalles.

504 King Shuttle: The weekend shuttle service on Roncesvalles will revert to the weekday routing as through operation with the 501 shuttle will not be required.

49 Bloor West: Early morning service on Saturday will change from every 20 to every 24 minutes to improve reliability.  The average load will rise from 27 to 32 which remains below the service standard of 38.

145 Humber Bay Express: The Park Lawn short turn service will be extended to Mimico Avenue and Royal York to reach customers on Lake Shore west of Park Lawn.  There are no additional trips, but schedules will be adjusted to reflect the extra mileage and actual operating conditions on the route.

39 Finch East and 199 Finch Rocket: Early evening running times on weekdays will be increased to reflect actual operating conditions.

Standby buses scheduled at various divisions will be revised to reflect the additional need for service on weekends before Christmas.  Offsetting reductions will occur on weekday peak standbys.

165 Weston Road North: Seasonal service to Canada’s Wonderland ends.

Effective December 19, 2010:

504 King: Service will return to Roncesvalles Avenue.  The schedules to be operated are identical to those in effect in May 2009, and these will stay in effect until the January 2, 2011 schedule period when weekend service improvements that were made in September 2009 will also be included.

2010.12.19 King Service Comparison

Effective January 2, 2011:

Riding increases on many routes trigger additional service as shown in the table linked below.

2011.01.02 Service Changes

The Steeles East route will be extended into Morningside Heights.

2011.01.02 Steeles East Map

Service Changes Effective May 9, 2010

Construction diversions on several routes will begin or continue in May.

504 King and 508 Lake Shore: 

King cars will continue turning back at Roncesvalles and Queen, but will reach there via Shaw and Queen Streets.  Watermain construction which last year caused Roncesvalles to be torn up last year moves to King between Ronces and Jameson.

The 504 shuttle bus will be rerouted and extended to run between Shaw and Dundas West Station bothways via Roncesvalles looping via Strachan, Douro and Shaw.

No date has been set yet for resumption of streetcar service on Roncesvalles, but this is expected to be in the late fall.  The diversion via Queen and Shaw is expected to last to the end of August 2010.

502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road Tripper

The reconstruction of Bingham Loop, deferred from 2009, will occur this summer.  Buses will replace streetcars over both routes until mid-August.

Replacement bus services will loop via Victoria Park, Meadow and Blantyre to Kingston Road.  The peak service on both routes will be improved from 7’30” to 6’00”, but offpeak service on the 502 will remain at 20′.

22 Coxwell and 70 O’Connor

Reconstruction of the bus loop at Coxwell station requires the removal of all bus service.  Routes 22 and 70 will interline, and all of the “O’Connor” service will run through to Queen or to Victoria Park depending on the time of day.

Existing interlines between the O’Connor, Gerrard and McCowan routes will be discontinued during this period.

72 Pape

Construction at Pape Station requires that the Pape bus be rerouted to loop at Donlands Station.  Passengers transferring to this route from the subway at Pape will do so using on street stops.  This diversion will last until the end of 2010.

The seasonal extension to Cherry Beach will operate during the evenings Monday to Friday, and all day on weekends and holidays.  This will run until Labour Day.

512 St. Clair

The mixed streetcar and bus operation on St. Clair is expected to last until the latter part of June 2010 at which point the TTC hopes to restore streetcar service to Gunn’s Loop.

509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina

The seasonal fare collection scheme on Queen’s Quay will be in effect until Labour Day.  No fares will be collected eastbound on Queen’s Quay between Bathurst and Union Station on weekends after 3 pm, and there will be collectors stationed in the tunnel linking the Union Station Loop to the subway.

One PCC car will operate on the Harbourfront route on Sundays until September 5, 2010 between 1130 and 1930.  This will run as an extra, and will be subject to availability of both a car and an operator.

Seasonal Route Extensions

  • 72 Pape to Cherry Beach (see above)
  • 28 Davisville to the Brick Works
  • 29 Dufferin to Ontario Place (service south of Dufferin Loop will be split between the 29B Ontario Place and 29D Princes Gate branches)
  • 86 Scarborough to the Zoo
  • 85 Sheppard East to the Zoo
  • 510 Spadina King short turn extended to Queen’s Quay on weekends
  • 165 Weston Road North to Wonderland

Other Route Changes

  • 25 Don Mills service north of Steeles removed (York Region request)
  • 29 Dufferin trial service in Exhibition Place rerouted to operate via Manitoba Drive, Canada Drive, Princes’ Blvd., Nunavut Rd., and Nova Scotia Ave to Manitoba Drive.
  • 224 Victoria Park North service extended to Elgin Mills (York Region request)
  • 96B Wilson route changed via Claireville Drive
  • 96C Wilson service removed from Thistledown Blvd. early mornings and late evenings

Service Level Changes

Many route have new schedules starting on May 9 primarily for seasonal changes in demand.  The details are in a spreadsheet linked below.

2010.05 Service Changes

Service Changes Effective August 2, 2009

For mid summer, there are only a few schedule changes on the TTC network, and they take effect at the start of August running through to Labour Day weekend.

Changes for September are much more extensive, and I will deal with these in a separate post.

Bingham Loop Reconstruction

Due to the reconstruction of Bingham Loop, routes 502 Downtowner and 503 Kingston Road Tripper will be replaced by buses.  Combined streetcar service of 7’30” will be replaced by bus service of 6’00”.  The off-peak 20’00” headway is unchanged.

Diversions at Bingham Loop will change from time to time as construction progresses.  This also affects the 22A Coxwell, 12 Kingston Road, 322 Coxwell and 324 Victoria Park Night Buses.

Roncesvalles Reconstruction

Running times on the Roncesvalles shuttle bus will be increased at some times to compensate for actual start of construction and the diversion of southbound service via Dundas, Lansdowne and Queen.

501 Queen

The test of a modified step-back crewing operation will end, and normal crewing will resume on this route.

77 Swansea & 71 Runnymede

Running times on these interlined routes will be increased.  In the AM peak and midday, this will be done by reducing recovery times scheduled at terminals.  In the PM peak and evening, headways will be increased.  PM peak headways on the common section of the route will go from 10′ to 11′ with a change from 20′ to 22′ on the Runnymede branches.  A similar change will occur in the early evening, but at that time only half of the service runs south of Bloor.


Additional service will operate for the parade on Saturday, August 1 on 511 Bathurst, 509 Harbourfront and 29 Dufferin, as well as express buses from Keele, Dundas West and Lansdowne Stations.  The 329/316 night routes will divert around the CNE grounds as described in the next section.

Additional service on 509 Harbourfront, 510 Spadina and 6 Bay is also planned for the Sunday, August 2 events on Toronto Island.  Whether these will actually occur given that the civic strike has shut down the ferries remains to be seen.  All of the added service is operated “at the divisional level”, meaning that the work is easily cancelled or reassigned if the party ends up at a new location.

Canadian National Exhibition

Additional service will operate on all of the usual routes including 511 Bathurst, 509 Harbourfront, 193 Exhibition Rocket and 29 Dufferin.  Overnight service on interlined routes 329 Dufferin and 316 Ossington will not operate through the CNE grounds, but will connect via Fraser and Liberty.

Construction Season 2009 (Updated)

This morning, I took a ramble around the city to have a look at various projects affecting the streetcar system.  For those who don’t see all of the sights, here’s a roundup.

Updated 5:20 pm:  A link to a more recent design layout for St. Clair Phase 4 (west from Caledonia) has been added.

Updated 6:20 pm:  John F. Bromley provided a route history for the Roncesvalles Shuttle which I have added to this article.

St. Clair

The now-and-forever St. Clair project is beginning to look as if it might complete in our lifetime.  Eastward from Dufferin, new track is under construction, and the excavation is completed all the way to Oakwood.  Once this section is connected at both ends, there will be continuous track once more from Yonge to just west of Caledonia.  It’s a start.

Meanwhile, road and sidewalk construction is underway on the south side of St. Clair east of Winona, and Oakwood is less of a disaster area albeit not yet completely opened.  West of Caledonia, utility and sidewalk work progressed west from the Newmarket Subdivision bridge, and is further along on the north than the south side.

Some comments on other threads here suggest that the design will change the underpass between Old Weston Road and Keele.  Any proposal to widen the road here would certainly not be a quick project.  The plans shown in the EA involve no widening (see detailed layout part 1, page 2), nor is any shown in the February 2009 version (see pages 5 through 7).  If someone has other, definitive information, please let me know.


Work has just begun on watermain construction west of Bathurst Street.  This is supposed to end for September, but I will be astounded, given recent experiences with construction delays, if this happens.

All Carlton cars run to Dundas West Station, while the Dundas car goes to Bathurst Station, and a Dundas bus runs from Keele Station to Wolseley Loop.  Dundas streetcar service eastbound from Bathurst depends on how many cars actually reach Bathurst Station because short turns would miss the connection completely.


Overhead has been removed on Roncesvalles from Dundas to north of the carhouse except at the Howard Park crossing which now only has the east-west tangent wire for the eventual return of the Carlton car.

The streetcar track will be removed over the next two months to simplify watermain work, and will be replaced in 2010 on its new alignment as the street itself is rebuilt to the new design.  Considering that there has been streetcar service on Roncesvalles since 1908 (first a shuttle, then the Queen car, finally the King car), the absence of track and overhead will be a strange sight indeed.

Proposed changes at Queen and Roncesvalles are on hold, I believe, pending resolution of design issues including the eventual route of the Waterfront West LRT in this area.


Due to watermain and track construction, service on the Queen and Downtowner cars began diverting today as previously reported.  (For those who carp, with justification, about TTC signs, the diversion notice calls the route “Downtown” with a map showing the eastbound diversion running on Lombard, not Adelaide.)  This is expected to be in place for eight weeks.

Meanwhile, utility work west of Gladstone has reduced Queen to a single lane westbound through the underpass, and west from Noble (one west of Dufferin), construction occupies both curb lanes.

It will be interesting to see whether cars still take extended layovers at the ends of their trips, or simply short turn a lot.

Meanwhile, although the work is not visible from Queen, riders on the rail line above can see the considerable progress on the excavation of the new Dufferin Street approach from the north that will eliminate the jog at Queen for all traffic.  Just getting rid of the left turn queues in both directions should improve the streetcar and bus operations here.

History of the Roncesvalles Shuttle from John F. Bromley


Operational periods: 1908; 1909-1911; <1914-1921

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Analysis of Route 29 Dufferin — Part III: Link Times

In the previous post of this series, I looked at headways along the Dufferin route for December 2006.  Now, I will turn to the Link Times, the length of time taken to get from one point on the route to another.

If these times are well behaved, this indicates that the requirement for a bus to cover this particular section is predictable even though it may vary over the course of a day or by day of the week.  Random interruptions occur rarely and the schedule can reliably make assumptions about travel times.

If Link Times are spread out over a wide range of values, particularly for trips at similar times of the day, then something in this area is making travel unpredictable, likely some form of congestion. 

When we are considering the reliability of a service and how it might be improved, areas and times with widely varying link times are a good place to start looking.   Conversely, if link times for a route are generally well-behaved, then variations in headways have some other cause than random interference from traffic. Continue reading

Analysis of Route 29 Dufferin — Part II: Headways

In the previous post, I began my analysis of the 29 Dufferin route with a look at service on Christmas Day 2006.  Before turning to other specific days and their events, let’s look at the month overall as seen by the reliability of headways and link times at and between various points on the route.  This post presents the headway data, and in the next installment, you will see the link times.

The picture revealed by these data is not a happy one, although it will not surprise any regular user of the route.  Headways are a mess, especially in the evening.  The oft-cited “flexibility” of buses does not appear to yield service any more reliable than on the King car, and in some cases, the service is worse.  The fundamental problem is that very frequent services are left more or less to their own devices, and less frequent periods on such routes suffer from the effects of laissez-faire management.

Of particular note is the service on Sunday evenings, a period when classic TTC excuses about “traffic congestion” simply are not credible.  Headways are scattered over a range up to 20 minutes even though the schedule says 10. 

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Analysis of Route 29 Dufferin — Part I: Introduction

Early in 2007 when I started looking at the TTC’s vehicle monitoring (CIS) data, I thought to be finished with it long ago, to have blazed through many routes and written wonderful commentaries on all of them.  Things didn’t quite work out as I had planned, and I got bogged down with competing issues and other calls on my time.  Also, the programs that digest, massage, and otherwise render presentable the TTC’s data needed some housecleaning both to make them more robust and to reduce a lot of the manual work that went into the early analyses on 504 King.

Things are much simpler now, although the challenges of interpreting the data remain with each route offering its own peculiarities.  Now I turn to the Dufferin Bus, a frequent route for which the TTC receives many complaints about service.  How will it compare to routes we have seen already?

The route is 13.56km from Dufferin Loop to Wilson Station, although half of the scheduled peak service runs only to Tycos Drive about 3/4 of the way to the north end of the line.  This is in the same range as the Carlton and King cars, although they spend much more time in “downtown” conditions.  It is shorter than the 16.65km Queen-Humber route, and of course much shorter than the 24.43km Queen-Long Branch route.

The scheduled service is generally more frequent than on the streetcar lines, although with smaller vehicles so that headways are better for any level of demand scaled to capacity.

As I have done on previous routes, I will look first at the data for Christmas Day 2006 as this shows the route in its simplest state without any effects from traffic congestion, weather or heavy passenger loads. Continue reading