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:
- Red Lanes, Express Buses and Service Reliability in Scarborough
- A Dashboard for Scarborough Red Lanes
- Service Reliability on 35/935 Jane
- Service Reliability of 29/929 Dufferin
- Service Reliability of 60/960 Steeles West
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.Continue reading