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.
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.
In a series of articles, I reviewed the quality of service on many bus routes during a period, the lull in traffic and demand during the pandemic, when it should have been relatively easy for the TTC to operate reliable service.
A consistent factor on almost every route was that buses are running in bunches with wide gaps between them. Those gaps translate to crowded buses followed by lightly-used ones, and riders rightly complain about long waits and an uncertain arrival of the next group of vehicles.
The TTC argues that service is not really that bad because they have a large number of unscheduled extras (aka “RAD” or “Run As Directed”) buses that do not show up in vehicle tracking records. Leaving aside the obvious need to track all service, not just the scheduled buses, this does not explain why buses run so close together so much of the time. These are tracked vehicles that have a schedule that should keep them apart.
Or so one might think.
TTC Service Standards include provisions for headway quality (the reliability of spacing between vehicles), but this is fairly generous, and it is never reported on as an official metric of service quality.
However, another problem is that on some routes, the service is actually scheduled to come at uneven headways. This arises from three issues:
Some routes with more than one branch have different frequencies on each branch. This makes it impossible to “blend” service with, for example, alternating “A” and “B” destinations.
In response to the pandemic, the TTC quickly adapted schedules by cancelling all express buses, and selectively cancelling individual runs as a “quick fix” to avoid complete schedule rewrites across the system. Where local trips were cancelled, this created gaps in the scheduled service.
On many routes, notably those that formerly had express service, the TTC scheduled “trippers” to supplement the basic service. However, these trippers were generally not scheduled on a blended basis leaving riders with scheduled, but erratic service.
In some cases, the September and October schedules corrected some of these problems, but many persist. This article looks at a number of routes where the summer (August) schedules had uneven headways to see what, if anything, has changed by mid-October. (The most recent set of schedules went into effect on October 11, 2020.)
All of the data presented here were taken from the TTC’s schedules as they are published in GTFS (General Transit File Specification) format for use by travel planning apps. This almost exactly matches information on the TTC’s online schedule pages.
This article continues a series reviewing the quality of service scheduled and operated over the COVID-19 era in summer 2020 that began with an introduction and continued with Part I looking primarily at Scarborough. Part II moves further west looking at north-south trunk routes between Victoria Park and Jane.
There is a pervasive problem across the network shown in these data. Because of the need to quickly implement new schedules in May and June, two actions were taken:
Selectively crews were cancelled to reduce the number of vehicles and drivers. This produced gaps in the scheduled service.
Trippers were scheduled on many routes starting on June 22 to replace the ad hoc operation of standby buses. These trippers are in service in two seven-hour long waves with a break from midday to the start of the PM peak. In most cases, the headways of the trippers do not blend with those of the regular service causing scheduled bunching and gaps.
The TTC could manage its service to smooth out the schedule problems on the fly, but the actual vehicle tracking data suggests that little of this happens. The result is that vehicles on many routes operate at erratic headways and therefore with uneven wait times and vehicle loads.
Moreover, the schedules have not been adjusted to smooth out their problems, possibly because the TTC expects to go to revised schedules sometime in the fall based on resumption of some demand such as school trips.
In two cases, Dufferin and Keele, articulated buses are supposed to be operating, but in practice the trippers, which might account for half of the service, use standard sized buses thereby reducing capacity and adding to crowding.
On June 17, 2020, the TTC Board will consider a proposal to implement transit priority lanes on several corridors including Finch East, Steeles West, Dufferin, Jane and Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside. This article reviews travel times and speeds for the Jane Street corridor comparing November 2011 and May 2020 data with the underlying premise that the May data show the best case for congestion-free operation.
The proposal for Jane Street run north from Eglinton to Steeles. Roadway widths and adjacent land uses vary along the corridor, and the removal of traffic lanes will have different effects along the street. A related problem will be the provision for cyclists, if any.
Note: When this article was first posted, some charts erroneously had some data labelled as “April 2018” rather than “November 2019”. This has been corrected.
Travel Times Between Eglinton and Steeles
As on Dufferin, but to a greater degree, Jane Street has a high PM peak travel time and an extended peak period. The difference between November 2019 and May 2020 is quite striking.
Looking at the weekly breakdowns, there is the same pattern here on Jane as on Dufferin – although May 2020 times are shorter than those for November 2011, they have been rising over the four weeks showing a growth in some combination of traffic congestion and stop service time.
The southbound peaks are similar to northbound and the PM peak extends over a considerable period.
The weekly breakdown shows the same pattern with growth in travel times through May 2020.