One “benefit” of being cooped up at home more than usual is that I have a lot of time to devote to rummaging around in TTC data. This article begins a series that I am sure most people will not read in its entirety, but instead concentrate on routes of interest to them. I will not feel bad if you don’t read every word, and there is no test at the end.
A common complaint about TTC service in pre-covid days was that it was inadequate to demand and unreliable. Complaints like this go back decades, and one of my earlier advocacy projects was a review of streetcar service back in 1984 conducted jointly by the Streetcars for Toronto Committee, some members of Council and volunteers from local community groups.
The covid era brings its own challenges including reduced vehicle capacity for distancing, plus a scramble by the TTC to adjust service across the system on very short notice. On some routes, riders still complain about crowding and the inability to distance, and we are now in a period where higher load factors will be part of TTC service. The TTC neither has enough vehicles, nor enough revenue to operate a service with generous distances between riders as the demand slowly returns across the network. This build-up has been strongest on surface routes in the suburbs where work-from-home is not an option for many jobs, and where fewer trips can easily be taken by alternate modes such as walking or cycling. The TTC has reported riding on some routes at forty per cent of per-covid levels and growing.
Suburban routes pose a special problem because travel demand does not necessarily fit into the classic patterns of time and direction for core-oriented commutes, Service that is designed to get people downtown (or at least to the subway) does not necessarily serve other demands well. In “normal” times, this problem can be masked, but when core-bound and academic travel patterns are stripped away, the mismatch between suburban demand and capacity, especially allowing for distancing, becomes evident.
Service designs have evolved over past months.
Through January and February 2020, there were few changes to scheduled service, but by the March 29 schedule changes, the effects of covid were showing up across the city with much lower demand and reduced traffic congestion.
There were actually two versions of the March 29 schedules, and the big difference in the second was the disappearance of almost all premium and express services. This allowed the TTC to reduce total service in response to increased employee absence, and to redirect some of the express buses as unscheduled supplements to local service.
By the May 10 schedule changes, further cuts were implemented, although many were on an ad hoc basis to avoid complete rescheduling of routes. Instead of writing new schedules, selective crews were cancelled leaving gaps in service that were supposed to be managed on the fly by route supervisors. A separate pool of standby buses and crews was allocated to be dispatched as needed as the TTC learned where services were overstretched based on new loading standards.
The TTC did not issue a “Scheduled Service Summary” for May 2020 because of the number of ad hoc changes, but some of the planned schedules can be inferred from the June-August summary where effective dates for some schedules are in May.
These standby buses did not appear in the published schedules for routes nor on the vehicle tracking apps, and they may or may not show up in historical tracking data depending on how operators “signed on” to the system. For example, a bus running on 35 Jane has to sign on to a run that exists in the schedule to show up in NextBus (and all of the apps using the NextBus feed), and it must at least sign on to the route to have any hope of being tracked after the fact to analyze the service actually operated.
A further problem is that the TTC does not publish information about where these unscheduled buses are used. They have issued a list of routes that are monitored for overcrowding, but no information about specific actions on these or other routes.
300 Bloor-Danforth Blue Night
320 Yonge Blue Night
39 Finch East
44 Kipling South
52 Lawrence West – (Airport trips)
102 Markham Rd
165 Weston Rd North
(The list above might be adjusted based on TTC’s monitoring.)
Regular readers might recall a series of articles about the 70 O’Connor bus and its erratic service. The TTC claimed that there were run-as-directed buses added to the service, but these do not show up in the tracking data. One could ask why, after the expenditure of millions on a new vehicle monitoring system, the TTC is unable to demonstrate where they operate this type of supplementary service.
Finally, the June 21 changes returned some of the buses that had been cut in previous months to scheduled service, but on a different basis from the pre-covid arrangements. Instead of a roughly three-hour AM and PM peak period with added vehicles, the extra vehicles are scheduled for two seven-hour periods from the very early hours of the AM peak starting between 5 and 6 AM and running until noon to 1 PM. A second batch of extras enters service between 2 and 3 PM running until 9 to 10 PM. The affected routes are:
24 Victoria Park
34 Eglinton East
39 Finch East
52 Lawrence West
54 Lawrence East
102 Markham Road
165 Weston Road North
This has two effects on the routes where the extras are used:
One effect is that the headway (time between buses) for the block of extras is generally not the same as for the regular service. This can cause erratic headways and uneven loading. For example, if an 8 minute “A” service and a 10 minute “B” service are mixed on the same route, the pattern of departure times (minutes after the hour) could look like this. Sometimes the “B” service nicely splits the headway of the “A” service, but at others the two leave close together or at the same time.
This sort of thing is unavoidable when headways on any mixed service are not the same. However, the TTC has a six-minute window (from 1 minute early to 5 minutes late) for a bus to be considered on time. When the scheduled headways are in single digits, bunched service is inevitable even if the schedule does not have built in gaps and bunching. However, if the scheduled headways are wider, but uneven, this builds uneven service into a route’s operation.
The other effect is that there is a two-hour period between each set of “trippers” on the affected routes where headways are much wider than at other times, and this can be compounded by uneven headways for the vehicles that do remain over the bridge period.
The cancelled runs cause scheduled gaps where one or more buses are missing, but the times of adjacent runs have not been adjusted to compensate. It is not clear how much effort the TTC is putting into fixing this problem, and the generally uneven level of service can make it hard to distinguish this from other problems with headway reliability.
The situations are unique to each affected route, and I will go into the details in the route-by-route review.
A Note About Data Sources
All schedules for the TTC are available in GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification). The current version is on the City of Toronto Open Data site, but archived version for the TTC and many other transit systems are available on the transitfeeds site. These data contain the same information that is published on the TTC’s timetable pages, but in a format that lends itself to analysis and presentation.
Tracking data for TTC vehicles is archived by the TTC from two systems: the 30+ year old “CIS” (Communications and Information System) and its replacement “VISION” which has more extensive capabilities for line management. As of early July 2020, most of the surface fleet has been converted to VISION with only a portion of the streetcars remaining to be completed.
[The tracking data are not published for general access, but are available to me and others by arrangement with the TTC. The data sets are very large and require substantial reworking to permit analysis and presentation. For a general discussion of analyses with these data, please see Understanding TTC Service Analysis Charts: A Primer .]
In the articles to follow, I will divide the major routes into geographic groups. This is an arbitrary split both for reasons of size, and to allow readers to home in on specific routes of interest by area.
As an introduction, here is a review of route 54 Lawrence East.
The TTC will make several changes in its service on June 23. Many of these are the usual summer service reductions, but others will see changes for construction projects, to improve reliability on some routes, and to redeploy the streetcar fleet.
On 1 Yonge-University-Spadina, the dispatching of trains will change to increase the use of the north hostler track and exit from Wilson Yard (all days), and to restore the full capacity of Davisville Yard following expansion of the carhouse (weekdays).
On 2 Bloor-Danforth, a gap train will be dispatched from Greenwood or Keele Yard in the AM and PM peak as needed to fill service gaps. There will also be the usual summer service reduction on this line.
On both routes, crew procedures at Finch, Vaughan, Kipling and Kennedy will be changed to single step-back operation.
The 501 Queen car will be formally scheduled as a low-floor route entirely with new cars. In recognition of their larger capacity, headways will be widened somewhat, but not on the scale Toronto saw when the two-section ALRVs replaced the CLRVs on a 2:3 ratio with correspondingly wider headways. Although in theory the scheduled capacity remains the same, the actual capacity could fall because new larger cars have already been operating on the shorter CLRV headways. I will explore this in a separate article.
Night service will be improved on 301 Queen to reduce overnight storage needs with the large number of new cars now on the property together with remnants of the old fleet, and the partial closure of Roncesvalles Carhouse for reconstruction. This continues a change introduced on 304 King in May.
CLRVs will continue to operate on the Long Branch segment of the route. This is expected to change to low-floor operation in September. The peak period trippers that run through from Long Branch to/from downtown will be dropped, but will return in the September schedules.
The 511 Bathurst route will revert to streetcar operation. The exact mix of cars will depend on availability and day-to-day decisions about allocation. The service memo shows a small allocation of ALRVs to the route, but these could turn out to be Flexitys instead just as happened on 501 Queen. (Click to expand the table below.)
Leslie & Eglinton
For the summer months, Leslie Street will be closed at Eglinton, and a temporary loop will be created north of the intersection. This will be used by 51 Leslie and by some of the 54 Lawrence East service. Weekdays from 5:15 am to 9 pm, and weekends from 8 am to 7 pm, the Starspray and Orton Park branches will terminate at the Leslie/Eglinton loop, and there will be a separate service running from Eglinton Station to Lawrence East Station via Don Mills & Eglinton. Outside of these periods, the Starspray and Orton Park services will run to Eglinton Station via Don Mills, and a supplementary shuttle will run from Leslie/Eglinton to Lawrence/Don Mills as part of the 51 Leslie route.
All 51 Leslie service will terminate at Leslie/Eglinton.
The 954 Lawrence East Express is not affected.
Service on 34C Eglinton East to Flemingdon Park will be increased slightly to offset changes to 54 Lawrence East.
See the linked spreadsheet for details of the various routes, headways and hours of service.
Because of construction at Lawrence Station, part of the bus loop will be closed for paving and the 52/952 Lawrence services will loop via the east side of the station. Service on 124 Sunnybrook and 162 Lawrence-Donway will be extended west and north to Roe Loop on Avenue Road. Transfers between these routes will move to surface stops.
Construction at Wellesley Station will complete and the 94 Wellesley will return to its normal operation with its eastern branch terminating there rather than at Queen’s Park.
Royal York Station
Buses were planned to return to Royal York Station on May 24, but the schedules will not formally be revised until August. Interlining of 15 Evans with 48 Rathburn, and of 73 Royal York and 76 Royal York South, will continue until then.
Service on the 6B short turn at Bloor will be discontinued during the peak period and all buses will run north to Dupont.
All service will terminate at Dufferin Loop rather than at Princes Gates due to frequent summer events that make bus operation through Exhibition Place difficult.
Road Construction in Scarborough
Several routes will be affected by road construction projects.
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.
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.
The overnight “Blue Night” network will see many changes and additions this fall. These will be rolled out in two waves: first with the September/October schedules on Labour Day weekend, and the remainder with the October/November schedules at Thanksgiving.
This is part of a more extensive expansion of service beginning in September that relates to the Ten Minute Network, All Day Every Day service, and improved crowding standards on routes with frequent service. Those and other changes will be described in a separate article.
Here are maps of the network as it exists now, and with the two stages of additions:
Several of the routes will be renumbered so that the night services match the daytime routes except for the using “300” series. In the case of the King and Spadina night services, they will run, at least initially, with the daytime route numbers because there are no roll signs for “304 King” or “317 Spadina” in the CLRV/ALRV fleet. This problem will vanish as the routes convert to Flexity cars with programmable signs.
All services will operate on 30 minute headways.
This implementation is a work-in-progress, and Service Planning does not expect to turn to the question of timing points until the routes are in place. This is a vital piece of work for a network with wide headways where TTC performance stats show that headway (and, by implication, schedule) adherence is very weak. Riders of these routes should be able to depend on vehicles appearing at expected times and connections to work in a predictable way. This is as important a part of the new service as simply putting the buses and streetcars on the road. If service is not predictable in the middle of the night, riders cannot be expected to use it especially for trips that are time-sensitive such as early morning work shifts.
In the previous article of this series, I examined headways on the Lawrence East 54 bus route for the months of November 2011, March 2012 and May 2013. The data revealed a route where staying close to the scheduled headway is a matter of chance, and happens far less commonly than “reliable” service demands.
If running times are fairly consistent, then the time taken from point “A” to “B” is predictable and headway maintenance should simply be a matter of short holds for the faster operators and encouragement to speed up to the slow ones. However, the headways are uneven right from the termini of the route and from an intermediate point (Lawrence East Station) where re-spacing service to a regular headway could easily be done.
A related issue with schedule adherence is the question of running times. Is the underlying problem that operators cannot make the assigned times in the schedules and therefore have no choice but to run at whatever chance headway occurs? I have looked at this previously on Queen and on Dufferin where schedules are a problem for some, but not all, specific time periods.
Finally, there is always the issue of traffic congestion, the bane of surface operations and a mantra to which the TTC often resorts when people complain about service.
This is the first of a series of articles to review service on a number of routes both in the suburbs and downtown. There are three sets of data for November 2011, March 2012 and May 2013. The first two were selected to show the effect, if any, of service cuts implemented in February 2012. All three months had fairly benign weather and this would not have much effect on service. (The winter of 2011-12 was particularly balmy in Toronto.)
Our old friend the Queen car comes in for lots of abuse on this site and elsewhere that transit riders and critics (not necessarily the same group) congregate. For a change, I thought it would be interesting to review a very long bus route, 54 Lawrence East, to see what its service looked like.
Lawrence East is actually longer than Queen (Long Branch), although it operates at a higher speed overall. The express service has a substantially higher scheduled speed, but does not run on the congested inner section of the route.
54 Eglinton Station to Orton Park (between Markham Road and Morningside)
54A Eglinton Station to Starspray
54E Lawrence East Station to Starspray Express (peak only, express west of Markham Road)
Peak hour headways are shorter on Lawrence East than on Queen due in part to the size of the vehicles. Although Lawrence East has a 3’00” combined AM peak service, this is only actually available at the few stops between Lawrence East Station and Orton Park served by all three branches. Each of these operates on a 9’00” headway providing an average 4’30” headway over much of the route where only two of them are available.
During off-peak periods, half of the service operates to Orton Park and half to Starspray.
If we are to believe the common wisdom about transit routes, Lawrence East should have more reliable service because it operates in a relatively less constrained environment than the Queen car. In fact, actual service on Lawrence East suffers many of the same problems of bunching and uneven headways differing substantially from the advertised schedule.