Service Reliability on 70 O’Connor: September 2021

This article continues a series reviewing service quality on some of the TTC’s shorter routes.

Overview

The O’Connor bus runs north from Coxwell Station and branches into a lopsided Y-shaped route. One branch, the 70A/B, goes north via O’Connor to Eglinton while the other, 70C, goes to Warden Station via St. Clair. The Eglinton service loops north of Eglinton except late evenings weekdays and Sundays.

This service design was changed in October so that all Eglinton trips operate as 70A, and the 70B Eglinton Square turnback has been dropped. However, for this analysis, it was still operating. For that reason, the screenline for southbound headways on this branch is set south of the common point for both the 70A and 70B services.

Two years ago, I reported on severe problems with bunching on 70 O’Connor.

At its meeting of December 12, 2019, the TTC Board endorsed a motion by Commissioner/Councillor Bradford whose ward includes the O’Connor bus:

Notice of Motion – Review of 70 O’Connor Bus Route

TTC Board Decision

The TTC Board, at its meeting on December 12, 2019 adopted the following:

That the Board directs staff to investigate and report back by Q1/2020 on the 70 O’Connor bus route reliability, in response to Steve Munro’s published analysis on his website stevemunro.ca on November 20, 2019.

The pandemic lockdown intervened, and the requested report did not appear. However, schedules on the route were changed to improve running times and a chronic problem of bus bunching ceased to be a problem as charts in this article will show.

In place of bunching O’Conner’s major problem in 2021 is that buses are frequently missing from service. Because of the branched nature of the route with headways ranging from 18 to 30 minutes on each branch, the effect of a missing vehicle can be quite severe. With few buses on the route, adjusting service by changing the spacing of remaining vehicles is not an option. In many cases, only one bus remains on a branch.

When all of the scheduled vehicles are in service, headways and travel times are fairly consistent, and buses often have generous layovers (considering the length of a one way trip) at both terminals.

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Transit Service Reliability on Short Routes

A common theme in these pages is the TTC’s constant problem with providing reliable service. Many problematic routes lie outside of the core on long east-west routes that must deal with varying traffic conditions, the difficulties of blending branched services, and a faster return of demand and post-pandemic traffic levels than in the central area.

These are not excuses for poor service, but at least represent some of the challenges faced. This is not true for short routes primarily in the old City. For these routes, a trip between Eglinton and Lake Ontario is comparatively long, and some reach only a few kilometres from Line 2 Bloor-Danforth south.

They should be routes that run like a clock, but they suffer many problems seen on their longer cousins outside of the core. If the TTC cannot operate these reliably, how can we expect them to fare with behemoths like east-west routes on Lawrence or Finch, or routes from Line 2 north to Steeles and beyond?

This article is an introduction to a series that will examine service on:

A factor among many of these routes is that service is not particularly frequent. If there is a bus missing, or pack of buses running together (effectively the same thing), the gap is wide. The added waiting time (assuming a rider bothers) can be greater than the time they will spend riding from point “A” to “B” on the route. Waiting times hurt transit because riders see them as unproductive, and this can be compounded by uncertainty about the next bus’s arrival and capacity.

Here is an overview of service frequencies on these routes during selected periods. Some of these have 10 minute or better service during some periods, but many do not.

RouteAM PeakMiddayEveningSat AftSat EveSun AftSun Eve
22A Coxwell (Victoria Park)10′9’30”10′10′10′
22B Coxwell (Queen)8’20”8’20”
47A Lansdowne (South)4’45”9′6′8’30”10′9′10′
47B/C Lansdowne (North)9’30”18′12′17′20′18′20′
63A Ossington (Eglinton)9′7’30”8′7′10′8′10′
63B Ossington (S of St. Clair)4’30”
65 Parliament13′13′17′20′17′18′16′
70 O’Connor (South)10′11′13′13′11′11’30”15′
70 O’Connor (North)20′22′26′26′22′23′30′
72 Pape (on Pape)6′9’30”9′9′9′9′9′
72B Pape (to Union)19′19′18′18′18′18′18′
75 Sherbourne5’30”7’30”16′10′30′20′30′
94 Wellesley (East)7’30”7’30”8’30”6’30”9′6’15”9′
94 Wellesley (West)15′15′17′13′9′12’30”9′
Source: TTC Scheduled Service Summary for September 5, 2021

Common problems on these routes include:

  • Buses running in groups of two or more.
    • In some cases, pairs of buses run together over the course of two or more trips indicating that there is no effort made to evenly space service.
    • For branching services, buses on each branch do not blend evenly where the branches combine.
    • In the worst case situations, all of the vehicles on the route are running as a pack.
  • Buses missing from service, with the remaining buses not spaced to account for the gap. In some cases, a route is served by only one bus when there should be two or three.
    • Missing buses are most common during evening and weekend periods when spare operators are harder to come by, in part because many of the “run as directed” operators are used for subway replacement services. Because TTC has fewer operators than crews in some cases, there are open crews that are only filled if there is a spare operator available.

Although the TTC has standards defining what constitutes acceptable service, almost none of these address the problems listed above. That is because:

  • Buses can be running close together but still be “on time” according to the service standard.
  • There is no standard that addresses gaps and bunching explicitly.
  • There is a standard related to missed trips, but no statistics have ever been reported for it.
  • The standards accept a wide range of exceptions with a goal of achieving targets only 60% of the time. There is no reporting of the proportion of service lying outside the standard even if it would be within the target.
  • There is no co-relation of vehicle crowding with service reliability.

To put it quite bluntly, these so-called standards allow management to claim to operate the system to “Board approved” targets, even though the TTC Board members probably have no idea of just how lax these standards actually are.

In turn, when riders complain, they are often told that the service is operating within standards, and that where there are problems, “run as directed” buses are dispatched to fill the gaps. This is simply not possible because there are not enough RAD buses to fill all of the holes in the service. Moreover, the TTC does not track or report on the usage of these buses to establish that they really do provide the benefits claimed for them.

TTC management hopes to lure riders back to buses, but the single most common complaint is that more service is needed. Part of “more” service involves simply running what is already there better. There is no point in advertising frequent service if what is actually on the street is anything but.

When they were approved, there was a staff presentation that set out the standards but did not actually explain what they might allow. The Board nodded in approval of something technical that looked impressive, but was clearly beyond their ken. The old Razzle-Dazzle works every time.

TTC Bus Service Frequency and Reliability in 2020 (Part V)

This is the final set of route-level reviews of TTC service reliability within this series.

The routes discussed here serve parts of the central area and the old “inner” suburbs York and East York.

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Analysis of Route 70 O’Connor for November 2019

A month ago, I looked at the O’Connor bus as a particularly bad example of TTC line management and the huge difference between service actually provided on the street, the scheduled operation, and the official claims of service quality. On December 20, I tracked the route’s operation during the PM peak period when it was short vehicles, and those actually in service provided erratic service with large gaps.

The November 2019 tracking data came in a while ago, but I have been distracted by other issues, notably the TTC budgets, and a lot of holiday cheer. Riders of the O’Connor bus need a lot of cheer to get through what passes for service on that route.

Scheduled Service

The schedule for 70 O’Connor has not changed from October.

The route originates at Coxwell Station, and it has two branches splitting off at O’Connor and St. Clair. One heads east to Warden Station, and the other goes north to Eglinton. Scheduled service is the same on both branches at almost all periods of operation.

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An Example of Service on Route 70 O’Connor December 20, 2019

One month ago, I presented an analysis of 70 O’Connor in response to a tweet complaining about long waits. This tale began on a Saturday afternoon when all four of the buses on route 70 had congregated at Coxwell Station, then left in a pack, and all reappeared at the same time. This is the absolute nadir of line management.

The article and tweets touched a nerve with media coverage (finding disgruntled passengers at Coxwell Station was an easy task) and claims by the TTC that maybe I didn’t have all of the data. Although I have offered to incorporate any information they might have about using extras – Run as Directed “RAD”  or Construction Service buses (it really does not matter what they are called) – I am still waiting for any confirmation that my presentation was inaccurate. Complaints on Twitter continue to accumulate, and it is not hard to find a period when service on the route is badly bunched simply by looking at NextBus or a similar app.

This started off as a planned update with the November tracking data, but that will have to wait because what I watched unfold on NextBus was a perfect example of how things go wrong.

As I started to write this (just after four pm on December 20), there are five buses on the route all in spitting distance of O’Connor & St. Clair, two westbound and three eastbound. There are supposed to be six buses on the route. During the period I was watching, the sixth appeared late in the peak period at Eglinton Garage, and as I publish this at 5:50 pm, it is about to enter service southbound from Eglinton & Pharmacy.

Here is the service at 4:05 pm. Two of the eastbound buses, oddly enough 8643 and 8644, headed east to Warden Station. At about 4:18, 8644 headed off south on Warden (!) in a clear attempt to make an express trip back to Coxwell Station and space out the service. This was a brave attempt, but as we will see it didn’t quite work out.

[Click on any map in this article to view a larger version.]

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TTC Board Meeting: December 12, 2019

Updated November 8, 2021 to correct links to the new TTC website.

The TTC Board met on Thursday December 12, 2019 at 1 pm to discuss a variety of issues. Note that there is a special meeting on Monday, December 16, 2019 at 9:30 am to discuss the operating and capital budgets for 2020.

Items on the agenda include:

Also on the agenda was the 5 Year Service Plan & 10 Year Outlook which I have addressed in separate articles:

There is an update on the discussion at the meeting regarding this plan at the end of this article.

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Analysis of Route 70 O’Connor for October 2019

When I publish route analyses, they are usually of the heavyweights like the King and Queen streetcars, or major bus routes like those on Finch, Dufferin, Keele, or Don Mills.

Back on Saturday afternoon, October 5, 2019, I was watching my Twitter feed, and a message went by from someone complaining “where is my bus?” about 70 O’Connor. I looked at Nextbus and to my amazement, all four of the buses were running in a pack headed eastbound on O’Connor, and there was no service anywhere else on the route. I camped on to the route to see what would happen and this is how they evolved.

  • 3:55 pm: Four buses headed outward on the common section of the route on O’Connor
  • 4:00 pm: Two buses are headed east to Warden Station and two northeast to Eglinton
  • 4:33 pm: All four buses are southbound on Coxwell
  • 4:37 pm: All four buses are at Coxwell Station

To put this in context, here is the section from the TTC’s Scheduled Service Summary which describes the service as it should be on 70 O’Connor. (Click on the table to expand it.)

Before we go any further, there are a few important points here:

  • 70 O’Connor is not the most important route in the TTC’s system, but it serves Toronto East General Hospital and one would hope that this connection to the subway would be reliable. This route carried 7,745 riders per weekday in December 2016, the date of the most recent route-level statistics published by the TTC on Toronto’s “Open Data” site. This puts it in the same league as 6 Bay and higher than the express service to University of Toronto Scarborough.
  • When buses run together for an extended period with no visible effort to space out the service properly, this shows that nobody is “minding the store”. From a rider’s point of view, the long gaps in service are precisely why “TTC” means “Take The Car” when they cannot depend on service to show up. This theme was part of my recent exploration of the 41 Keele bus.
  • Service that operates this erratically will not attract customers, and even worse, a lot of the space in that pack of four buses was probably empty. When the TTC looks at vehicle loads, they do this on an average basis, and will see low utilization, a possible incentive for a service cut.

Making routes like this work properly (not to mention the really big routes that carry tens of thousands daily) is important. This is central to making transit service attractive.

On Saturday afternoon, there are four buses providing, in theory, a combined service every 11 minutes on the common portion of the route, and every 22 minutes on the branches.

After seeing this, I thought, well, maybe it’s an oddity, something must be wrong, and surely the TTC will sort things out. But just for interest, I added route 70 to my request for vehicle tracking data to see how it behaved for the rest of the month, including the parts of October 5 I had not been watching online. The results were not at all pretty, and I let loose a blast on Twitter about the appalling state of service. It struck a nerve and sparked the most activity I have seen on a Tweet of mine for quite some time. Riders, and not just on O’Connor, see bad service every day.

There is a problem with NextBus (the source of all vehicle tracking seen outside of the TTC) in that it only tracks scheduled runs. Applications that use a route-based data feed from NextBus will not “see” any extra unscheduled buses because NextBus does not follow them. However, they should still exist in the TTC’s source data somewhere. The data I use comes from the TTC, not from NextBus, and should at least show all vehicles that are “signed on” to the route, not just the scheduled buses. If an extra is not signed on to route 70, it will not show up in the data I receive for that route.

The TTC’s position is that I do not have the portion of the tracking data showing unscheduled extras (also known as “RADs” or “Run As Directed” buses) that were used to fill gaps on the route due to construction. My response is that this is as much a face saving stance than an examination of the details. It is one thing to have an extra filling in for extra running time caused by construction, but quite another to have all of the scheduled buses in the same place at the same time with no evident attempt to sort out the service. If the TTC does have records of where the extra(s) operated on O’Connor, I would be happy to receive them and blend them into my analysis. After all, the TTC should be doing the same thing itself already.

Here is what I found, at least for the buses reported in the data provided by the TTC.

Updated 5:56 pm November 20, 2019

The CBC posted a story on their site about this today.

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