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

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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