The Problem of Scheduled Service Irregularity

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.

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BRT Lite Comes to Scarborough

Updated October 12, 2020 at 6:20 am: Travel time charts originally published with this article included data for April 2018 for Saturdays as well as weekdays causing a dip in values at the end of that month. The charts have been corrected.

With the gradual appearance of red pavement, a reserved lane for buses is appearing on Eglinton Avenue East, along Kingston Road to Morningside, and up Morningside to Ellesmere. This lane has no physical constraints on use by other vehicles and therefore is not really a full BRT implementation, but rather “BRT-Lite”.

Like so much recently in our town, it has acquired a moniker “RapidTO”. I will leave it to readers to concoct a name for the really rapid service provided by the subway.

For reference, here is a portion of the TTC route map showing the affected area (click to enlarge).

Four routes leave Kennedy Station:

  • 86 Scarborough local buses
  • 116 Morningside local buses
  • 905 Eglinton East express buses
  • 986 Scarborough express buses

The reserved lane begins at Brimley and then continues along Kingston Road. At Guildwood, the 116 Morningside route splits off, but the other services continue on reserved lanes.

At Morningside, the reserved lanes turn north along with the 905 Eglinton East Express buses and the 116 Morningside locals which have come up from Guildwood. The various 86 and 986 Scarborough service continue east and north to their destinations without a reserved lane.

The reserved lanes end at Ellesmere near the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC).

The lanes on Kingston Road and Morningside will also be used by the 12D service from Victoria Park Station to UTSC, but this is a peak-only operation that I have omitted from this discussion because it is so infrequent (roughly two buses per hour).

This has been announced with much fanfare, but it will be important to track what actually happens with service in this corridor. The TTC has an uncertain attitude to the benefits of reserved lanes, and this goes back years to (at least) the St. Clair right-of-way project.

Reserved lanes can reduce travel times by keeping motorists out of the way assuming, of course, that someone makes the effort to keep the bus lanes clear. The TTC uses this saving in two different ways:

  • Running the same number of buses on a shorter scheduled trip time means that more frequent service and capacity can be provided at no extra cost. This is the approach taken with route 116 Morningside.
  • Keeping headways (the time between buses) the same but reducing the trip time allows a route to be served with fewer vehicles while maintaining but not improving service. This is the tactic used for 86 Scarborough, offset by express service on the 986.

Over the years, there have been many service reductions on the TTC through the reverse of the second point above. Traffic congestion might become a problem, and TTC management wants to guarantee that fewer or no buses are short-turned. To achieve this, travel times are increased so almost all buses will arrive on time or early at terminals with a generous provision of recovery time before their next trip.

This has usually been implemented by running buses less often so that the trip time can be longer. The downside, however, is that scheduled service is reduced and this becomes a “new norm”. Service increases to deal with capacity problems are often held hostage to budget limitations.

Two other changes will happen on the Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside corridor concurrently with the new bus lanes (effective Sunday, October 11):

  • The 905 Eglinton East and 986 Scarborough express buses will resume to operation
  • Some stops will be moved or consolidated.

The service to be provided on the express routes is comparable to that provided in March 2020 before much of the express network shut down in response to the pandemic. This will substantially increase service for those who travel between express stops.

Express service stops:

  • Eastbound 905 buses stop only at Kennedy Station, Midland Avenue, Brimley Road, McCowan Road, Bellamy Road, Markham Road, Kingston Road and Eglinton Avenue East, Guildwood GO Station, Galloway Road, Lawrence Avenue, Morningside Avenue and Kingston Road, Ellesmere Road, Ellesmere Road and Military Trail, University of Toronto at Scarborough Loop.
  • Westbound 905 buses stop only at University of Toronto at Scarborough Loop, Military Trail and Pan Am Drive, Morningside Avenue and Ellesmere Road, Kingston Road, Kingston Road and Lawrence Avenue, Galloway Road, Guildwood GO Station, Eglinton Avenue, Eglinton Avenue East and Markham Road, Bellamy Road, McCowan Road, Brimley Road, Midland Avenue, Kennedy Station.
  • Eastbound 986 buses operate express from Kennedy Station to Celeste Drive (Guildwood GO Station), stopping only at Markham Road and Celeste Drive; 986 buses then operate local from Celeste Drive to Meadowvale Loop.
  • Westbound 986 buses operate local from Meadowvale Loop to Celeste Drive (Guildwood GO Station); 986 buses then operate express from Celeste Drive to Kennedy Station, stopping only at Markham Road and Kennedy Station.
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The TTC 2021 Service Plan

The TTC Service Plan for 2021 is still in draft, but the TTC wants public feedback on their proposals. The deadline for comments is October 9, 2020.

See:

In earlier stages of public participation, the focus was on implementation of the RapidTO bus lanes, notably the one on Eglinton-Kingston-Morningside that has just been installed.

Now the TTC has added material about other proposals and there is a 24-minute video overview on the presentation page linked above.

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

The four east-west corridors detailed in this article share a common characteristic in their schedule changes between the pre-covid winter schedules and the spring-summer versions. The only change has been to remove the 9xx express service without any update to the underlying local services.

In some cases, this represents a substantial cut in the total service provided on portions of the route where roughly half of the “winter” service operated as express trips. Some of these cuts are substantially greater than the TTC’s oft-cited 80-85% level of pre-covid service, and this illustrates an ongoing problem with reporting stats on an average basis that hides the fine detail.

These are long routes where service might not even be well-spaced leaving the terminals, and headways become much worse along the way. The problems cannot be attributed to “congestion” in times of relatively light traffic, and there is clearly no attempt at headway management. In turn, the uneven headways cause crowding well beyond what all-day averages might suggest.

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King-Queen-Roncesvalles Update September 2020

The City of Toronto has issued an update for the project at the intersection of King, Queen, Roncesvalles and The Queensway.

This is a complex piece of work with many components that will stretch into 2022 including:

  • Reconstruction of the bridge over Parkside Drive on The Queensway
  • Extension of the streetcar right-of-way east from its current end east of Parkside to Roncesvalles together with provision for left turns across the right-of-way at Glendale and at Sunnyside
  • Reconfiguration of the KQQR intersection (see my article from April 2020 for diagrams of the planned changes)
  • Replacement of old water main and sewer infrastructure
  • Replacement of TTC overhead (this will make the wiring in this area pantograph compliant)
  • Reconstruction of streetcar track
  • Reconfiguration of Roncesvalles Avenue from Queen to Harvard (just north of the North Gate to the carhouse) with cycling lanes and transit platforms matching the section done several years ago from Harvard to Dundas
  • Revision to the existing loading islands on Roncesvalles for compatibility with the boarding ramps on the news streetcars

The construction will begin on September 8, 2020 on the underside of the Parkside Drive bridge. This will only have a minor effect on transit service, and the only change to the 501 Queen service is that it will not stop at Parkside during September and October.

2021 will see the main construction work on Queen and The Queensway beginning in February and extending to into 2022 as shown in the staging map below.

Stage 1 from February to July 2021 will affect the curb lanes of The Queensway as well as water main, track and overhead work extending east to Triller Ave.

Stage 2 from July 2021 to April 2022 will affect the middle lanes of The Queensway and King Street south of the intersection.

Stage 3 from April to August 2022 will affect Roncesvalles Avenue.

See the construction notice linked above for details.

There is no word yet on the TTC’s arrangements for service or what the interim configurations of routes will look like. Continued access to Roncesvalles Carhouse via the North Gate will remain available until the planned work in 2022 at which point all access will have to shift to the south gate during construction between Queen and Harvard.

However, there will be periods where the KQQR intersection is impassible in both directions while it is reconfigured and rebuilt. This will require Queen and King services to turn back somewhere further east TBA with bus replacements.

It is not clear whether there will be a period in fall-winter 2021-22 when streetcar service can be restored west of the carhouse. I will pursue details of the project staging with the City and TTC.

The City plans to have a project website available, but it is not up as I write this article on the evening of September 4.

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

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 and Part II moving further west looking at north-south trunk routes between Victoria Park and Jane.

In this article, I continue further west to review these routes:

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

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.

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TTC Service Changes Effective September 6, 2020

The TTC is making official changes to few routes in September 2020, and the lion’s share of additions will use standby vehicles to supplement scheduled services where needed. The effect of the reopening of schools on transit demand is not yet known, and the TTC will respond as ridership builds up. Further details will be announced in late August once the plans and requirements of the two major school boards are known.

The following routes remain suspended until further notice:

  • 140 series Downtown Premium Express routes
  • 900 series Express routes except for 900 Airport, 913 Progress and 927 Highway 27
  • 176 Mimico GO and 508 Lake Shore
  • Weekday daytime service on Kingston Road will continue to be provided by the consolidated 502/503 as streetcar route 503 Kingston Road to Spadina and King.

Construction at Runnymede Station has progressed to the point where the interline between 71 Runnymede and 77 Swansea is no longer required, and both routes will loop into the station.

Construction at Keele Station continues, but the 41 Keele service will now loop at the recently rebuilt High Park Loop.

Construction at Eglinton West Station for the Crosstown LRT was originally expected to finish by September, but this date has been pushed back to early October due to COVID-related delays to the project.

Track construction on Bathurst from south of Dundas to Wolseley Loop (north of Queen) will require buses to divert via Dundas, Spadina and Queen for about three weeks starting in late September.

Track and road construction on Dundas Street West will require the following changes:

  • 506/306 Carlton buses will divert to Dundas West Station via Lansdowne and Bloor.
  • 505 Dundas streetcars will turn back at College Loop (Lansdowne, College, Dundas) during the first part of construction work at Howard Park and Dundas.
  • When construction begins on the track and intersection of College and Dundas, the 505 Dundas streetcars will turn back via Lansdowne, College and Ossington.

The 505 and 506 services will return to their normal routings to Dundas West Station and High Park Loop respectively late in 2020.

The 506/306 Carlton service will resume partial streetcar operation in January 2021 when track and overhead upgrades in the west end are completed. Bus service on the east end of the route will continue until May 2021, tentatively, pending overhead upgrades and completion of construction at Main Station. Where, exactly, the “east end” will begin has not yet been decided.

The bus loop routing at Centennial College for 102 Markham Road and 134 Progress will be changed as shown in the map below. A similar change will occur on 902 Markham Road Express when that route resumes operation (date TBA).

Keele Yard will re-open following track repairs and Line 2 trains will be dispatched from that yard. There is no change in service levels on the subway/RT network.

Seasonal services to Bluffer’s Park (175), Ontario Place and Cherry Beach (121) will continue until Thanksgiving weekend.

These and other changes are detailed in the table linked below.

The memo detailing these changes also includes a table of actual vs budgeted operations, and this shows the overall degree to which service has been reduced due to COVID-19. The percentage drop in the summer months is lower because the budget already included provision for the usual reductions over that period.

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

This article continues a review of TTC bus route service that began with an introduction that included 54 Lawrence East as a sample.

Routes in this article:

Lest anyone think that these routes were “cherry picked” as particularly bad examples of service, no, they simply happen to be busy routes I chose to examine. The problems illustrated here are pervasive on the TTC’s system as future articles in the series will show.

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