Service Reliability on 75 Sherbourne: September 2021

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

Overview

75 Sherbourne operates between Rosedale and Queens Quay. At the south end, it has an on street loop normally via Queens Quay, Jarvis and The Esplanade. At its north end, the loop reaches to the south end of the Glen Road bridge on South Drive.

For this analysis, the two screenlines used are located at:

  • Sherbourne just south of Bloor. This records the headways at the major subway connection point, Sherbourne Station.
  • Sherbourne just north of Front. This records headways north of the south-end loop.

The service design during September 2021 is shown below. From September 1st to 3rd, the line operated on a summer schedule with less frequent service during the peaks and midday.

Weekend evenings the route is interlined with 82 Rosedale on a 30 minute headway using two buses over the combined route.

In these headway charts, the vertical scale is extended from the 0-30 minute range used in past articles to 0-60 minutes so that all data points will be visible.

75 Sherbourne shows all of the problems seen on other routes including missing vehicles and bunching, and, in some periods, a lack of sufficient running time to provide for recovery from minor incidents enroute. Service is often unreliable.

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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 Service Changes: September 5, 2021

September 2021 will see expansion of TTC service in anticipation of returning demand including in-person learning at schools and universities. Many express bus routes will be improved or enhanced.

In a reversal of past practice, schedule adjustments for “on time performance” will actually reduce rather than add to travel times in recognition that buses do not need so long to get from “A” to “B”, and that they can provide better service running more often on their routes than sitting at terminals.

Full details of the schedule changes are in the spreadsheet linked below.

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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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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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