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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Service Reliability of 60/960 Steeles West

This article continues a series reviewing operations on existing and proposed RapidTO red lanes reserved for transit vehicles.

Previous articles in the series:

Service on Steeles operates from Finch Station north on Yonge and West on Steeles with three branches:

  • 60A local service to Pioneer Village Station
  • Local service (via Pioneer Village Station both ways)
    • 60D to Highway 27 (daytime, Monday-Saturday)
    • 60B to Martin Grove (evenings and Sundays)
  • 960 express service to Pioneer Village Station (peak periods only)

The 960 Steeles West Express bus was originally known as the 60E, later the 960. It was discontinued in Spring 2020, and resumed operation in January 2021.

Weekend 60 Steeles West service was reduced on June 20, 2021.

This article deals with:

  • The change in travel times for the service between Steeles & Yonge and Pioneer Village Station (the portion of the route proposed for Rapid TO) from pre-pandemic traffic conditions and their evolution through the low point of demand and congestion in 2020 through to June 2021.
  • Travel times for service west of Pioneer Village Station.
  • The speed difference between local and express services.
  • The reliability of service.

The High Points

As on other routes in Toronto, there was a drop in travel times across much of the route concurrent with the pandemic and lockdowns in mid-2020. However, unlike other routes, this effect was short-lived on Steeles and particularly on the section west of Pioneer Village Station.

Extremely severe congestion affects this route as of June 2021, although the degree varies from day to day with wide differences in travel times on some segments. I plan to follow-up this situation with data through July and August in a future article.

For the most part, scheduled travel times on Steeles provide generous layovers at terminals, and most congestion effects can be absorbed by them (whether the excess is officially called “recovery time” or not).

Headway reliability on the 60/960 Steeles West service is spotty. For the local buses, bunching and gaps are common, and this occurred even during mid-2020 when traffic conditions were much less of an issue. Express buses are infrequent enough that they do not run as pairs, but there is still a wide range of headways compared to the scheduled service.

The situation west of Pioneer Village Station where schedules service is less frequent is particularly bad.

It is quite clear that if there is any active attempt to manage headways on Steeles West, it is largely ineffectual and riders suffer as a result. Uneven headways lead to uneven loads and the perception that most buses are crowded even when average demand might not bear this out.

There is a RapidTO proposal for the segment of Steeles West between Yonge and Pioneer Village Station. Although Yonge Street itself between Finch and Steeles is also a source of congestion, there is unlikely to be much improvement for transit priority here because of the planned subway extension and construction disruption. This will make a bad situation even worse, and the subway project should be designed to minimize loss of road capacity and/or to prioritize transit within whatever remains.

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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 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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60 Steeles West Travel Times

This article continues a series looking at the travel times on routes where bus lanes have been proposed to compare pre-covid “normal” conditions with those after traffic volumes were substantially reduced by the pandemic. The intent is to show what are probably the “best case” conditions for transit priority with relatively little traffic congestion to illustrate the locations and times when bus lanes would bring a saving, if any, on each route.

Reserved lanes are proposed for Steeles Avenue West between Yonge Street and Pioneer Village (aka Steeles West) Station. This stretch contains segments that are badly congested and not just in the peak periods. However, the remainder of the route west of Pioneer Village Station and on Yonge south to Finch also have severe congestion which this proposal does not address.

Yonge from Steeles south to Cummer has “diamond” HOV lanes marked with paint and signs, but travel times are very slow suggesting that these are more decorative than serving to actually marshall traffic. This is a cautionary tale for those who think that physical lane reservation to achieve true priority is excessive. Buses also face the need to make left turns northbound at Steeles and southbound at Finch Station.

West of Pioneer Village Station, the service level is much lower than to the east and the route will continue to operate in mixed traffic. However, this is also an area of severe congestion, and I have included a review of the western segment here for those who are interested. Steeles is a good example of the fact that “congestion” is not just a downtown phenomenon, and given the growth patterns and transportation plans of the suburbs, it is unlikely to disappear.

Steeles Avenue has split jurisdiction between York Region and Toronto, and any change in lane usage or street geometry requires agreement by both of them. During the debate at Toronto’s Executive Committee, one member suggested that York Region might be asked to contribute to the cost of implementing bus lanes on Steeles because their services would benefit. This idea did not find its way into the approved motions. That is just as well considering the infrequent service on almost all YRT routes operating on portions of this section of Steeles, and the limited savings bus lanes would bring to them. (There are no VIVA services here.)

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Analysis of Service on 60 Steeles West Part II: Travel Times

In the first section of this article, I reviewed the headways on 60 Steeles West which, to be charitable, are not particularly reliable, especially west of Pioneer Village Station.

In this article, I turn to travel times along the route and how they vary by time of day. The chart formats here are similar to those in the first article, with one change: the charts breaking data into quartiles have been changed so that each quartile has its own colour making them stand out better.

As with the headway data, the behaviour of the route is broken by timepoints or screenlines along the route. Where the headway charts showed the intervals between buses passing a timepoint, the travel time charts show the time taken between these points, organized by time of day so that the rise and fall is clearly seen.

Here are the charts for westbound travel from Finch Station in April 2018. The first page shows the route between Finch and Pioneer Village Stations. It is no surprise that the biggest peak period effect falls in the afternoon for westbound travel.

The first section of the chart below shows the time taken at Pioneer Village Station by buses that are continuing through to the west. The segments from Jane to Weston Road, and from Weston Road to Islington also show the effect of PM peak congestion.

Worth noting is that some of the peaks are fairly broad with longer travel times showing up well before the “peak” hour in the early afternoon. This means that any move to provide better transit priority must address a wider period than an hour or two traditionally thought of as the “peak”.

This chart shows the last segment from Kipling to the east side of the loop west of Highway 427 via Signal Hill and Steinway. Note that Steinway is the eastern limit of the on-street loop, and times are measured just east of this location so that terminal layovers are not included in travel times. There is no evening service here.

The route’s behaviour eastbound in a few ways notably that there is less of a peak effect in the AM eastbound direction that in the PM. However, from Kipling to Islington there is a marked rise in travel times for both AM and PM peaks.

 

The full sets of charts are linked below.

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Analysis of Service on 60 Steeles West Part I: Headways

This article begins a series of reviews of major bus routes in suburban Toronto based on vehicle tracking data from October 2017 (before the subway extension to Vaughan opened) and April 2018. It includes charts showing the behaviour of headways (the times between buses) and travel times in a way that consolidates more information in an overview of how these values change by time (through the day) and along the route.

Many thanks to readers who contributed to the discussion of improvements in how these data are presented. For those interested in the underlying methodology of digesting the TTC data, please refer to this article.

Data for fall 2018 operations are not available because the TTC is in the process of shifting their vehicle tracking to a new system (“VISION”) and do not yet have a data extract tool to provide the kind of archival data I have been using for these analyses. Discussions about how this will be done, including the possibility of an Open Data Portal, are in progress. Buses which have converted to the new system do not appear in the data I receive from the old “CIS” system.

This article deals with headways, the time between vehicles. In Part II I will turn to travel times.

Headways and Service Reliability

A major issue for transit riders is the dependability of service. On most routes, the scheduled frequency is good enough that “on time” is a meaningless concept, but regular spacing between vehicles will guarantee that the typical wait is fairly short and predictable. If service is supposed to be 10 minutes or better, but just missing a bus could cost someone a 20 minute wait, for that rider the concept of a frequent service network rings hollow.

For its part, the TTC only measures service quality at the ends of routes, and then only against the schedule on the premise that if vehicles are on time, regular spacing will take care of itself. This simplistic view ignores the real world of transit operations and presents a rosy picture of service compared to actual experience.

For reference, here are the scheduled levels of service on 60 Steeles West during the months covered by this article [click to enlarge]. Both before and after the opening of Pioneer Village Station on the north side of the York University campus, the route operated with three branches:

  • a local service from Finch Station to York U/Pioneer Village
  • a local service from Finch Station to Highway 27
  • an express service from Finch Station to York U/Pioneer Village (peak periods only)

The level of service during peak periods on each of these is almost identical before and after the subway extension opened.

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