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Bigger Buses May Mean Less Service

The TTC is bringing extra-large articulated buses to Toronto's streets, but will they actually improve the riding experience?

A Nova Artic bus. Photo courtesy of Nova Bus.

Yesterday, we looked at the service implications of new, longer streetcars. Shortly after that post was published, at a meeting of the TTC’s board, TTC staff gave a presentation on the anticipated impact of 153 new Nova LFS Artic articulated buses, which have two sections instead of one. As with the new streetcars, it’s expected that these longer buses will result in less frequent service.

The primary reason the TTC wants to buy larger buses is that more passengers can be carried by each driver, which saves money. The new buses (the first 27 of which are expected to arrive this year) are 50 per cent longer than the current ones, and the TTC expects each one to handle 77 passengers on average during peak periods, compared to 50 to 53 on the existing fleet—a 45 per cent increase. Outside of peak periods, the TTC plans to gain 35 per cent with the new buses.

If the TTC only puts enough articulated buses on each route to accommodate existing demand, staff expect to save $9 million annually.

As a sweetener, management suggests that these savings could be used to:

  • Improve the loading standards on routes to reduce crowding (effectively returning to the Ridership Growth Strategy levels abandoned to budget pressure in 2012), or
  • implement a network of frequent-service routes, or
  • implement express services, or
  • reduce the TTC’s reliance on the City for budget help.

The proposals for a core frequent network, or for express routes, come from the TTC’s 2008 Transit City Bus Plan [PDF].

Although CEO Andy Byford, speaking of the new, larger streetcars to the National Post, cited the need for more capacity, this message has not sunk in for bus-route planners. Wednesday’s presentation flagged many routes being considered for articulated-bus service as locations of “significant recent growth,” but there are no plans to increase capacity where it is needed.

Here’s a table, taken from Wednesday’s staff presentation:

20130328ArticBusesMunroRouteRiders

Peak service levels proposed for these routes are, in terms of the number of passengers carried, roughly the same as service provided today, but buses would come less often.

20130328ArticBusesMunroRouteService

Wait times will go up in off-peak periods too, with buses arriving about one-third less often than they do today.

Management is making a novel claim: that running fewer vehicles, farther apart, will actually improve service reliability because there will be less bunching. Tell that to people waiting for buses during evenings and weekends when service already runs farther apart than in the rush hour. By the TTC’s thesis, periods with wider headways should have the most reliable service, but that is not true, as any bus rider knows. Annoying problems with erratic peak service become intolerable when fewer buses are scheduled on major routes, like the 29 Dufferin route.

What is the TTC’s real intent for its new, larger buses and streetcars? Is it all about driver “productivity,” and will the only effect be to make waiting for a bus, already an unsavoury part of any trip, even more unpleasant?

TTC commissioners and city council must address transit funding, capacity, and service quality. If the only strategy is to cut costs, riders face a bleak future at a time when the City should be working to make transit more attractive.

Tables courtesy of the TTC.

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