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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:


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.


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.


  • SteelesAvenue

    If ridership grows by a third, and it has been growing a lot lately, then it will be the same as now except the buses and streetcars will be able to pick everyone up, and not leave people behind like how they do on Finch every day:

    • Mark

      No, it will be worse, because this plan does not leave room for growth. They want to run 2 artics for 3 buses (simplifying). If they were replacing reg. buses one for one then there would be more room for growth. But not in the plan proposed by TTC management.

  • Testu

    I love that they report the headway as if it were an actual representation of the service. If the reported headway has any relationship with reality, it is at best an average.

    Until the TTC can get the vehicle operators to actually follow the posted departure schedule at either end of the lines and keep them from racing from stop to stop in the middle of the route the reported headways are absolutely useless and we will continue to see both bunching mid-route and massive service gaps.

    • SteelesAvenue

      I prefer that they go as fast as they can, though. when they stop mid-route to get ‘back on schedule’ it makes me want to pull my hair out. they do that a lot in Mississauga and it is probably one of the reasons for such pathetic ridership numbers. the key is just to add more vehicles so that you dont have to know the schedule, you just walk out to the street and catch one. Most major road routes are already like that.

  • Walter Lis

    Wonder if complaints due to loss of parking (bus stops) or construction needed at bus bays (subway destination),so the longer buses would fit, will appear in the media? Wonder if they’ll get the same treatment as the new longer streetcars are getting in the media?

  • Joe

    If the only reason they are purchasing these longer buses and streetcars is to reduce the frequency of the service and not increase capacity and service then it’s all for nothing! How disappointing! People only ride transit if it’s reliable, frequent and quick.
    Does the TTC/city actually want to increase ridership and get more people out of their cars?

  • Jack Phelan

    Larger buses also tend to be slower, given their poorer acceleration and difficulty merging back into traffic after stopping. It also means that stops which used to be able to handle 2 buses at once will no longer be able to do so. You try putting two of these on the northbound platform at Dufferin Station.

  • Lee Zamparo

    “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.”

    @stevemunro: This should be easily testable with your access to TTC data.

    problems with erratic peak service become intolerable when fewer buses
    are scheduled on major routes, like the 29 Dufferin route.”


    • Steve Munro

      I have already published articles re Finch West and Dufferin showing exactly this behaviour. I didn’t want to clutter this article with references to that work. It is a general problem on almost all routes I have looked at.

      • Lee Zamparo

        Good to know, thanks Steve.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    OC Transpo in Ottawa has had giant articulated buses for over 20 years, do they have this problem?

  • scottld

    Steve these two posts of yours are depressing. It is all about reducing the salary cost to the TTC and not about service or capacity. How about the province and the federal government get back into the day to day funding of the transit business?

    • dsmithhfx

      The Harper Government of Canada is committed to buying the fasted transit available: the F-35!

    • Steve Munro

      What is depressing is that during a period when almost every word out of the TTC is “customer service”, the most important part of this — actual on the street service quality — is left a victim of budget cuts.

      • Roger B

        Steve sit down for this one, but I’m guessing that a few clean subway bathrooms and the odd public apology are a tad cheaper than purchasing the extra vehicles, storage & drivers needed to improve service to deal with current and future riders.

        Chopped budgets mean more sizzle, less steak.

  • iSkyscraper

    Why is this news now? People like me have been screaming about this for years, based on these exact same experiences in New York City (where yes, headway was increased on busy crosstown routes that switched to articulateds.) The photo above is actually from New York.

    However, the increase can be mitigated by more reliable service, as others have pointed out. This is entirely dependent on:

    - off vehicle payment – TTC does not seem to be doing this as New York did on some SelectBus routes

    - tracking – NextBus, apps, countdown clocks can help riders not wait at the stop until the bus is nearby. TTC gets partial marks here.

    - four doors per vehicle – TTC did not do this in the model they chose. Mistake.

    - stops after the light – TTC does not do this with bus stops

    - cutting the number of stops – good luck with that one!

    I love the TTC. I hate how they operate in a vaccuum. Other agencies have been through this, LEARN FROM THEM!

  • lysbev

    Well in Ottawa longer buses get stuck in snowbanks during the winter. I don’t see that being a problem for Toronto. If bigger busses mean less busses. I don’t see that as a good thing at all!

  • rich1299

    I know short turns are supposed to help with bunching but the short turns often don’t make any sense. About a month ago on quite a cold evening at about 2:30am the Queen westbound streetcar I was on got short turned at Humber, I was annoyed to say the least since I waited almost 30 minutes just to get on that streetcar at Yonge & Queen, when I went to check when the next one would come I became extremely pissed off since there wasn’t another one for 40 minutes, then another just 2 minutes after that one! How does such bunching even occur at 2:30am? Why on earth would they short turn a streetcar at that time of night when the next two were 40 minutes or more away? There was at least 30-40 people on that streetcar when it short turned at Humber ao its not like it was empty. That would’ve meant there was at the very least no westbound streetcar service in south Etobicoke for 70 minutes if not more. I can regularly walk from Islington to Long Branch loop along Lake Shore without ever seeing a westbound streetcar even around 8pm or so.

    It would’ve made some sense if the streetcar I was on continued to Long Branch and the one in the middle got short turned, at least those on the middle streetcar would’ve only had a 2 minute or so wait instead of at least a 40 minute wait. Even if it had short turned at Kipling instead at least those going to Long Branch could walk there before the next streetcar arrived.

    The TTC really needs to return at least 1 or 2 streetcars to just serving the area between Humber loop, or even the Roncy loop, and Long Branch loop so those of us in south Etobicoke would at least get a bare minimum of reliable service. I’d love to be able to take the TTC more often, especially in winter along Lake Shore but far too often its just faster to walk than wait 40 minutes for 2 streetcars in the evenings. Its no wonder ridership is fairly low on that stretch since the service is so terrible. People complaining about having to wait 10-20 minutes in the city core have no idea how much worse it is outside of the core and there are still quite a few people travelling by streetcar out these ways.

  • Susan

    I can’t even compile all of the issues with this. It’s overwhelming. Irritating. Close-minded. I ache.

  • Dennis Huffman

    We already have these type busses in Orange Couty CA and they are mostly empty except during rush hour times in the morning and afternoon it’s not cost effective and they had to lay off (fire) bus drivers because of the nonuse and overpayment of the drivers, I heard they layed off 400+ drivers and parked the busses that were not being used,

    • Dennis Huffman

      They recently raised the price in OC to $2.00 per bus ride when most of the buses run on natural gas but it was a ploy to put more money in the coffers for a fast speed rail system that just got cancelled so where is all the money going to? The drivers tell me that it’s not going into thier pockets because the unions own the bus drivers. It’s hard to get a job when the unions are in control.

    • lala

      That’s nice. Toronto isn’t the OC. No one is interested in irrelevant anecdotes.

  • Dennis Huffman

    Those busses cost over or around $80,000 to over $100,000 dollars apiece to buy and then there are the maintenance and fuel costs but with natural gas it’s cheaper. But it still costs boucou bucks to run them EMPTY.

  • treptower

    Montreal has over 250 of these and they didn’t reduce service – they replaced regular buses one for one while running the same or increased frequency. Running fewer, bigger buses will only result in longer waits for the same level of overcrowding. Typical half-assed Toronto non-solution.

  • brian

    Oh my god. People may have to wait an extra 2-3 minutes for a bus. Oh whatever shall we do? I actually do agree that less buses means less chance to bunch up which in turn means less need to short turn buses, so when you look at that it actually means in some areas you will see a gain in services by not having buses short turn all the time

    • Neville Ross

      Although I hate these buses with the intensity of a thousand burning suns and would rather see the routes they’ll be used in replaced with light rail service, I agree with the first part of your statement; Toronto people think that the TTC is like the transporter from Star Trek and that it must get them someplace instantly. But, it isn’t and they have to expect delays sometimes while waiting for a TTC vehicle in rush hour.