Almost one-third of all TTC bus and streetcar routes exceed the transit agency’s crowding standards at some point during a typical week, according to the latest statistics provided by the organization.
The figures show that in the first three months of this year, 41 bus routes and eight streetcar routes were overcrowded during some service periods. The agency operates more than 140 bus lines and 10 streetcar routes.
The most crowded bus route during busy weekday peak service periods was the 29 Dufferin, which operated at 122 per cent of the crowding standard. The second most crowded route during peak hours was the 986 Scarborough Express, followed by the 47 Lansdowne, 939B Finch Express, and 929 Dufferin Express.
The 501 Queen was the most crowded streetcar route during peak hours, operating at 107 per cent of the standard during the morning rush hour.
The number of routes experiencing overcrowding has remained relatively steady for at least the past three years, despite the TTC adding express bus routes and deploying new higher-capacity streetcars.
Laurence Lui, a senior service planner at the transit agency, said the TTC’s goal is “to provide safe, comfortable and reliable travel for our customers.” But he suggested that for the moment the TTC lacks the resources to eliminate crowding.
“We continue to advocate for improved funding and resources to ensure all our service operates within standards,” he said, adding the agency is developing service plans to lay out “the road map to meet our goals.”
Lui said one factor contributing to crowding is changes the TTC has made to bus and streetcar schedules in recent years. The agency determined its vehicles were often unable to stick to schedules because of traffic congestion and other outside circumstances, so it began spacing out trips and giving vehicles more time to complete their routes.
For example, buses that used to run every 15 minutes were changed to run every 18 minutes. The changes were designed to make service more predictable, but longer waits between vehicles has increased the risk of crowding.
“The benefit of a more reliable service … offsets the increase in average crowding,” Lui said.
The TTC’s crowding standards vary depending on the time of the week, and exceeding them doesn’t necessarily mean a vehicle is packed to the brim.
For instance, the standard for off-peak periods — service outside of busy weekday rush hours — is calculated to not have more passengers than there are seats on the bus or streetcar. During peak periods, the standards allow for more riders.
The TTC adopted the benchmarks to help determine how much service to deploy on a route in order to ensure comfortable and reliable journeys.
The TTC divides its bus and streetcar operations into several service periods, such as weekday mornings, early evenings, weekend afternoons, and so on. Each bus or streetcar route operates for multiple operating periods, translating into thousands of service periods each week.
Measured this way, the stats from this year show the bulk of the crowding occurs during off-peak hours.
Buses were overcrowded in 69 off-peak service periods and 13 peak periods, for a total of about 4.5 per cent of all service periods.
Eight routes operated at more than 130 per cent of the standard during off-peak periods. The 25 Don Mills, 29 Dufferin and 68 Warden were the worst offenders.
Streetcars were overcrowded for 21 off-peak service periods and two peak periods, or about 19 per cent of all service periods. One route, the 506 Carlton, operated at more than 130 per cent during the off-peak.
Steve Munro, a transit advocate and blogger who has analyzed the crowding statistics, warned that the official TTC numbers often don’t accurately reflect the conditions experienced by riders.
That’s because the figures are averages taken from vehicles across a route, he said. If buses don’t stick to schedule and start running close together, the first bus that shows up will likely be crowded, while ones close behind will be less full.
“The load on the two or three buses that show up together is not evenly distributed. So the most riders of course are on the full bus. On the average, the loading might (not exceed) the loading standards, but the problem is what the riders experience is not the average, they experience the full bus,” he said.
Munro argued that it’s important the TTC adhere to its crowding standards even during less busy off-peak times, because providing comfortable service is key to attracting more riders to public transit.
“There needs to be a recognition that unless there is something done seriously about the quality and quantity of service, there is no way that TTC ridership can grow,” he said.
TTC chair Jaye Robinson acknowledged the agency hasn’t always done a “brilliant” job allocating service to where it’s needed most, but said automated passenger counting technology it’s installing on its fleets should make it easier to determine where demand is highest.
But to increase service at the busiest times, the TTC will need to purchase more vehicles, something that Robinson said will be more difficult to do after the Ontario Progressive Conservative government scrapped plans to increase Toronto’s share of provincial gas tax revenue. The decision is expected to cost the TTC $1.1 billion over the next 10 years.
“That’s going to have a major impact in our ability to maintain and improve service,” Robinson said.
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr