Of Toronto’s 172 TTC bus routes, is there any one more hated by the people who ride it than the 29 Dufferin? See, for instance, any number of angry tweets, or its 1½-star Yelp review. (One reviewer: “Oh eff my face, The Duff bus kills me. Kills me as in makes me laugh? No.” Another: “Moses and his flock weren’t lost for as long as I’ve had to wait for this darned bus.”) But when it comes to what’s to blame for buses that arrive three at a time to one stop, all packed full of people, 20 minutes late, only to short-turn at the next stop, it’s not so obvious—though it’s busy, the 29 Dufferin is not the city’s busiest bus route, and though it’s long, it’s not the longest, either. So The Grid asked Brad Ross, the TTC’s executive director of corporate communications, to explain in detail just what its problem is and what the transit organization was doing about it, and he generously agreed. His response:
Every bus or steetcar route is different, with its own unique challenges. When things go wrong with the 29 Dufferin bus—when buses are late, arrive already-crowded or bunched-up, or get short-turned—there are any number of possible culprits.
First, there’s how busy the route is. About 37,000 people ride the 29 on an average weekday, which makes it one of the ten busiest TTC surface routes. (The 504 King streetcar is the busiest of them all, with about double that, and only the Don Mills, Eglinton West, Finch East, and Jane buses’ riderships top Dufferin’s.) More people, of course, also means that we need to run more buses.
Then, there’s how long it is. The 29 Dufferin buses travel from the suburbs into downtown, from Wilson Station in the north all the way down to the Dufferin Gates at Exhibition Place south of King Street West. Longer routes are, by their nature, more difficult to manage than shorter ones.
Then, there’s Dufferin Street itself, an ever-changing road that goes from wide, serving commercial businesses (as it does north of Eglinton), to narrow, serving a primarily residential area with plenty of on-street parking that can slow buses down as they’re forced to maneuver around it (as is the case south of Dundas).
Unusual, one-off events can affect a route for a day or several days, too. For example, in the last week of January we received complaints from homeowners claiming that buses were speeding on Dufferin, just south of Queen Street West. We assigned a supervisor to the area to conduct a speed audit. Ninety-six buses were audited over a three-day period. What we found was that the buses were actually traveling below the posted speed limit. The assumption that the buses were speeding was due to the noise caused by the buses as they travelled over the roadway where recent repairs had been made. It was driving below the posted speed limit, in this case, that affected the route’s reliability.
It only makes things worse if there is an accident, construction, bad weather, or an especially high volume of traffic. What might only be a blip for a less-travelled local bus route can wreak havoc with a route like Dufferin’s.
As a result of all of this, buses can and do bunch. The result is wide gaps in service going the other way. And then, when a bus does finally arrive, it’s full. And that’s frustrating. The 29’s on-time performance, which we measure as we do with all of our other routes, is actually better than you might expect—80 per cent of the time, it’s at a stop within three minutes of when it’s scheduled to be.
But it could be better. So what are we doing about it?
We already make constant adjustments to routes as we go. If the TTC didn’t short-turn buses and streetcars to manage gapping and bunching, there would be an unending conga line of buses, and plenty of calls and nasty tweets to yours truly rightly asking what the hell was going on. We continue to manage the route to eliminate as many cases of bunching and gapping as we can—there’s a little bit of art and a little bit of science involved here, but we are focused on it and serious about it.
There’s more, though. The TTC is working with the City of Toronto and looking at things like queue-jump lanes at busier, congested intersections—think Dufferin and Lawrence. These lanes act as a sort of bypass, allowing buses to move up to a stop through congested traffic and pick up and drop off passengers more quickly, rather than waiting for several cycles of a traffic light before they can reach the stop. This has the added benefit of speeding up the flow of traffic for everyone.
Additionally, the TTC is getting a new fleet of articulated buses this fall. Artics (or bendy buses as some like to call them), with their much greater capacities, may well be used on the 29 Dufferin; decisions are being made as I type, but these buses will be a boon in helping us address issues of reliability and crowding on long, busy routes like the 29. As odd as it sounds, fewer regular-sized buses on a route like Dufferin can help reduce bunching and gapping and, thereby, increase reliability. When it comes to buses, bigger is better, and the Artics alone could make a big difference if they end up running on Dufferin.
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