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Could more express bus routes fix TTC overcrowding?

Posted by Chris Bateman / March 27, 2014

Express bus routes TorontoCllr. Josh Colle thinks TTC service could be improved with more express bus service on the Toronto's busiest routes, like the 29 Dufferin, 25 Don Mills, and the 39 Finch. Staff have decided to investigate the idea at this month's Toronto Transit Commission meeting.

Adding express buses wouldn't mean reducing the current number of buses; the express vehicles would be provided on top of the existing schedule and stop only at popular destinations. Given the how slow infrastructure expansion has been in this city, improving service levels on buses could be a feasible way to make immediate improvements to the lives of commuters on what are some of the city's worst routes.

Right now, the TTC has 11 rush-hour express routes, six "rocket" buses to destinations like Pearson Airport and York University, and five downtown express routes that charge double fare for quick service.

The TTC will report back later in the year on the proposal.

What do you think? Is more express service the solution to overcrowding while the city waits on new subways and light rail?

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Photo by SteveC123 on Flickr



iSkyscraper / March 27, 2014 at 11:15 am
More buses cannot hurt in a system that, subways subways subways aside, is mostly bus-based.

Cities like New York have a number of limited-stop routes; it's a perfectly valid transportation mode. But keep in mind that they move at the speed of traffic and are no substitute for a proper BRT with dedicated lanes.

If the bus traffic is so heavy, should dedicated lanes be considered to favour transit over auto use?
E. Toby Coke / March 27, 2014 at 11:27 am
"The TTC will report back later in the year on the proposal"

Here's a novel idea: Instead of studying the idea, why not just give it a try and see if it works?

Aside, remember when the TTC tried to kill the Pearson Rocket because it was too fast?
rek / March 27, 2014 at 11:29 am
I wish our subway system had been built with express trains in mind.
Josh replying to a comment from E. Toby Coke / March 27, 2014 at 11:41 am

With all the money and time the city spends on studies, they could whip up a pilot program and see how it works in the real world. Even if it fails miserably, at least it provides valuable information on improvement for future projects.

The changes to TTC subway signage comes to mind.
toronto dude replying to a comment from E. Toby Coke / March 27, 2014 at 11:45 am
exactly! government in action.....

they just need to take 1 whole day right now to work out some meaningful metrics and how they can be tracked with minimal effort (nothing wrong with a guy with a stopwatch and a clipboard if need be)and implement on a trial basis for 60 days as of April 1....2014....not 2017, 2025

enough with the staff will report back in 5 years and then council will defer the decision for another 5 years b.s...just do it for gawds sakes. if you have to temporarily lease a few buses or drag out some old ones to do it...just find a way...ideally they would 1 day use bendy-buses for these but that`s in the future and the city can``t wait that long for a solution.
E / March 27, 2014 at 11:49 am
I thought 39 Finch already had an express bus route dubbed the 199 Finch Rocket. That bus is always packed during rush hour. I wouldn't mind seeing an articulated bus on that route!
Miroslav Glavic / March 27, 2014 at 11:51 am
We should have express buses, only stopping at major stops. think the 190/199 buses.


29E would stop at Wilson/Lawrence/Eglinton/Rogers/St. Clair/Davenport/Dupont/Bloor/College/Dundas/Queen/King

85E would stop at Victoria Park/Pharmacy/Warden/Birchmount/Kennedy/Agincourt GO Station/Midland/Brimley/McCowan/Markham/Neilson/Morningside/Meadowvale/Rouge Hill Go Station

and so forth.

The A/B/C/D branches can pick up local stops.

Years ago I used to live at Neilson/Finch area and went to Humber College North campus at Highway 27/Finch area. Express buses would of been nice back then.
PBJ / March 27, 2014 at 11:52 am
I'm intrigued by the downtown express routes that charge double.. could adding a few routes more during rush-hour only and reducing the price to the normal rate relieve the over capacity Yonge subway line?

Seems like a viable option, assuming the existing ones aren't hemorrhaging money (which could very well be a reality given the double fare)
toronto dude replying to a comment from PBJ / March 27, 2014 at 11:54 am
even at double the fare, the dt xpress buses are packed
Cal / March 27, 2014 at 12:08 pm
I use the Dufferin #29 service and it is absolutely atrocious. I feel for those attempting to get on a bus between Davenport and Dupont, because to be honest, they do not have a chance in hell most mornings. This morning I had to wait until the 3rd bus until I could squeeze on, and barely made it to work in time. The TTC truly is the only reason from Totonto being a real "world class" city.
iSkyscraper / March 27, 2014 at 12:23 pm
If New York is to be considered a precedent (as one of the other top-three bus systems in North America along with LA and Toronto), let's take a closer look. There are four kind of buses in NYC:

Regular bus - similar to most TTC routes

Limited bus - a regular bus that makes fewer stops. Similar to TTC "E" express buses

Express bus - long distance, uses highways, extra fare. Similar to TTC Downtown Express

Select bus - a kind-of BRT that is basically a regular bendy bus charging regular fare, but it only has off-vehicle payment and all-door boarding (to speed loading) and some reserved lanes (typically during rush hours). Also makes fewer stops. TTC has nothing like this.

I think the latter is what Toronto should take a look at. New York claims the fewer stops, off-vehicle payment and partial lane priority speeds up service by about 15-20%. I think this is what the TTC should take a long, hard look at.

Al Hunter (@rastalam) / March 27, 2014 at 12:32 pm
Express buses should stop where TTC routes intersect. One of my local examples is getting off the Faywood 104 bus at Sheppard. The Sheppard express does not stop at this intersection. Seeing multiple express buses fly by, mostly empty, is frustrating. And then when the regular bus finally arrives it's often too full to board.
Brent / March 27, 2014 at 12:45 pm
This might provide some relief if the TTC implemented it as a supplement to the service that is already provided. But recent history suggests that the opposite will occur -- that service on the local branch will be decreased. See Steve Munro's comparison of "before and after" service frequency on Jane after the introduction of the new 195 Jane Rocket service starting next week.

realityCheck / March 27, 2014 at 01:26 pm
Express buses (especially if they were articulated buses) are certainly an idea worth looking into, and in fact have been used by numerous cities who looked at the LRT option and decided it was too capital intensive for the speed of the service provided. (I through that in because the LRT advocates constantly talk about the cities that went the LRT route... but we never hear of those that looked at LRT and decided it wasn't worth the added cost). While there certainly are ways of using LRT to provide rapid transit (and the hydro corridor that cuts across Scarborough would be a possibility -- surface, so no digging, and completely out of traffic), the LRT plans that have been proposed so far (with the exception of Eglinton) simply don't provide rapid transit service. And no, I don't think the subway plan that has been proposed for Scarborough is a good plan. Again, the sad part of the transit debate in Toronto is that it has polarized around the subway-LRT option, and left unsaid the critical questions of how we expand rapid transit to all corners of the city in the most effective manner and how we make better use of existing transit infrastructure.
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from realityCheck / March 27, 2014 at 01:45 pm
You are not entirely wrong. Because the Toronto media is not the best at looking outside their own navels, and because the city's populace has become so polarized, it is nearly pointless to discuss detailed transportation planning issues such as how and when to best apply BRT and LRT and the different ways of doing so.

A couple quick examples of cities who installed some flavour of BRT after considering LRT:

Boston Silver Line - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Line_(MBTA)
Cleveland Health Line - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HealthLine
LA Orange Line - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_Line_(Los_Angeles_Metro)

Now, it should be also noted that each of the above also have LRT lines, not because of speed but because of ridership. Where ridership increased significantly, as in Seattle and Ottawa, the BRT was converted to LRT. I still believe that most of TransitCity was right on the money. The ridership was too much for BRT, too little for subway. LRT in a street median is not as fast as LRT on a disused railway track, but that doesn't invalidate the concept. Many cities use it like that and it works just fine.

Buses, streetcars, LRT, subways, commuter rail -- Toronto needs more of each, but in the right place. Which is politicians, especially crack-smoking ones, should stay out of the discussion.
joe / March 27, 2014 at 01:48 pm
Yes, yes, so much yes. Prime candidate? Yonge St. Make two lanes Bus-Only during the rush hour. Stops only at subway station intersections.

Maybe only stops at "nodes" - Finch, Sheppard, Eglinton, Bloor.

Moaz Ahmad / March 27, 2014 at 02:41 pm
The problem that we have now is that TTC is trying to run peak hour express bus service (E-branch buses) along with the limited stop "Rocket" buses and the Downtown Express buses (the one with the premium fare). There is also the "Frequent Service Network" of buses at frequencies less than 10 minutes...though streetcars also have frequencies of less than 10 minutes (in theory). And just for fun the TTC has decided all surface routes should be in red. What TTC needs to do is: 1. Consolidate all express buses into the Rocket network (they are doing this with the 39 E becoming the 199 Finch East Rocket and the 35 E becoming the 195 Jane Rocket). 2) transfer the Double Fare downtown express buses to GO Transit so they can operate them (keeping the same double fare which is already at "GO Transit" levels) and use the extra buses for the Rocket network. 3) put Frequent Service buses and streetcars into one Frequent Service Network. 4) Redesign TTC route maps so these 3 networks are clearly marked in different colours, and also seen on their own separate maps (like we already do with the Blue Night Network). This way all TTC users will know right away what their service options are.
toronto dude / March 27, 2014 at 02:55 pm
wow...some really great ideas on here today...why is it that staff and council cannot come with these types of ideas on their own.....and since they can`t....why don`t they consider listening to us...the public that uses the service instead of hiring expensive external consultants that are limited by a predetermined outcome and whose reports will be ignored anyways....a rather sad state of affairs
riderman / March 27, 2014 at 02:59 pm
I used to take the 141 Mt Pleasant express fairly often. It was like first class compared to the chumps on the subway. Plenty of seats, no chicken bones on the floor, no smelly folks. Definitely worth the price premium to keep the riff raff away.
reailtyCheck / March 27, 2014 at 03:27 pm
yes... I realize that many cities use LRT in a street median and that "it works fine". The point though is that many cities have looked at that option and have decided that it simply isn't worth the pricetag given what it actually delivers.
Moaz Ahmad / March 27, 2014 at 03:40 pm
In order to make TTC service easier for users to understand, instead of the current mishmash there should be 4 daily #TTC daily networks (plus the Blue Night Network). These would be:
1. Local*
2. Rocket
3. Frequent Service*
4. Rapid Transit°
*buses & streetcars °Subway/RT/LRT/BRT
amac / March 27, 2014 at 03:54 pm
YES PLEASE. The 196B Rocket to York Univesrity bus should be a direct express between Sheppard/Yonge and York University. There is no need to stop at Downsview. The 84 on its own can handle the handful of people going between Sheppard/Yonge-Downsview and the 196A can handle everyone going between York and Downsview.
It's frustrating to stop at Downsview on a crowded bus and NO ONE gets off and we continue on - because everyone is going to York!
Would like cut the commute in half at least - from 30-45 min to 15min.
W. K. Lis / March 27, 2014 at 04:15 pm
Bus laybys on both sides of an intersection may help. However, it should be in conjunction with TRUE transit priority traffic lights. Maybe even use the time where everyone has a red signal for three seconds for transit priority, even if only three seconds.

Why must left turners get priority ahead of transit? Quebec has left turners do their thing AFTER everyone else at the end of a traffic light cycle.
Goldstein / March 27, 2014 at 04:34 pm
Finally, Transit City is catching up to Los Angeles' AWESOME "transit" system!

Al Hunter (@rastalam) replying to a comment from amac / March 27, 2014 at 06:21 pm
That's fine if the local service is not cannibalized in order to serve York U. Your suggestion will just increase the load on the local buses which are already overloaded & scarce.
tommy replying to a comment from reailtyCheck / March 27, 2014 at 07:23 pm
I think you're overlooking ridership. Cost is always important, but LRT wasn't selected for transit city because our planners have a soft spot for light rail. It was selected because of the significant ridership on the routes, that are now past the threshold point to justify light rail. Sure, we can go cheap and build BRT, but then we run into the same capacity problem and will still have to run buses bumper to bumper. In these cases, the cost of light rail is justified.
Linden / March 27, 2014 at 07:40 pm
I am not sure if anyone mentioned but some of these express busses have an extra fare of $2 like 142 bus running on Avenue road, which is not good option for me. At the point. I am taking the regular bus on the same route, there 4-5 stops difference which does not justify the extra fare. I often end up walking to the place I am going.
Barbara / March 27, 2014 at 09:10 pm
Would love to see an Eglinton Avenue East express bus, especially during rush hour
NativeTorontonianAl / March 27, 2014 at 09:40 pm
Well this is a no-brainer! Wake up, folks! Since the govt both disallowed any continuous growth in infrastructure/subway-transit and even neglected for the past three decades, while allowing too much unnatural/excess pop'n growth, more express buses and more buses in general are the only solution at this point. And it's must because Canadians have been paying too much in taxes and gas taxes for these past decades. It's time for the govt to pay up and provide, and show that they have credibility. And if they want productivity and business, they have to provide the means for this.
Brett / March 27, 2014 at 10:34 pm
No need to add buses. Need to implement a system to keep the buses from stacking up 2,3,4 back to back. See it all the time. Same # of buses, same cost, better and more reliable service! How novel!
Bob / March 28, 2014 at 01:13 am
Yes the TTC should have more express buses, but not at the expense of local buses. Let's take the new 195 Jane rocket as an example. Beginning this Sunday, the 195 will operate using half the 35's buses. This means the riders using the 35 will have to wait twice as long while seeing express buses run pass them. This symptom usually gets worst since local buses are likely need to stop more often when they are late causing more delay. In the meantime, express buses aren't too prone to this cause they are schedule to stop at every express stop anyways. This is why people waiting for local buses are likely to see a few express buses pass by before their local bus arrives fully packed.
realityCheck / March 28, 2014 at 01:19 pm
@Tommy... no I am not overlooking ridership. I know that many LRT advocates don't like to hear this but several cities who DID look at LRT decided that it simply wasn't worth the additional costs. And some of these cities had significantly more ridership than we have (Eg. Bogata). I'm not against LRT or streetcars. Whatever our "planners" concluded about the merits of LRT along streets, many experts would disagree with them. Dave Gunn (perhaps the most respected TTC GM of the last 50 years) did a review of TTC operations back in 2011 and said flatly, that the streetcar purchase (made under the previous administration) was wasted money and that articulated buses could have met those needs at a fraction of the costs and with greater flexibility. As for the Transit City plan, in addition to the cost and flexibility issues, he pointed out that the plan almost completely failed to address the cross town routes which were the real needs. (And he also criticized the subway plans. The fact that our "planners" decided LRT is the best option doesn't mean it was the right decision.
Bob replying to a comment from realityCheck / March 28, 2014 at 05:44 pm
@realityCheck. LRT wasn't just selective because it was cheaper than subways and more can be built. Almost all of you (and the mayor candidates) missed the point on urban planning. Subway creates high density development (e.g. condos) around the station with nothing in between. LRT will bring medium density (mid-rises) along a boulevard. Articulated buses will not create any development and is viewed as poor people's transit appose to high quality rail transit. We want the city to develop, so buses is big no-no.

Second. Transit City was design to bring better transit service to low income area. Subways will simple bypass those areas. Of course the rich people don't care about them and wish the best for their selfish minds.

Okay. What is wrong with Torontoians? Simple. They want the best of of all worlds. Subways, no condo in their backyard and no tax grabs. How can we even balance this? Well Ford thinks it's possible. Don Mills station is a good example of condos being built cause of subways. Eglinton is going to transform into an avenue of condos regardless if we like it or not. That's simple what subways/underground LRT will do.

For those who don't want your neighbourhood to transform. Vote for no subways and no LRT. Tell them you love the buses. Buses don't attract riders considering it's a much bumpier ride. It's simple as that.
realityCheck / March 29, 2014 at 04:12 pm
Bob... The bottom line is that most of the LRT plan in transit city WAS NOT rapid transit. The bottom line is that the Transit City would leave a HUGE area of the city without rapid transit. The bottom line is also than many people did not and do not see it as addressing the REAL transit issues that Toronto is facing. Obviously you are not one of those people. But not every one (including many transit experts) are/were sold on how LRT were used in the Transit City plan. Not everyone sees it as good value. Even if one can agree with all your points regarding the type of development different modes of transit help shape (which I don't), one can still say that it doesn't address real transit needs especially in Scarborough. As for your comment about what will attract ridership, the critical issue is speed. You seem to be convinced that an LRT will attract more ridership than the existing bus routes, simply because it is less bumpy. I'm sure you are aware that many, many experts doubt this. As for what is seen as "poor people's transit", I would suggest that part of the fight in Scarborough is because the LRT is seen "poor people's transit" not just buses, as you seem to think. And just so we are clear, I am not against LRT. In fact, I think there was a way to use LRT in Scarborough (and elsewhere in the city) to create rapid transit more cheaply than subways. But the surface use of LRT along major streets was not it. You obviously don't agree... but I don't think the people in Scarborough are wrong to balk at an LRT plan that costs billions while leaving them with service that is no faster than a bus.
realityCheck / March 29, 2014 at 04:17 pm
Also Bob, regarding your claim that Transit City was defined to bring "better service" to low income areas I would point out that these low income areas were not consulted about the Transit City plan. And if they had, I bet they would have defined "better service" as "rapid transit". In other words, it's up to the user to define what constitutes "better service", not the politicians and consultants pushing the plan.
blardeeblar / April 3, 2014 at 12:16 am
I've caught the 29 'Express' a few times. Love it, Dufferin needs it. But it seems to still be stopping at every single stop along Dufferin. Which stops does it actually exclude?

Also..... people.... this bus is a million years long... please move back! Don't stop two feet in and block everyone behind you.

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