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TTC is consistently inconsistent

Bruce Campion-Smith

Some days it seems as if the Toronto Transit Commission bus will never come.

The schedule on the wall of the station platform promises a bus every six minutes.

The clock ticks. Ten minutes pass. Eleven minutes. The crowd of afternoon commuters overflows the platform.

Finally, 12 minutes later, a bus pulls up and the frustrated riders - too many for the vehicle to hold - try to elbow their way aboard.

I’d understand if such unpredictable bus service were an isolated incident. But it’s not. It happens routinely. And it makes for a daily commute that is consistently, well, inconsistent.

It makes me wonder whether anyone at the TTC is paying attention when headways - the time between buses - stretch to double what the schedule promises.

Well, the truth is, no one was.

If you had asked TTC staff members six months ago how well their buses and streetcars adhere to schedule, they would have been hard-pressed to give you an answer.

The startling truth is that the statistics weren’t compiled on a system-wide basis.

Now they are. It’s about time.

The TTC is introducing a new measure, called headway performance, to track the percentage of streetcar and bus trips that are within three minutes of schedule.

For the first time, the TTC will know which of its routes are the great rides to work and which are tedious and unpredictable.

“It measures exactly what’s happening out on the streets and what our customers are seeing,” said Rick Cornacchia, the TTC’s deputy general manager of surface operations.

The new measure will become part of the TTC’s regular public reports in the spring.

But already staff can tell you that, day in and day out, 70 per cent of the surface fleet is running within three minutes of schedule. It is a little better during the morning rush hour, about 75 per cent, and worse in the afternoon when it dips as low as 65 per cent.

“Now that we have a measure, we can identify the poor performing routes, the poor performing time periods and develop action plans to correct the problems,” Cornacchia said.

“I know it will improve our service for the customer. I’ll bet my salary on it.”

This is a welcome step toward addressing the biggest gripes of regular riders - long waits for a bus or a streetcar, overcrowding and the maddening tendency of TTC vehicles to travel in packs.

The new measure has already sparked changes. It highlighted the appalling performance of the 95 York Mills bus, which was within three minutes of its schedule just 48 per cent of the time. Transit staff made changes and today the route tops 70 per cent.

Cornacchia is confident the entire surface system can hit 75 per cent by the end of the year.

The TTC might be tempted to boost its on-time performance by simply padding the schedules. That would help the numbers but do nothing for the riders.

The solutions are better daily supervision of the routes, drivers who adhere to schedules and more buses where demand warrants.

Some tinkering to the scheme is required. The three-minute margin is rather arbitrary. While it may be a fair measure of a route with service every 16 minutes, it’s too generous for routes where the buses run five or six minutes apart.

And what does the TTC consider an acceptable target for its surface fleet? Seventy-five per cent? Eighty per cent?

Even if delays occur only 10 per cent of the time, that’s one trip a week that will be screwed up for the average commuter. That’s the trip he or she will remember.

If it happens too often, commuters will give up and either walk to their destination, hail a cab or decide to take their cars.

That’s why this new measure is overdue.