By Godfrey Mallion, modified by James Bow
Originally printed in the October 2005 issue of Transfer Points, the official newsletter of the Toronto Transportation Society
An Experimental Local Bus Service
Community bus service began in Toronto on October 15, 1990, with the 170 LAWRENCE MANOR route. The LAWRENCE MANOR community bus still operates, serving the Bathurst and Lawrence area of the city, linking buildings where seniors with mobility challenges live to local medical and shopping malls. The LAWRENCE MANOR bus also connects the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care with the Lawrence Square Plaza (Toronto’s second plaza, 1953).
The community bus service initiative was set up to reduce the dependence of the mobility-challenged on Wheel Trans. In 1990 a one-way Wheel-Trans trip cost the TTC $33, and had to be pre-booked 4 days ahead of time. The Community bus could be taken on the day of need with no advanced booking. The patrons could pay regular TTC fares, and transfer with regular TTC routes (including subway stations, especially where elevators had been added), and the cost to the Commission to provide the service dropped to between $9 and $15 per trip.
The Proposal Expands
The LAWRENCE MANOR experiment proved to be successful and, on June 6, 1991 the TTC released a list of areas where a Community bus would be well-used by residents. The identified areas were: Lawrence/Manor, Parkdale, Roncesvalles/High Park, Spadina/University, Yonge/Sherbourne, Bathurst/Eglinton, Bathurst North, Gerrard-Warden, Dufferin/Lawrence, Cedarbrae, Finch/Yonge, Donway/Sunnybrook, South Don Mills (Thorncliffe), Spadina, South Leaside, Sherway/Brown’s Line, Rexdale, East Mall, West Mall, Sheppard/Don Mills, Agincourt, Steeles/Yonge, and East York.
Community bus service began on June 22, 1992 on 401 NORTH BATHURST (Sheppard to Steeles), 402 PARKDALE, 403 SOUTH DON MILLS (Don Mills Plaza to Thorncliffe Park), and 404 EAST YORK (Stan Wadlow Community Centre to Shopper’s World Danforth, via the East General Hospital, True Davidson Acres, and the Victoria Park subway station). Coincident with these services, the 170 LAWRENCE MANOR bus was renumbered 400 LAWRENCE MANOR, bringing that service in line with the 400 series numbering system that had come to be identified with this type of operation.
Contractions and Expansions
The 401 NORTH BATHURST service ended as a Community Bus route on September 1, 1995, replaced by a “pulse” service. The TTC also introduced a 425 DOWNTOWN bus on January 3, 1995, but this did not prove to be cost-effective, and service ended on June 16 of that year. More recently, the 405 ETOBICOKE bus began operation on September 12, 2005, serving community amenities around the Eglinton/Kipling area. This was followed by the 406 VARIETY VILLAGE community link and the 407 TORONTO REHAB CARDIAC CENTRE community link buses which began operation on January 3, 2011, serving the Variety Village and Sunnybrook Hospital areas respectively. The 406 VARIETY VILLAGE route stopped operating on May 8, 2011, when a new branch of the 12 KINGSTON ROAD route opened, serving Variety Village.
On March 11, 2015, service began on the temporary 409 ACCESSIBLE SHUTTLE DUNDAS WEST shuttle, with used Wheel Trans vehicles operating out of Dundas West station’s bus terminal via south on Dundas and east on Bloor to loop via north on Lansdowne, east on Wallace, south on Dufferin and west on Bloor. This service was installed ahead of a planned overhaul of Dundas West station’s elevators, so mobility-challenged passengers could still transfer to the subway (at Dufferin station) from buses arriving at Dundas West. This shuttle was expected to operate until early July.
In March 2014, TTC staff conducted a review of the TTC’s community bus program, partly in response to requests for additional services in the Lawrence/Orton Park area and Cederbrae Mall. Although noting that a proposal for a community bus service in Ward 43 had attracted local support, TTC staff poured cold water on the proposal, noting that ridership on the TTC’s five other community bus routes had decreased significantly since their introduction in the early 1990s. In 2002, the community bus services had carried over 100,000 passengers. In 2013, however, that number was only 57,728.
Further, staff noted that these services had become quite unreliable, since travel times had increased dramatically, with adjustments to the schedule. With no capital available for additional buses on these routes, staff proposed that frequencies be reduced; 400 LAWRENCE MANOR service would drop from 60 minutes to every 75 minutes, 402 PARKDALE would drop from 75 minutes to every 90 minutes, while 405 ETOBICOKE would drop from 74 minutes to every 90 minutes. There would be no change to 403 SOUTH DON MILLS and 404 EAST YORK service (60 minutes and 75 minutes respectively). These service changes would take place in June 2014.
TTC staff speculated that the increasing accessibility of TTC service was contributing to the reduction in community bus ridership. The TTC’s bus network became 100% accessible in October 2011, and accessible streetcars started rolling on the network in August 2014. As these services were significantly more frequent, and served destinations more directly, they drained ridership from the community buses, which were unsuccessful in taking ridership from Wheel Trans service. TTC staff recommended that community bus service and Wheel Trans service be reviewed for better integration, with a report to be issued in 2015.
In spite of ridership reductions in later years, the TTC’s community bus service experiment would be taken up by other transit systems in the GTA. Ajax introduced its Flag Bus system in September 1992, followed by Richmond Hill in May 1993, Newmarket in January 1994, and Oshawa in January 1995. Others would follow, as smaller communities found the services effective in meeting the needs of mobility-challenged residents with services integrated with standard transit service.
Schedules Effective December 5, 1998
- 400 Lawrence Manor Community Bus
- 402 Parkdale Community Bus
- 403 South Don Mills Community Bus
- 404 East York Community Bus