TTC Promises to End “Bunching”

Update:

Two extra long streets riding together along Queen Street west. Passengers waiting for a bus or streetcar experience frustration when, after an extended time, rather than one bus or one streetcar arriving, a number of them all come at the same time.  This is called "bunching" and the TTC is now saying they will address it.
Two extra long streetcars riding together along Queen Street west. Passengers waiting for a bus or streetcar experience frustration when, after an extended time, rather than one bus or one streetcar arriving, a number of them all come at the same time. This is called “bunching” and the TTC is now saying they will address it.

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You’re standing at the stop for 15 minutes with no bus in sight. Then, all of a sudden, three of them show up at once.

Better known as “bunching,” it’s a common experience for Toronto riders, but one that may happen less often once the TTC upgrades its aging tracking system.

“We’re still using technology from 1978,” said Rick Leary, the TTC’s chief service officer. “And we know we have some issues, we don’t deny it.”

Row of streetcars all bunched together.
Row of streetcars all bunched together.

According to Leary, bunching occurs when a vehicle is unable to keep to its schedule because of construction or other delays. A late bus means more passengers at the next stop, which translates into longer boarding times and thus further delays.

“It’s something we get a lot of complaints about from the public,” he said.

TTC headquarters located at Davisville and Yonge Street.
TTC headquarters located at Davisville and Yonge Street.

In other cities, transit providers have turned to technology to solve the problem. The City of Miami has partnered with IBM on a predictive algorithm which can spot potential bunching 60 minutes in advance.

A line-up of TTC streetcars arriving simultaneously at the streetcar stop.
A line-up of TTC streetcars arriving simultaneously at the streetcar stop.

Earlier this month, Chicago announced a $9-million plan to upgrade its communication and tracking systems in a bid to battle bunching.

The TTC is still playing catch-up, Leary said, but will issue a request for proposals for a new tracking system next month.

The new system will allow for real-time tracking of every bus on the road, enabling staff at TTC control to adjust schedules on the fly.

Leary expects procuring and installing the upgraded technology will cost about $50 million. The system should be up and running by 2017.

Victoria Park Bus with front-end bicycle rack, carrying two bicycles.
Victoria Park Bus with front-end bicycle rack, carrying two bicycles.

In the interim, the TTC is drawing from its spare vehicle pool to add buses to routes to prevent delays. The pilot project began in October on the 29 Dufferin 512 St. Clair and has vastly reduced short turns.

“Historically, shorts turns [on the 29 Dufferin bus] were in the area of 300 a week. Now we’re short-tripping 30 or 40 vehicles a week,” Leary said.

Row of slow streetcars parked on Spadina Avenue
Row of slow streetcars parked on Spadina Avenue
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