This post is by Peter, and follows on from his previous post about feeder buses.

Toronto is the biggest city in Canada, and is an interesting case-study because – for such a large city – it has a relatively small ‘rapid transit network’. The Toronto Subway has about 70 kilometres of in-service track (with 69 stations), while the GO Transit commuter rail network doesn’t really offer the level of service and frequencies we would associate with ‘rapid transit’.  Like many Canadian cities, Toronto does a lot with its relatively limited system – especially when it comes to integrating its bus network and feeding into the rapid transit system. Weekday daily ridership in 2010 averaged 948,100 on the subway, with frequencies up to a train every 2 minutes and generally no worse than a train every 5-6 minutes. Here’s a map of the subway and rapid transit network:

The Toronto system is also incredibly smart in its use of feeder buses to the rapid transit network. This passage from Paul Mees’s book “Transport for Suburbia” highlights a comparison between Toronto and Melbourne, when it comes to the role of feeder buses:

The real difference between Toronto and Melbourne is not in the share of residents living within walking distance of rail stations: the share in Melbourne is actually higher, at 20 per cent to Toronto’s 15, because its rail network is much larger and has many more stations. The critical factor is the behaviour of the 80-85 per cent of residents who didn’t live near stations. In Melbourne, these residents rarely used public transport, especially outside peak hours: across the day 69 per cent of rail passengers walked to the station and 17 per cent travelled by car. In the part of Toronto served by the TTC, residents who lived beyond walking distance from stations used public transport nearly as often as those who lived nearby: only 20 per cent of rail users walked to the station and a tiny 3 per cent took cars. The big difference was in the use of feeder buses (and trams): 76 per cent of TTC rail passengers travelled to the station in this way, against only 10 per cent in Melbourne.

So we know the vast bulk of passengers on Toronto’s rail system get there on the bus – that’s a heck of a lot of transfers happening! TTC statistics back this up – highlighting that across all forms of the public transport system there are really high rates of transfers. In 2010 there were 1,512,000 average daily ‘linked’ trips (i.e. that number of fares collected), but once you include transfer trips there was an average of 2,508,000 daily trips. While some trips involve more than a single transfer, if we were to assume that each trip only had the one transfer, the numbers indicate that around 65% of trips involve a transfer/connection.

How does Toronto operate a system based so significantly around transfers, while at the same time obviously ensuring that it’s an attractive enough network for very high ridership rates? That’s a question obviously worth exploring in more detail. Let’s start with what Mees says about how Toronto’s system works – largely coming from his previous book A Very Public Solution:

The TTC’s bus network operated as an extension of the subway system, linking it to the whole of the city. This enabled the provision of a ‘Paris Metro’ style frequent rail service, running every five minutes or better until 1:45am seven days a week. Frequencies like this would require extremely high densities if patrons walked to the station, but the TTC’s rail-bus strategy circumvented the density problem… Because of the economical densities of patronage generated by the feeder bus network, the Toronto subway returned an operating surplus, which helped defray the loss incurred by the buses. Conventional economists might object to this apparent cross-subsidy, but in reality the performance of the two modes cannot be separated: the rail service would not carry enough passengers to make a profit without the loss-making buses that fed it. The net result was that Toronto’s much smaller rail system outperformed Melbourne’s large network, by using buses to extend its reach.

The system relies on making these feeder buses work well, of course. Some key points relating to Toronto’s system are outlined by Mees:

  • Main bus routes operate at high frequencies (every 10 minutes or better) across the whole span of service.
  • The network follows the grid street pattern, allowing straight and logical links with the subway stations (which are generally located at the intersection of key arterial roads).
  • Free transfers between services – to the extent that at most subway stations the buses actually enter the ‘fare paid’ part of the station, avoiding inconvenient and slow ticket checks.
  • Bus to bus transfers are facilitated by physical design: stops located immediately adjacent to intersections where routes cross, approach and departure side stops on wide roads eliminate the need to cross wide streets.

So what does a Toronto feeder bus service actually look like? Let’s take the 36 route for example, which is shown in blue in the picture below (the rapid transit system is shown in the various colours each line is generally depicted in): 
The 36 route has a few little variations – some buses branching off at various points as you head west, but generally follows what’s shown above: a straight and logical route that not only provides good east-west connections, not only feeds people into the Yonge-University-Spadina Line at Finch Station but also connects to a vast range of north-south bus services. In effect, with just one transfer, anyone living on this bus route has access to anywhere on the entire inner-western part of Toronto. Plus, for really common trips – such as those trying to get to the subway – the route offers the fastest and most logical option. No winding your way randomly through the suburbs here, just a direct route straight to the subway system.

As I said earlier, there’s a little bit of complexity with the route having a number of branches, but even those are handled in a way that’s pretty easy to understand:

Even though this route is really quite far out into the suburbs (remember the map earlier in the post to give a clue about its location in Toronto), it can support fantastic frequencies by doing so many different things and doing them so effectively.

So I think we can learn quite a lot from Toronto when it comes to feeder buses. Firstly, ideally the routes should be useful for something other than just being a feeder service (likely, especially if the interchange point becomes a retail/office/housing hub). Secondly, the process of the transfer is made as easy as possible – through high frequencies, station design, integrated ticketing and even at some stations bringing the bus effectively “into” the subway station. Thirdly, the route structure itself makes sense and is pretty attractive for travellers – being straight, direct, quick, easy to understand and logical.

Note: I’ve never actually been to Toronto, so all of this thinking just comes from reading books and looking at a lot of maps on the internet. If there are any locals, or people who have visited Toronto and wish to add to the points made or dispute them, I’d most welcome it!

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  1. All the bus-subway interchanges in Toronto are smoke free, inside and outside the building. The TTC staff are obligated to enforce the rule. They can be disciplined for not doing so.

    The system falls down because the TTC staff don’t enforce the rule enough, and then they are not disciplined enough for breaking it. You can wait for your bus inside (because of the winters) and it may have just been the ones I went to, but they were kept roastingly hot, so you want to be outside, but then there are little scrotes breaking the rules underneath the no smoking signs, and TTC staff walking past them doing nothing, even by law they have to.

    My subway-bus interchanges in Toronto were then get off the subway, walk out of the interchange, walk to the first bus stop away from the interchange, blissfully smoke free because I’d be the only person there, sometimes missing my bus. But that is still better than having demented arseholes assault me with tobacco smoke. By the way if anyone working for British American Tobacco in NZ reads this, please kill yourself and then get an ethical job.

    Auckland will have to do better at it than Toronto, or it will keep ridership numbers suppressed.

  2. Well Matt you’ve gone off on quite a tangent there. How does smoking policy relate to network design?

    Back on topic, I also like their route numbering – two numbers for a core route, and letters for variants. That would make it a much easier job explaining to someone what bus(es) to catch to get somewhere.

    This could work well for Auckland, but we will have to work it around our badly designed winding road network that exists pretty much everywhere outside the ex-tram suburbs.

    1. Oh contraire it is directly relevant.

      When you say the buses enter the ‘fare paid’ part of the station, I related my observations of what it was like as a passenger dealing with that. The transfer experience of the city that you propose we might learn something from, was not all beer and skittles. It could be done better than in Toronto. On paper the law would suggest it’d be a passenger friendly experience in Toronto, but it ain’t necessarily so. I hope Auckland does better.

  3. Back in the Auckland City Council days, Cr John Lister visited Toronto at ratepayer expense and enthused about the streetcars and how frequent they were. CBT pitched for trams to the wynyard quarter soon after he got back. Sure enough he voted against it, in keeping with the desires of the CitRat majority.

    The report would still be in the ACC files somewhere gathering dust.

      1. Even if we through in the Motat/Zoo line I think he should have done a bit more research before holding our sorry city up.

        Not that kiwis are infallible; I wouldn’t be surprised if the Herald continued to publish the odd letter from someone claiming we don’t need expensive trains and rail tunnels if we could only follow Sydney’s lead with a monorail…

  4. What’s interesting though is the Melbourne obviously also has a significant streetcar/tram network. Both cities have pretty good PT modeshare within areas covered by the tram network, and areas within walking distance of the rail system. The difference between Melbourne and Toronto relates to what happens in the rest of the city: in Melbourne PT usage plummets because the bus system is rubbish, in Toronto PT use stays almost the same outside the tram and rail walking catchments – because the bus system works well and integrates with the rest of the network.

  5. So does anyone know what the contracting model is? They have integrated ticketing, and an integrated network so I guess the bus services are all gross contracted?

      1. Privately operated PT is actually quite rare in North America.

        Including in the US, peculiarly enough. Our neoliberal fanaticist politicians could learn a lot by observing which parts of the United States aren’t in hock to private operators. Pretty much every city of any size has a transit operation, despite the country as a whole being the home of contracting out everything that moves.

  6. Firstly, ideally the routes should be useful for something other than just being a feeder service (likely, especially if the interchange point becomes a retail/office/housing hub). Secondly, the process of the transfer is made as easy as possible – through high frequencies, station design, integrated ticketing and even at some stations bringing the bus effectively “into” the subway station.

    I think you’ve identified why transfer or feeder buses haven’t worked all that well; because the services have been designed as only transfer services. So, what we need to do may almost be counter-intuitive, but it would mean designing a good bus system which offers rail transfers as one of its features, rather than specific transfer-only services.

    Has the debate over the years been at cross-purposes, then? I have spent a lot of time suggesting to the likes of Brent Efford that transfers, in our environment, don’t work – this is turning into a major issue in Wellington City, with its bus review – when we should have been looking at the stations transfer problem in a wider context. Views?

  7. I dont get why so few kiwis and aussies have been to Toronto. Nice place, good transit. Outside the municipal boundaries you get quite a different experience, more like Auckland. Dominated by freeways and mcmansions. That said, go transit bilevels arent that bad, just serve a purpose. Like pukekohe rail. Peak commuting, except on the lake route. The bilevels are comfortable, as nice as nsw v sets or better.

    The trams are different from melbourne. One route per cbd street, not like a dozen of them as in swanston st.

  8. We were in Toronto during December. We used the Eglington West and Eglington stations to commute to the town centre. It’s a fantastic system and very easy to use. It’s seriously cold in Toronto in December, but we walked maybe 500m to a tramstop and then the tram takes you to the subway. You don’t need taxis or a rental car if you are visiting there – but bring two jackets, two sets of gloves plus a hat if you are there in winter.

    It’s impressive seeing how many people use the system even during the winter. I guess that once you get into a routine with using public transport you stay with it. As Billy Connelly said on one of his tv shows “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just innapropriate clothing”

    Also you can buy a ticket for $10.50 that you can use as many times as you want for the day. You can use it for all forms of public transport. With our family of four it was a pretty inexpensive way of getting round the city.

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