New Tech to Deal with COVID Crowding

by Markus O’Brien Fehr, Chief of Staff

Just stay home. It remains the best advice for everyone – so long as it’s possible.

For many working critical front-line jobs staying at home simply isn’t an option. For many, public transit remains their only transportation option.  Without a car, or cash for a cab, even trips to the grocery store remain outings that may require a bus ride. The COVID-19 pandemic has not been an easy time for bus riders.

The TTC reports that 95% of bus trips have 25 or fewer people on board.  In addition to regular services, up to 140 busses are also kept available to address unexpected spikes in ridership.  Many street car and subway operators have been retrained to allow a greater number of busses on busy routes, with additional drivers still expected to be hired. But distancing on busses can still be extremely difficult during peak periods.

The TTC is launching a new tool today to help address some of the bus crowing anxiety. Using transit trip planning mobile apps, Rocketman or Transit, riders will now have access to real-time bus occupancy information.  The app will display the volume of passengers on approaching vehicles so that riders can choose which bus they are most comfortable boarding.  Busses below 30% capacity will show as “not busy,” while busses over 80% will show “very busy.”

Most TTC buses are equipped with Automatic Passenger Counting (APC) devices that use invisible lights at the doors to determine how many passengers board and exit.  This information is primarily used to help plan and adjust service levels, but real-time rider counts will now be shared with the apps as well.

Bus loads can change quickly at busy stops, so riders should be aware this tool may not be completely accurate at all times.  It is intended as a guideline and should not be substituted for personal discretion on boarding busy vehicles.

However, we’re pleased to see the TTC continuing to pursue modern technology to make ridership more reliable and convenient.  Though currently intended to promote physical distancing, this feature will become a permanent feature and may be extended to other platforms in the future.