Untangling the Route 7 Mainline: Understandable Transit

Current monster of a Route 7 schedule, and it's only for weekdays before 7pm. (There's a back.)

Our transit network’s most frequent service should be something we can take pride in. Unfortunately, the “mainline” Route 7 is an absolute mess. It has three branches in the north end, three branches in the south end, a long layover right in the middle, problems with bus bunching, and a schedule that can confound even the seasoned transit user — to say nothing of those who need convincing to take transit. On essentially the same corridor, we also have a rapid service, but which is not as frequent. A rethinking is in order.

We propose that iXpress frequencies be increased, that Route 7 be consolidated into a single trunk route on King Street, and that the north end branches be split off into a local circulator — a University Loop route. This would preserve current utility, while vastly simplifying the GRT network and making it far more appealing to existing and new riders. It’s one of those cases where transferring (at University or Columbia) is good for you and good for your city. According to our back-of-the-envelope calculations on the basis of available schedule information, the redesign could be accomplished through re-allocating existing resources available after this year’s GRT improvements.

More specifically, our proposal would mean: 8 minute headways (time between buses) on the iXpress, 10 minute headways on a consolidated Route 7 on King Street, and 8-10 minute headways on both directions of a University Loop route. Each one of those would be a simple, understandable, frequent-service route. Importantly, the iXpress would take its rightful place as the most frequent service, and thereby start building up the ridership patterns for Rapid Transit service that will replace it.

If you would like to see this happen, make sure to send your comments in to Grand River Transit planners along with your other thoughts on this year’s service changes. Staff have told us that they’ve received few complaints about the complexity of Route 7 — which is the elephant in the room. Let them know what you think.

The rest of this post describes the redesign and why it will work.

Proposed redesign. The red line is the consolidated Route 7, the icons are iXpress stops (including two additions), cyan is the University Loop, and green is a possible realignment of a portion of Route 8.

The trunk Route 7 itself would follow King, Montgomery, and Weber Streets from Conestoga Mall to Fairview Mall, and would have headways of 10 minutes along the entire length. In the south end, Kinzie Ave would no longer have a Route 7 bus every half-hour, but instead residents would have a reasonable walk to a Route 7 bus every 10 minutes. Route 8 could be realigned to serve the Vanier neighbourhood, previously served by 7A and 7F. Alternatively there could be a local circulator or some other realignment to ensure little service is lost.

In the north end, much of the demand for service on current Routes 7D (UW via University) and 7E (UW via Columbia) is single-corridor in nature, or it is able to be served by the iXpress. Most people use the 7 to go along King St or to go along University Ave or Columbia St. Many trips which do use both portions can be served by the iXpress – but this requires the iXpress to have better frequency than Routes 7D + 7E, which it does not right now. People often will take the first bus that comes; many regularly take the 7 instead of the iXpress to get to UW simply because it shows up first. This is flexible demand.

The iXpress would get new stops at Victoria and Cedar Streets to match the future Rapid Transit stop spacing and better take over some of the current demand from Route 7.

The local demand in the university area – which is seeing capacity issues on the 7E – would be served by a bidirectional University Loop route. The simplest routing is based on the current 7D and 7E, and would follow King, University, Ring Road, and Columbia. The routing could be changed later, perhaps to go to Westmount Road instead of entering the UW campus and to go as far as Weber (i.e. to the Conestoga College campus) instead of just to King.

For simplicity, TriTAG’s feasibility analysis is based on current daytime frequencies and run-times for routes between Fairview Mall and Conestoga Mall. Scheduled run times for routes are: 43 minutes for iXpress, 19-23 minutes for Route 7 branches south of downtown, and 23-26 minutes for Route 7 branches north of downtown. The University Loop would take about 20 minutes or less. Doubling the time to account for both service directions, dividing by the headway, and rounding up gives a ballpark estimate for the number of buses needed on the route. Given the frequency planned for this year (10 minute headways on iXpress, 15 minutes on 7C, and 30 minutes on other Route 7 branches), the number of buses required for existing routes during the day is: 9 buses for iXpress + 6 buses for the Route 7 branches in the south + 8 buses for the Route 7 branches in the north. Adding in the planned extra Route 7E bus this year, that makes for 24 buses total.

TriTAG suggests splitting up the resources differently: allocate only 9 buses for a consolidated Route 7 without branches, 11 buses for the iXpress, and 4 buses for a University Loop route. That decreases Route 7 frequency to a bus every 10 minutes, increases iXpress frequency to every 8 minutes, and adds a new University Loop route at 8-10 minute headways in both directions.

In the current approach to Route 7, each branch is scheduled separately and suffers delays separately, but all combine on a single main corridor. The result is a long scheduled layover at the Charles Street Terminal (in the middle of the route), and poor reliability overall. Instead of actually getting a bus every 7-10 minutes (as the current schedule has it), buses bunch together. It’s not uncommon to see three or four Route 7 buses in a span of five minutes, and then 15 minutes before the next one. By consolidating service on a single route, Route 7 could go to headway-based scheduling, which would allow a focus on service reliability on the trunk.

So with the same resources that get us a mess of complicated routes and a local service being more frequent than a rapid service, we could have a more frequent rapid service, an understandable King Street route, and a district circulator route, all of which come frequently enough that no schedule is needed. This is how we start building the easy to understand transit network that will get more people to take transit and leave their cars at home. If you support this, please make sure GRT knows about it using this link right here.

8 thoughts on “Untangling the Route 7 Mainline: Understandable Transit”

  1. I like this. Having six different branches of a route is ridiculous. Could you take a look at the 8 next? The two-direction figure-8 loop is a bit much, and if the 12 really does get moved to Westmount, a simplification of the 8 would be nice.

  2. Intriguing. But I can see it being a hard sell. Even though you make a credible argument that this change benefits more people while using the same level of resources, I find that transit engineers tend to be leery of the idea of introducing transfers into anybody’s commute, although you could address that problem by trying to ensure timed transfer connections between the mainline and the University circulator.

    I would recommend that the University circulator use Regina and not King, however. There are a number of student accommodations on this street, and getting from there to King requires a lengthy walk via Laurel or Columbia, or cutting across property lines. It might also help the bus along by not having to make left turns onto and off of King Street.

    The increased service for the impress makes sense, and increasing frequencies to Conestoga certainly helps out the developments that are taking place up north.

  3. Jarek – that’s a good idea, we may do something similar with other routes when we get the chance.

    James – Most trips that could require a transfer could be taken on by the iXpress, which really softens the impact. As for Regina – with new student apartment buildings on King, it probably has just as many people living on it. Also, the left turn from Regina onto Columbia without a signal is a big issue, with GRT planning to move the 7E from Regina to King this year for that very reason.

    Route 27 might be able to function a a circulator on Kinzie/Thaler, but it has very limited service hours right now. Perhaps the 17 or 23 could be realigned. Then again, the distance from the interior of that neighbourhood to Weber Street or Fairway Road (5-10 minutes) does not really warrant any detours from coherent transit corridors.

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