In March 2016 the TTC introduced five new express bus routes along major corridors across Toronto, adding to the six already in operation. The ridership numbers are in, and four of the five routes have either met or exceeded their Year 1 ridership targets. The five routes are the 185 Don Mills Rocket, 199 Finch Rocket, 188 Kipling South Rocket, 24E Victoria Park Express and 186 Wilson Rocket. These routes join the 190 Scarborough Centre Rocket, 191 Highway 27 Rocket, 192 Airport Rocket, 195 Jane Rocket, 196 York University Rocket, and 198 U of T Scarborough Rocket. (There are another five Downtown Express buses at rush hours only, and 132 regular bus routes in the city.) 

The TTC's 5 new Rocket express bus routes, image courtesy of the TTC

Express buses are routes that operate a rapid transit-like service pattern, stopping only at major intersections and points of interest. However, unlike true rapid transit, express routes do not necessarily require any physical separation from traffic, via dedicated bus lanes or a dedicated right-of-way, although some routes do feature this. Four of the TTC's five newest Rocket routes do not feature any significant kind of separation from general traffic, and thus are prone to the potential delays of operating in mixed traffic. The exception to this is the Don Mills Rocket, which uses carpool lanes along Don Mills Rd and Pape Ave.

While these types of express buses are relatively new to Toronto, they have been implemented in many municipalities around the GTHA. Hamilton's B-Line has been operating for many years, and more recently York Region's VIVA and Brampton's Züm systems have been based off of similar concepts. However, with all of these routes the intent of them was to introduce a rapid transit-like service pattern, with the physical infrastructure to follow at a later time. For example, VIVA has been introducing Rapidways into their system, which converts the express bus into a true rapid transit line by giving it separation from general traffic, while Hamilton is in the final stages of planning for the Hamilton LRT line, which will replace the bus-based B-Line upon opening.

Express bus services are seen by many as a good way to gauge rapid transit demand along a corridor without having to go through the significant expense of adding the infrastructure required to separate that service from general traffic. If the ridership on that service reaches a point where such infrastructure is warranted, then it can be added independently.

The City of Toronto's Transit Master Plan, image courtesy the City of Toronto

Of the Rocket routes the TTC has implemented thus far, five of them operate either entirely or partially over corridors that were identified in the City's most recent Transit Master Plan. The 185 Don Mills Rocket overlaps the proposed alignment of the Relief Line Subway, which is currently being studied. The 190 Scarborough Centre Rocket operates over the inner portion of the proposed Sheppard RT (formerly the Sheppard East LRT), the status of which is still somewhat in limbo. The function of the 192 Airport Rocket is somewhat duplicated by the future western extension of the Crosstown LRT (Line 5), though it likely remain in operation as the Crosstown LRT extension does not serve Kipling Station. The 195 Jane Rocket overlaps the proposed Jane LRT, which has never really been the focus of much attention in the Transit City debates. The 196 York University Rocket will largely be superseded once the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) opens later this year, and it will cease operations at that time.

The notable absentee from that list is the 199 Finch Rocket, which primarily operates along Finch Ave East, although some branches do extend west to Keele. As one can see, the only rapid transit proposed on Finch is west of Keele, meaning that some variation of the 199 Finch Rocket will continue operating for the foreseeable future, despite its high ridership, as seen below.

Ridership details for the 5 new Rocket routes, image courtesy of the TTC

The ridership statistics for the five new routes are shown above. As one can see, only the 188 Kipling South Rocket under-performed its ridership target, and even then by only 700 riders per day. The 24E Victoria Park exceeded its target by the largest amount (150%), while the 199 Finch Rocket and 185 Don Mills Rocket have the two largest ridership volumes of the new routes implemented.

The TTC has not publicly stated whether any new Rocket routes are to be added to the system, though given the success of the routes that have been implemented thus far, it likely wouldn't be a stretch to say they're being seriously considered. Given the recent reset of the Waterfront transit plans, the tremendous growth being experienced in that area, and its identification as a priority rapid transit corridor, a Rocket route running from the Humber Bay to the East Bayfront via Downtown would be a logical inclusion. This route is somewhat served by the 145 Humber Bay Express, though that route only operates during peak periods and requires an extra fare.

You can join the conversation about the TTC's Rocket routes by visiting our forum thread, or by leaving a comment below.