Flights to Nowhere

There are times in my life of transit activism that I get really paranoid.  The era of a certain litigious former Chief General Manager was a time when I was not exactly welcome around the TTC and staff who were suspected of consorting with me were persona non grata.

Now life is much better, but I can’t help wondering if there is a special crew whose job it is to ensure that the escalators I use every day are not running a lot of the time.  Not under repair, just stopped.  I can’t be that unlucky, can I?

Through much of the summer, I put up with a very long outage of an escalator at Kennedy Station (down from the RT to the bus platform) and (along with many others) used the elevator.  I have a knee that does not like walking downstairs some of the time, but more of that later.  By the fall, the escalator was back in service, fitfully, and in November I started to keep track.

The charts linked below chronicle my experiences from early November through to the end of February.  For almost all of that time, the longest I would go without running into a stopped escalator was three days.  There were times when I felt like those folks in Vancouver who wanted it to rain just one day more to break the record, and then I would have a breakdown free day.  Sigh.  How am I to complain without a long string of problems?

Then, in mid-February, something strange started to happen.  The escalators almost always worked!  The last week of February (actually an 8-day run) was completely problem free!  (They made up for it on the last two days!)

Here are a few hypotheses about my observations:

  • Most escalators are a long way from the Collector’s booth, and they can’t or won’t leave it unattended to trek to an escalator that will probably stop again in an hour or two.  King Street’s Melinda exit is a particularly good example, and the ones at the south end of Bloor Station are a close second.
  • Supervisors at terminals like Kennedy spend their time counting buses and don’t care about the perenially stopped escalators.
  • Maintenance budgets run out in November and nothing gets fixed until January (this pattern happens every winter, but it’s not the weather this year).

As someone who went through several months recovering from knee surgery, and whose knees still get annoyed now and then, I’m sensitive to the reliability of vertical transportation.  Maybe there is a service standard that says escalators should only run every other day.  If there is, why are we spending a fortune on elevators (which don’t always work either and haven’t got much capacity when they do)?

As you will see, my favourite stations (simply because they are on my daily work trips) are Broadview, Kennedy and Scarborough Town Centre.  You will see that I have bumped into a few others in my travels to and fro.

The TTC is always wringing its hands about accessability, but the most basic function — making an escalator actually work properly for more than a few days — seems to be beyond them.  I simply grumble and walk up or down the stairs (walking to a working escalator elsewhere in the station, if there is one, is more trouble than it’s worth).  Many people don’t really have that option.  This is just one more of those annoyances that drive riders away from the TTC, at least for trips when they have the option.

So here is a question for all you TTC watchers out there:  How often do you find an escalator not working, or running in the “wrong” direction from its usual behaviour?  If you know anything about the secret machinations of escalator repair, don’t worry, I won’t unmask you!  Comments are enabled for this post as an experiment. 





4 thoughts on “Flights to Nowhere

  1. I’ve had the same bad experience with the long escalator at the east end of Kennedy, the one that goes up from the train platform to the bus level. There was a period this autumn when it seemed as though it was stopped more often than it was running.

    My question is how come these elevators stop all the time? They’re under heavy loads, but so are escalators at malls like the Eaton Centre, and I can’t remember going their in recent memory and seeing a stopped escalator.


  2. Thank you for taking this one on. This is one of those things that makes riders hate the TTC.

    For most of 2004, Pape Station not only had a dead escalator (and no elevator as a fallback position) but also used the surface indoor waiting area for buses as the storage zone, pushing waiting riders into the cold and wet. Do elevator parts need to be maintained at a constant temperature? Could they not be locked outside in a secure area? Is there a significant black market for escalator parts?


  3. Lawrence’s escalators always seem to be undergoing maintenance, but maybe it’s psychological since there are so many–six at the southern entrance (with two very long ones at the north, followed by a couple flights of stairs.) There aren’t any elevators, as they’d need either a separate entrance or a combination of serious renovations and at least two elevators to get to the tracks.

    The first one I encounter each day has been undergoing a complete overhaul for months. I suppose if you needed to you could take the one across the street, but both of the ones closest to street level only go up regularly. The others go down now and then. Luckily there is ample space upstairs to hold the parts.

    The escalators at the Eaton Centre never seem as dirty as the ones in the station. Do the salt and grit get to them?


  4. I think the real issue is that TTC escalators are often in areas where there are not a lot of people during the day, and kids or punks hit the emergency stop buttons. Mall escalators are occupied most of the time, so for someone to stop an escalator without being observed, is fairly difficult.

    However it’s a rider issue as well, how often have you seen an escalator that is stopped, and thought #@$! escalator, and continued on your journey without doing anything about it. Often they can be stopped for hours before a TTC staff member needs to pass by it’s location.

    If you see a stopped escalator then note the number (usually on a small plaque attached to the wall beside the escalator), and report it to a TTC staff member. Even if that staff member is on a train or at another station, they can report it to maintenance, who will get someone to go check it.


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