I’m at a loss knowing where to begin on this. If you’ve been following this thread, you will know that TTC staff really, really want their new subway cars to use “perimeter seating”. This means that all of the seats face inward and there are no forward or rearward facing seats, no conversation nooks. As if that isn’t bad enough, they want to use metallic seats with no cushions. [Let us imagine a short theatrical pause here so you can catch your breath.]
This particular scheme has been before the public twice before that I know of. The first outing was at February’s TTC meeting where it did not win high praise. My own posts on the subject started about that time. More recently, TTC staff showed up at a Rocket Riders meeting to talk about their design. On that occasion, it appeared that both the new perimeter design and the existing T-1 compartment design were both on the table. So far, so good.
When the agenda for today’s meeting came out, I was curious that there was to be a presentation leading to a recommendation about the seating layout. That was putting it mildly.
The Commissioners were treated to a heavy-handed, arrogant, condescending presentation on why we must have this seating layout and approve it now, today. Hello? What’s going on here? What is the purpose of “Public Participation” including a car mockup on display at Dundas Square and the CNE if we are going to pick the design before the model is even built?
It gets better. Again we heard how “FTA Requirements” make transverse seats a problem because it’s easier to hide things under them. After some prodding, staff admitted that they were “guidelines”, not “requirements” and in any event the U.S. Federal Transportation Administration has no jurisdiction in Canada, only in the USA.
Next we learned that the reason for getting rid of the padded seats is to reduce the fire load in the cars. There is a target (apparently an internal TTC staff target, not one mandated by any regulation) to reduce the fire load (the amount of combustible material) in subway cars by 25%. Hmmm. Look! Those seat pads burn, and there’s about 70 of them on each car. Let’s just get rid of them!
Maybe we should ignore the plastic and cardboard in all the advertising signs, or the constant accumulation of newspapers that the TTC seems unable to clean up, sometimes for days at a time on their trains.
Accessibility issues came into play too. Originally, the cars were to have no centre stanchions, only side poles running from the seat frames up to the roof. This was what ACAT (the Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit) were told last fall. However, along the way, someone decided that the poles should go in the middle to encourage people to face toward the centre of the car rather than looming over the seated passengers. ACAT is not pleased.
Finally, we are told that this type of seating is the way the world is going, and many examples were shown. What was cleverly omitted were two facts: (1) almost all of the cars shown were narrower than the Toronto car and would not easily accommodate pairs of transverse seats, and (2) many of the cars shown came from systems with a long history of bench seating where passengers don’t get any alternative.
Staff even had the nerve to show the interior of the SRT cars as an example of a Toronto car converted to bench seating. They failed to mention that the SRT cars are much narrower than subway cars and the original transverse seating produced problems for passenger circulation and capacity. Moreover, the plan to rejig the seats was never presented to the Commission for approval — it just happened.
Chair Howard Moscoe, speaking with a level of passion and outrage I have not heard at the TTC for a long time, tore a strip off staff for manifestly going contrary to what riders want and what the TTC needs to make the system attractive. He pointed out that when the T-1’s were first proposed, they were to have perimeter seating, but riders rejected them by a 70-30 margin. Has the staff surveyed anyone? Only other staff, it appears. Some sample.
Staff even admitted that if they show people both an existing car and the new proposal, passengers will choose the current layout. They admitted that despite “safety” being touted as an important reason for the new design, the current cars were indeed “safe”. It’s only a matter of degree and interpretation, not of necessity.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, the transit authority tried the same stunt and riders turned it down. The CTA went ahead anyhow and was roundly criticized for their insensitivity to rider preferences.
What does TTC staff want to do? Build a mock up of the new car and “educate” people about its advantages for safety, security and various other features. In an attempt to show some fairness, staff list off various aspects of car design. Of these, 29% are unaffected by the seating layout, 10% are positive for the existing T-1 layout, and the remaining 61% are positive for the perimeter design. We will just ignore the fact that several of the points in that 61% double count related aspects of the design, and nowhere are the weights assigned to each factor listed.
Attempting to trivialize concerns, staff mentioned that only 12 seats on each new car would face forward (because the trains have gangways, we lose the 6 transverse seats at the ends of most cars). Staff totally missed the point that people want a transverse seat (forward or backward) because it is more comfortable than being jostled sideways. They want L-shaped groupings of seats to ease conversation among groups of riders.
I would love to report that the Commission read the riot act to staff, trashed the new layout and said “get on with building to the current design”. Not quite. Staff were told to find out what changes riders want to the T-1 layout, but there is still likely going to be a mockup of the perimeter layout. Be prepared to be re-educated.
There is a point where I completely lose patience with TTC folk who have no respect for public input and who abuse the process simply to get an endorsement of a plan already in motion. We saw some of this on St. Clair, and we need to guard that it doesn’t happen again on St. Clair or in the Waterfront plans.
There are many dedicated people working at the TTC who run a good transit system under trying conditions day-in and day-out. But the ham-fisted, we-know-what’s-best-for-you brigade give them all a bad name. TTC staff exist to serve the public, not the other way around. If they don’t understand this concept, they should seek employment elsewhere.