A Wakeup Call for Chairman Adam

Ed Drass has an excellent column in Metro for Thursday, December 21 (here) in which he describes a recent visit with Adam Giambrone, TTC Chair, to Finch Station.  The site is a catalog of what many TTC stations look like and the lacklustre attitude the organization takes to passenger information and convenience.

Like so many TTC stations, Finch seems as if under a permanent state of construction.  Ceiling slats are missing everywhere.  Temporary and handwritten signs adorn walls, windows and collector booths.  Wooden hoarding closes off a major portion of a corridor heading to the buses, but there are no signs describing what is going on.

I have a blunt message for Chairman Adam:  This state of affairs has nothing to do with traffic congestion.  It has little to do with whether or not additional funds come from Queen’s Park or Ottawa.  It is an indictment of sloppy project management and an inability to see beyond the limits of each job to how it affects the passengers’ experience.

That’s the sort of message we send to customers.  It doesn’t take a complicated traffic study or an EA or millions of dollars worth of consultants to fix this.  Even Howard Moscoe’s proposed “Station Managers” would be ineffective if they are little more than glorified greeters with no power to change a well-entrenched corporate culture.

It’s astounding that we have a system paying millions for an automated stop announcement system, but they can’t put up and properly maintain signs telling people what’s going on in a construction zone, or take down signs announcing service diversions that finished months ago.  

I’ve seen occasional annoncements about subway service problems running along the bottom of the subway advertising monitors.  Great if you’re on the platform near a sign.  Useless otherwise.

Maybe if we figured out a way to build a multi-million-dollar automated station signage project, the TTC might be interested, but only if Ottawa would pay for it.  Meanwhile, let’s get out those magic markers and practice really neat printing. 

24 thoughts on “A Wakeup Call for Chairman Adam

  1. I don’t get up to Finch that often, but when I am up there, I agree it’s a maddening cacophony of signs and slats and construction.

    A few examples at other stations I can think of include (sorry-more than a few…I got on a roll):

    The Bloor escalator at Yonge – which was first signed to be repaired somewhere around the end of October, then mid/end November and then December.  No explanation was ever posted why there was a delay.
    Also at the bottom of the Yonge stairs at Bloor – what exactly is that wooden wall and door?  It looks like it’s holding some sort of temporary construction materials – is is scheduled to be removed, or is it there for the long term?
    In October in College Station, I found 506 diversion posters up for the Gerrard St. South Asian festival that happened in Little India in August.
    At Bay Station, slats sat on the floor for most of this year in the pedestrian corridor between Bellaire and Bay.
    Just how long does it take to finish the work at Broadview – coring in a set of stairs on the westbound platform shouldn’t appear to take 10 months or more.
    Can the ceiling at St. Andrew eventually be fixed?
    On the schedules posted outside (and online) can we get timing points to know how long it’s going to take (officially) from Point A to B?  While I generally know how long my regular routes take, I’d like an idea how long a trip would take on a surface route so I can plan for it.
    Speaking of online…1997 called and wants the TTC website back.
    And lest I sound like the Grinch at this time of year…I’m not a fan of the Pizza Pizza campaign in stations – there is garbage often all over, and the yelling and shilling of the TTC employees is sometimes a bit much.

    I will give credit where I think it is deserved though.  I believe the Upper Gerrard track construction this spring went well planning-wise and was generally well signed and diversion signs were removed within a reasonable amount of time when it finished (a day or two early if I remember correctly).

    Steve:  The escalator at the west end of Yonge Station suffers a lot from water that comes into the station.  TTC has a big problem in some locations with water penetration and one wonders if, when this exit was planned, anyone looked at old maps to see that there used to be a stream at Yonge and Bloor. 

    Broadview is a real mess.  Most recently the project has run into problems with the construction of a new bus bay outside the station building.  There is now a forest of temporary poles holding up the ceiling at the top of the escalator from the eastbound platform.  This entire project has run forever with long periods of total inactivity.  As someone who lives in the neighbourhood, I am getting fed up thinking the project is finished only to see a new phase spring up that was not included in the originally announced plans.  There is no information at the station explaining what is going on.

    The various track projects on Carlton were well-managed, especially the one on Gerrard, but it was amusing to watch the processing of posters at College Station advertising various stages of alternate services.  Sometimes two versions of the notice were posted at the same time!


  2. Is there a system somewhere that handles signs and notices well?

    I lived in Brooklyn for some time and would often take the L train to Union Square. Has anyone been there? The only sign that led people to the L train (from 1999 to 2001) was a magic-markered “L” on the tiles with an arrow. The corridor would take you to one stairwell that then had 3 signs indicated that this was the L train. One would have been sufficient at that point because it was only one stairwell!

    I also found that the transit system in New York, while very good most of the time, was extremely unhelpful at times of service disruption. One night they just canceled the L train and the only announcement was “The L train is no longer running.” There was no form of alternate travel provided (unless you count your own feet) and absolutely no indication of when it might start up again (like, tomorrow? never?)

    And almost every station name has a twin – at least in Brooklyn. Obscure station names might not be helpful, but using the same name for two stations seems like an attempt to confound the uninitiated.

    So, does any place do a good job?


  3. How is it that a person who uses the complex Parisian Métro system would have to work really hard to get lost, but on Toronto’s three-and-a-half line system a first time user can’t help but get lost?  POOR SIGNAGE!

    Also, no matter how much they say they try to improve communications, the P.A. system still sounds like : “attention scrimshw sci[pr puttsrtopns. we have a @@@nx9sss scrimshaw scrimshaw scrimshaw sputter sputter Ossginton Station sputter crackle scrimshaw”…you get the point.

    Are passengers EVER a consideration amongst the TTC brass?


  4. Regarding the announcements scrolling at the bottom of the monitors, this may be useless to many people, but for those of us who are hard of hearing, this is a wonderful feature.  They seem to be (fairly) reliably putting up that notice on the monitors whenever they make voice announcements, which is a big help in knowing what’s going on when no trains are showing up.

    Of course, half the time they don’t even make a voice announcement at all, so it doesn’t *always* help…

    Steve:  Sorry if I was misunderstood.  By “useless” I meant that passengers who are not standing beside the monitors on the platform won’t see the message.  Many stations have only one monitor per platform and waiting passengers can be far enough away that the scroll at the bottom is unreadable. 


  5. The list of “small things” that could easily be fixed in the TTC really is almost endless. 

    College station has two ‘posters’ announcing the Maple Leafs – though this has not been the station to see them at since Maple Leaf Gardens closed a decade ago.

    One of the outdoor TTC signs at the King Station (on south side of King west of Yonge) has been broken for months.  King station itself is dirty and, like most stations, needs ceiling repairs.

    These are all fairly minor things but give the impression that the TTC is poorly managed and does not care about how it presents itself.

    As you say, Broadview has been under construction for an amazing length of time – it may be difficult to schedule work around service at this busy station but weeks seem to pass while no obvious work happens. The latest posting about this work is dated January 2006 and promises completion in spring 2007.  I bet it isn’t done!  It might help the TTC image if things were better explained.

    TTC timetables are a constant source of confusion – not so much because they are not terribly accurate but because of their layout.  Compare those in Toronto to Montreal, where it is FAR easier to understand what is supposed to happen.  (Partly because they use the 24 hour clock, but I can see this proving a difficult pill for the TTC to swallow!) See http://www.stcum.qc.ca/English/a-somm.htm

    The TTC website is apparently going to be improved (which would not be hard to do!).  I hope they look at that of Transport for London http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tfl/  This site has a really user-friendly journey planner that links to maps, gives timings etc etc.  The Montreal site, see above, is also pretty good.


  6. So many days I have passed through Broadview during the day and there is absolutely NOTHING happening construction-wise.  The same hole in the ground has been there for ages with nary a shovel of dirt moving from day-to day.  These guys are jokers.

    Steve:  And don’t forget that this is a private contractor hired by the TTC, not the TTC’s own staff, although foulups in TTC planning and design could lead to delays.


  7. Well, the system is showing its age now. The BD stations are especially bad. I just remember how clean and shiny everything used to be in the 70s. What happened? You rarely saw trash or newspapers on buses and trains back then – the seats were clean, and the tiles in all the stations were scrubbed down so that even the grout was white. The system is a mess now.


  8. I agree completely with all you are saying.  Too many stations are always in construction and myself, I find the TTC doesn’t seem professional as if it was run by a bunch of children.  Terrible signs, miss matched tiles, and so on.

    What I want to know is why maintenance employees don’t wear uniforms?  You see Janitors wearing their vests but what about everyone else?  I believe it would look a lot more professional if they had their employees looking like employees and not a bunch of slobs wearing whatever they wish.  Also for terror reasons and security it would be a lot nicer to know which people work for the TTC and which don’t.


  9. It would be nice if the TTC had a dedicated ‘Diversions’ signboard at every station (or better yet, in the bus terminal for stations that have them, and at the street entrances for those that don’t). As long as it is in an easily viewable location, it can help control when signs go out-of-date, and be less visually cluttering for the passengers.

    Just my wild dreams… put it on the Wish-List for 2020.

    Steve:  There have been various attempts on this over the years.  Even my home station, Broadview, has a nice new board to display schedules and a local map.  The problem is that if nobody produces the signs to go on these boards, then we don’t have any.  There is, for example, no information about the ongoing status of construction at the station.


  10. I strongly concur.  It reminds me of an airline CEO (I don’t remember which one) a few years back who remarked that passengers would infer that if the tray table in the cabin had stains, likely the aircraft engines were not maintained as they should be.

    In other words, the small service failures colour the whole experience.

    In transit, these types of failures aren’t necessarily a concern in retaining long-time riders – those innured to the shortcomings.  It’s passengers giving the system a tryout where these can make or break the deal.

    If I were to suggest a number of items that irk me that could be addressed quite easily, these would be:

    Wash the exterior of surface vehicles more often.
    Adopt the type of bus stop signage used in Montreal – i.e. attractive, clean and with the route number.
    Get someone to design new uniforms.  This doesn’t mean replacing en masse.  Clothing wears out – and so does a “look”.

    Steve:  Once upon a time, the TTC washed every vehicle every day.  Just another of those niceties that have been lost thanks to budget cuts of “non-essentials”.


  11. It’s not the missing ceiling slats that bother me — it’s the concrete ceilings where the concrete has crumbled away leaving exposed rebar! Applies to wall tiles as well (there’s some lovely looking ones on the eastbound platform at Yonge station that have been bothering me lately, but at least they’re only aesthetic and not structural).

    I’ll heartily endorse Geoff’s schedule request. The TTC doesn’t need some multi-million-dollar trip planning software on their website (though it might be nice). They need to actually publish timetables! Like 95% of transit agencies do. No RFPs, no beta testing… just reconfigure the information they already have on file. The stop schedules are fine if, say, I’m leaving work at a different time and want to (ha ha ha!) see when the bus is “supposed” to arrive. But heaven forbid I might want to go somewhere new via TTC and find out roughly how long it’ll take me… fifteen minutes? twenty? forty?


  12. You guys obviously have never been to Guy-Concordia on Montreal’s Green Line. I used that station everyday. Talk about a hole in the ground.

    Take a ride on the Metro everyday and you’ll realize that TTC subway is not bad at all.


  13. I walked past Royal York station last week and noticed a ‘new’ sign installed ouside the station.  It quickly became obvious this was not a new sign however, but one stolen from another station.  The line indicator was yellow, not green and someone had ductaped over an icon for streetcar service.

    Steve:  I have noticed recycling of signs myself.  Out on the SRT, there are temporary signs that have been printed on the backs of older signs.  This works fine when they are posted on solid walls, but on glass, the “flip side” can be confusing.  This shows just how desperate parts of the TTC are — recycling notices from previous announcements to save money on paper.


  14. I am not particularly concerned about ceiling slats.  Sure, it is ugly when only part of it is installed.  However, it is still better than the all concrete ceilings on the Sheppard Line.  We have to be realistic about what the TTC can do.

    I was at Kennedy Station a few days ago.  As soon as someone spilled a pop, within 10 minutes, a person was cleaning the mess already.  This is impressive.  We will never have the Disney standard where trash must be picked up in 5 minutes or less.  People have to respect the TTC before we will have clean stations.  The clientele at Kennedy Station think of spitting and throwing garbage as a rite of passage.  How many cleaners do we need to keep Kennedy clean?

    I do wish the TTC would wash their vehicles more often.  It is a better investment since a cleaner vehicle will not rust as fast.  The strange thing is that I see the ICTS vehicles covered in mud.  I don’t recall that ICTS vehicles can go offroad.  Some metro cars also have mud built up on the roof.

    Steve:  It would be nice if they were cleaned more often inside and out.  I have been on buses that were impossible to see out of unless you were sitting right at the front.  Just today, I was on a King car where the floor hadn’t been cleaned for some time, and I had to change seats to avoid sticking to the goo underfoot.  Meanwhile, I am trying to imagine an ad for an ICTS car storming rivers, over hill and dale as if it had all-wheel drive.

    Steve, do you have any idea what happened to the proposal of letting the private sector remodel our metro stations?  There was a story about where Museum Station could have mummy displays inside the station.  Imagine what will happen to Union Station if RBC gets a hold of it.  We will have marble floors to step on for sure.

    Steve:  This proposal is still alive, but please don’t describe it as a “private sector” undertaking.  Here is how it works.  A charity has been set up to which people with some money burning a hold in their pocket can contribute funds.  In return, of course, they will get a tax write-off so that, in effect, part of the money in the fund is coming from the public purse.

    Next, the design work for Museum is being done by the TTC at their cost as a “contribution” to the project.

    Finally, the fund will only pay for the decorative part of the work, not any basic rehab the station may need as a side-effect of the undertaking.  At Museum, this includes a new exit at the south end of the platform.  (No more TTC jail!)

    If the “private sector” winds up actually paying more than about a third of the cost of these projects, I will be astounded.  Meanwhile, scarce TTC capital will be used up as a momument to the egos of those who are behind this scheme.

    Everyone, have a safe holdiday.


  15. As mentioned by several people, it’s the small things that count.  Signs which are weeks or months out of date are one obvious example.  Why not take the simple step of putting a “remove by” date on each one?

    Steve:  I have suggested this to the TTC on more than one occasion, but it just gets lost on the shuffle.  My favourite example was a notice for a public meeting that went up at STC station after the meeting had happened, and stayed up for about a month afterward.  It doesn’t take a “best before” date to tell someone that the notice was out of date, only the common sense to read it.

    Handlettered signs (almost always sloppy) project a poor image.  They should be banned completely other than short-term use in emergencies.  Technology today allows professional-looking signs to be produced easily and quickly, and surely their design / format could be standardized.

    Steve:  To the TTC’s credit, some of their signs now are produced technologically (even if they are recycling old notices and printing on the back).  However, this seems to happen when someone thinks of doing it rather than as standard practice.

    Maybe I shouldn’t get started on the length of time construction projects seem to take.  How many months past the due date did it take to put in a relatively simple stairway at Dundas Station, from the eastbound platform to the surface at Dundas Square?

    Steve:  The only thing I can say in the TTC’s defence here is that it wasn’t their project. 


  16. 1. I’ve always wondered why the TTC does not post system maps at track level in subway stations.

    2. Isn’t it ironic that street signs are getting bigger for drivers (i.e., the blue letters against a white background) but the TTC decided to install smaller frames in the new bus shelters.  Therefore, the system maps are harder to read because they are smaller.  All because Mississauga uses the smaller system map frames.  Oh, the bigger road sign idea also came from Mississauga.

    3. Chris Hume of the Star praised the new bus shelters with all the plexiglass, but did he ever stand in one on a hot day?

    Steve:  The shelters can be drafty too because they are open at the bottom for easy cleaning.  They are sort-of shelters whose main purpose is to hold advertising.  My favourite is eastbound on Danforth at Broadview where there is service only when the subway isn’t running.


  17. The comments about timetables and figuring out how long a particular trip would take: I remember that the old paper timetables used to have a large red dot at 10-minute intervals along the route so that you could figure out how long your trip would take. If they could reintroduce this feature even on their online maps it’d give you some idea of what you’re in for rather than try and compare departure times from various stops.


  18. Steve wrote:

    “Many stations have only one monitor per platform and waiting passengers can be far enough away that the scroll at the bottom is unreadable.”

    On a recent business trip to Buenos Aires, I was commuting using their subway system and was impressed at how most stations had multiple video monitors with operational information at the bottom. These monitors were spaced about every 5 to 10 metres down the platform all facing the direction that would be seen by people waiting for a train.

    On board most trains, LED displays would tell you what the next stop is, and if the stop had connections with other lines, it would tell you that as well. Oddly enough, the latest vehicles did not have these displays on them (at least not yet), while the oldest vehicles (circa 1913, with wooden interiors an about 8 incandescent lamps per car) had the displays.


  19. Further to Calvin Henry-Cotnam’s comment:

    … while the oldest vehicles (circa 1913, with wooden interiors an about 8 incandescent lamps per car) …

    Why is it that many other cities in the world are able to keep their old vehicles in revenue service (ie Argentina’s 1913 subway cars, Lisbon’s 1930’s trams, Boston’s PCCs), but the TTC always replaces streecars and subways after 30 or 40 years?  Why weren’t they able (or willing) to keep a small fleet of refurbished Gloucesters, Montrealers and PCCs, even if it were just for limited use on weekends or off-peak hours?

    Also, on a related note, once the new buses arrive in 2007, is the TTC going to scrap the old 1970’s GM buses?  Why not keep them and refurbish them again if necessary, so that the TTC can keep up with ridership growth?  It seems silly to get rid of them, considering that they would just end up in Nicaragua or Honduras or some other Central American country, where they will be used for several more decades.

    Steve:  There is a point at which things really do wear out.  Lisbon’s “vintage” equipment has been rebuilt many, many times and there’s a certain cachet to running old cars in an even older city.  Also, it doesn’t snow there.  The PCCs in Toronto were getting in rough shape and, yes, they could have been kept going, but replacement is inevitable someday if only for accessability issues.  The Boston system has the advantage of being almost entirely private right-of-way where platform heights for old cars are easier to handle.

    The Gloucester cars, charming though they might have been, were real tanks that ran too slowly for lines with wide station spacings, not to mention hills (that hill out of York Mills on a G train was sloooowwwww).  They also ate up a lot of power.

    The Montreal cars were the oddballs of the fleet, and there were only 36 of them.

    The H-1 to H-4 cars all had various problems including worn out bodies and aging trucks.

    All of these sets of cars had no air conditioning and used mechanical power controls that used a lot of energy to move the trains.

    Even the H-5 and H-6 cars are far from perfect.  The H-5’s had the first generation of solid state electrical equipment in them, and their A/C leaves a lot to be desired.  The H-6’s were fine once the original trucks, which were cracking, were replaced.

    The irony is that it’s comparatively easy to keep really old equipment running provided that you don’t care about modern comforts.  The simpler the technology, the easier it is to keep going.


  20. I totally agree with this blog.

    It underscores the simple fact.  Even if the TTC suddenly received a large cash subsidy from any level government, I doubt much would change save for more equipment.  The TTC is poorly run.  Plain and simple.

    No amount of money is going to svae the TTC if the current management practices are maintained.


  21. Just returned from Chicago.  On my trip out, I took the Bloor night bus from Runnymede toward the airport.  Credit is due — in general — to TTC’s excellent night service and improved access to Pearson International.

    I was unable to catch the last 300 run direct to Pearson at around 4:45 a.m., and I caught what was scheduled to be the last westbound night bus at about 5:20 a.m.  It showed up at 5:15 a.m. — around 45 minutes before westbound subway service was set to begin.  A 45 minute gap followed by 6-minute maximum headway on the subway??

    I prepared to transfer to an early morning 192 Airport Rocket.

    Well, the 300 night bus dumped us — about 30 to 40 people, some with suitcases — just north of Dundas near Kipling station.  This appeared to be SOP [Standard Operating Procedure], perhaps because of the transition from night to morning service at the subway.  90 per cent of the passengers proceeded to schlep down the hill and into the station, and those of us catching the 192 then walked the full length of the bus platform.

    I’m hoping this procedure affects just a few transition-time runs, but it was silly. It was evidence, to me, that the TTC does not have the organizational wherewithal to identify and fix a basic customer inconvenience.

    I have reported both the odd scheduling and the lousy transfer via ttc.ca, but based on overall experience making suggestions to TTC this way, I do not expect much.

    Upon arrival in Chicago, I headed to the subway station within O’Hare airport.  My arrival terminal was under construction, and I found the signage to the trains poor.

    To CTA’s credit, I had an easy time buying a day pass from a machine, the train was right there, and as I boarded my car an employee was exiting with a pile of refuse cleaned from the train.

    The ride downtown was cold — the train did not lose the chill until it got crowded near the Loop.  Warmed by body heat!

    My run was also delayed — apparently by numerous slow orders — I understand CTA has not kept up its “state of good repair” on tracks.  We in Toronto do not have a subway line to the airport but the lines we have do seem in decent shape.  And the trains are heated.


  22. In response to my mentioning the use of 93-year old equipment one of subway line in Buenos Aires, Leo Gonzalez asked about why we have to retire equipment much earlier.

    Steve provided a number of good reasons to which I would add a few issues relating to the longevity in B.A.:

    Naturally, climate plays a part and since B.A. has winters that only occasionaly dip down to single digits, compared to our -20 to +30 range, it probably helps. Additionally, their entire revenue system, and all but one storage yard are completely underground, so other weather-related effects are minimized.

    Line A, the one that opened in 1913 and the only one that uses mostly equipment of that vintage, actually cannot use newer equipment until upgrades are made to the line. Being a busy system, this is a very slow process.

    I do suspect that a great factor has to do with safety standards (or just local customs), so to speak. The 1913-vintage equipment have doors that must be pulled open if you with to pass through them. They actually close “automatically” due to the motion of the train starting up… eventually. Occasionally, the train was into the tunnel before one of the doors decided to close. Surprisingly, there are few accidents relating to this which, sadly, I suspect would not be the case here. This is a place where the commuter rail system is third-rail powered but has open level crossings. The ability to sue if you touch an open third rail or fall out an open door of a moving train is not what it is in North America, so people tend to not be careless.


  23. Asides from all the concerns about posting the ‘official’ schedules and information about construction, I think that by far the greatest problem is a lack of communication of the current situation at stations during any abnormality.

    The TTC seems totally unprepared each time a station has to be bypassed or a bus breaks-down. This past week has made that even more of a problem.

    A co-worker of mine took 6 1/2 hours to get home to Hamilton last night. I spent over 2 hours getting from Scarborough to Harbourfront.

    I can accept that things happen that are outside of the TTC’s control (there was, e.g., a ‘security situation’ at Warden that closed the station at one point) – but the communication to passengers affected was and continues to be terrible. A vague announcement that there are shuttle busses running, without indicating where to catch these busses (which inevitablty end-up not running – although no one seems to care to tell those waiting for the mystery bus that the trains are running again).

    We need electric platform signs like at the stations in England, where the time for the next train or bus is indicated. Where ‘shuttle busses’ can be broadcast quickly and where they can announce quickly that train service has returned to normal.

    Any basic contingency plan for a public transit service has to include planning for simple system failures (e.g., mechanical failures, ‘security issues’ or even suicides or accidents on the track) and not just for major problems (like earthquakes, terrorism etc.).

    How hard would it be for the PA system, when announcing that a station is out of service, to announce which bus platform to catch the shuttle bus at – rather than have people harassing the maroon-coats, half of whome haven’t been told themselves? That should be simple and not cost a thing.

    Steve: This morning, the RT was not working and so I got to ride the shuttle bus from Kennedy to STC. I was lucky. There were not many people waiting for it (a moderate standing load) at Kennedy and one was sitting at the platform as I arrived. What was odd was that there were no PA announcements telling people about this situation. I had heard of it on the news, but it dropped from the list of major TTC problems long before I left for work. Coupled with the absence of an announcement in the subway, I assumed it was fixed.

    There were two very courteous Special Constables on duty by the bus bay explaining to people what was going on. However, as is usual in bus substitutions there were nowhere near enough buses as evidenced by the large crowd waiting at Lawrence East for a southbound bus and the packed shuttle buses I saw enroute northbound.

    As with so much else on the TTC, all those cutbacks of “surplus” staff and operations leaves no elbow room for the system to handle unusual events, some of which are common enough that “unusual” is really a misnomer.


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