Keeping Riders Informed

David Cavlovic sent the following note:

Steve:

With regards to yesterday’s tragic accident, I’ve been hearing the usual complaints that the TTC provided poor information and guidance to the shuttle buses.  Since I now live in Ottawa, it’s kinda hard to personally verify this, though I suspect it to be true.

All day, people were told, at least by the media, to head over to the Spadina line instead.  I’m sure the TTC said to do the same.  If they did, was there any attempt at running shuttle services between the two lines along with the 80+ buses used between York Mills and Eglinton/Davisville, and if not why not?

Surely they didn’t expect the public to crowd onto already over-filled local services connecting the two lines?  Would it not have been more effective to take ten buses from the Yonge shuttle and uses them for the various possible east-west shuttles?

If you have first hand experience with yesterday’s events and service changes, and want to comment, this is the place.

25 thoughts on “Keeping Riders Informed

  1. I was thinking exactly the same thing. Whenever there is a major closure on the Yonge subway, it almost always seems to occur somewhere north of Eglinton, so the TTC really should have a more effective shuttle plan in place – both north/south on Yonge as well as east/west at the two terminating stations. I understand that it’s hard to find drivers and buses and people to provide instructions to passengers, but there must be a better way.

    I wonder how other cities handle unplanned outages on major subway lines. Who knows, maybe what we get here is better than we think.

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  2. From my experience yesterday (taking the 84 Sheppard West bus once and the 197 York University Rocket the other time), there were no more than the usual number of people on them. I’d expected them to be extremely busy, but both the Spadina line itself and the various bus routes connecting the two lines (at least along Sheppard, I don’t know what the situation was like along York Mills/Wilson as I couldn’t even get near the bus bay area) were only running at normal traffic levels.

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  3. I am lucky to live near Eglinton station, and I work downtown, so the subway closure did not affect me in any significant fashion. Kudos to those who stuck with public transit yesterday.

    Regarding the information panels on the subway platforms: why were they displaying advertisements, while the announcement about the most disruptive stoppage in months was relegated to periodic scrolling text on the narrow chyron along the bottom?

    I have no problem with using these video screens as vehicles for advertising when the system operates business as usual, but in an emergency, a full screen message should be offered on every display.

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  4. I did notice, for the first time ever, messages on those advertising video screens. There were also frequent announcements on both the YUS and BD lines, though they were long, stuttering, and filled with too much information.

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  5. It feels a bit odd to criticize the handling of the subway closure, since the original accident is the greater tragedy. But leaving the cause aside, a north Yonge closure does seem like something that could be anticipated. My first-hand view was as a pedestrian near Yonge and Eglinton around 4:45 pm.

    The good: Spare buses had clearly been pulled from all across the city (it was an eclectic mix). Front and side electronic route signs were clear.

    The weird: What does “CHK/MW” (or maybe it’s “MW/CHK”) mean when it appears on the route number sign on the back of the bus? They all had it.

    The bad: Lots of confusion about where to board buses. Traffic was so jammed that the buses were moving about walking speed (which of course means they’re carrying fewer people per hour). There were places where legal street parking was causing bottlenecks.

    What I saw looked like pretty good improvisation, but didn’t have the feeling that they’d activated a carefully pre-planned response. Would the police agree to traffic restrictions that would speed up buses, if they were discussed in advance? (I always find the “Emergency” no parking signs at construction sites odd. Condo construction isn’t an emergency; this was.) Would pre-printed info signs, even if they required some fill-in-the blanks, help riders understand what’s happening? The number of crossover points is limited, so predicting what form subway closures might take isn’t as hard as it might seem.

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  6. I have first hand experience with this whole thing yesterday and I have to say the train service in and out of eglinton sucked. They were only using the northbound track meaning only one train could enter the station at a time and all others would have to wait until that train left before they could enter. This was caused by a flatbed car being on the southbound track blocking access to it. Despite the inconvience they should have terminated all trains at davisville station all day because at least they have 3 tracks that could have been used instead of just one. This use of only one track meant the trains were almost at a standstill. It took me about half an hour to get to Eglinton station from Dundas Station yesterday. This is yet another example of half baked TTC ideas designed to make it look like what they know what they are doing when they really do not.

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  7. I was caught up in all the fun at York Mills station. I was able to figure out where to go to catch my bus, so I’m sure anyone else could too. Uniformed TTC employees were everywhere, directing foot traffic and available for questions. I really can’t think of what else the TTC could have done short of leading me by the hand to my stop. Busses were moving in and out of the bus bay constantly, and I didn’t have to wait too long for a 96 bus to Wilson. I didn’t hear anyone grumbling, and there was no pushing or shoving.

    One negative note: the escalators up from the platform at York Mills were out of order and closed off. Traffic was reduced to 2 single-file lines in either direction.

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  8. I want to leave a comment but do not want to appear insensitive to the tragedy either.

    My condolences to the family of the killed TTC worker.

    When things like this happen, a major accident that causes the line to be shut down in a section, it really drives home the point of how much we need more alternative ways to get around in the city. I agree there should have been a shuttle to the Wilson Station I think that is west of York Mills but if there was LRT going North from the East Bloor line there could have been shuttle to somewhere East also.

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  9. The fact that Sarah noticed the usual number of people riding buses on the Sheppard West corridor proves my point: the TTC has NO contingency plans to get people over to the Spadina line EVEN THOUGH they ask people to do so. Hence the crowding and quiet fuming of people packed like sardines in buses crawling slower than a turtle (or a Conservative admitting to climate change) along Yonge. Was that not the reason we put the subway under Yonge in the first place (remember all those 100+ trolley buses running between Glen Echo and Eglinton Stn)? Therefore, when something like this shut down occurrs, and we have the option of a relief line that is suposedly Spadina’s role, should we not be getting people to that line? Would they not be saving time: an hour traversing between York Mills and Eglinton versus ten to fifteen minutes travel time by express shuttle to the Spadina line?

    In other words, it should be an automatic response to have express shuttle service connecting parallel stations on both lines north of Bloor: St. Clair to St. Clair West; possible Davisville to Eglinton West; Eglinton to Eglinton West (nobody cares about Glencairn or Yorkdale, btw); Lawrence to Lawrence West; York Mills to Wilson; Sheppard-Yonge to Downsview; and even Finch to Downsview.

    Is this so hard to fathom?

    Steve: Careful. You are insulting the turtles.

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  10. “Despite the inconvience they should have terminated all trains at davisville station all day because at least they have 3 tracks that could have been used instead of just one.”

    I wasn’t affected by this closure and don’t have any first-hand experience, but it would seem that although there are three tracks at Davisville, several crossovers would have to be traversed, which would slow things down all the same. Also, Davisville has a tiny bus terminal and not a lot of sidewalk space at the corner. Eglinton has a much better bus terminal and there is at least a lot more sidewalk space along the south side of Eglinton west of Yonge (in front of the old terminal). Despite the slowness, I think using Eglinton if possible would be part of a subway disruption plan.

    As for trying to divert people to the Spadina Subway, you might get some who know the system enough to do that, but most people know their route and only that route, so they stick to it. Sending them on an Odyssey to the Spadina line would help divert people, but in a stressful situation, it might not make much difference.

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  11. I’ve never heard any formal direction to try east/west buses instead of a north/south shuttle, although one time a helpful subway conductor used the train’s PA system to informally recommend doing so from York Mills over to Wilson. The bus was packed the whole way, and the vast majority of local passengers were left at the curb as a result.

    Longer-lasting disruptions like Monday’s have the ‘advantage’ of taking so long to fix that decent information about the disruption and alternate routes has time to disseminate and make its way to bus drivers. Uniformed staff also have time to fan out and direct people-traffic. In the case I referred to above (‘passenger injury at track level’), the bus driver at York Mills had no information whatsoever about what was going on, and therefore refused (wisely, I think) to give riders specific advice on alternate routes.

    I think most TTC riders understand that delays happen, and do their best to remain stoic. A serious problem is the lack of persistent information about service disruptions after the fact; being late for work sucks, but it’s far worse when there isn’t any way to confirm your ‘excuse’ on the web or in the paper the next day, as is often the case with ‘minor’ disruptions. The TTC’s interest in not making a formal litany of recent disruptions available to the public is understandable, I guess, but still.

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  12. Boarding the subway at King going north around 1pm yesterday, the advertising sign just had a tiny notice at the bottom saying there was a “disruption” on the Yonge line.

    I heard the announcement on the intercom and I agree with the commenter that said it was very long and rambling.

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  13. Spouse was heading north then east from downtown, and could have taken an alternative route — i.e., along Bloor-Danforth, then north — had there been information available where he boarded, but there was none. It wasn’t until he got to Eglinton and joined the throngs of people that he learned about the closure. At Eglinton, there was no information on where to board the shuttle buses which were, of course, overwhelmed.

    On the London Underground, each station master has whiteboards on easels on which he or she can provide updates on service anywhere on the line (e.g., Mornington Crescent Station is closed — please use alternative; service on the Northern line is running slowly).

    This low-tech solution could (a) help move people faster in case of an emregency, and (b) significantly improve customer relations.

    Steve: I’m not sure a whiteboard will do the trick for busy stations like Eglinton, but the real problem is the limited number of video screens in the subway and the way that emergency notices are displayed on a small scrollbar at the bottom rather than on the whole screen. I vaguely remember promises about a full screen option during the promotional bumpf on this system, but have never seen it.

    Also, there are many stations that don’t have the new signs yet, and no signs at all except at train level.

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  14. Robert Lubinski said: Eglinton has a much better bus terminal and there is at least a lot more sidewalk space along the south side of Eglinton west of Yonge (in front of the old terminal). Despite the slowness, I think using Eglinton if possible would be part of a subway disruption plan.
    In building the new “temporarily-permenant.permanently-temporary” bus terminal at Eglinton Stn., an emergency platform was installed that serves the old Yonge-Duplex exit roadway. Does anybody know if it was actually used?

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  15. Although I was not caught up in the subway issues during my commute to and from work, I did find myself on a King car at King and Bay during the big rain storm that took place around 5PM. The streetcar in front seemed to baving problems and so our driver immediately told everyone to get off and out into the RAIN!! A number of passengers protested (including myself). The driver got a bit snarky with us and stated that we could be stopped for 45 minutes. But then about 5 minutes later a miracle happened! The streetcar in front of us started moving and so we were able to continue our commute.

    Anyways, the point of this comment and I do not mean to criticize the driver in any way when I say this, but each driver has the ability to act as the face of the TTC. If that face is snarky then we as passengers feel upset. If that face is helpful and understanding, then we make an effort to lighten up. Now granted, this driver may not have known what was going on with the streetcar ahead of him, but to kick everybody off and into the rain was not very good customer service. Again, I don’t know what message he might have received but if he had said to us, “hold on a second folks, let me see what is going on. I know it is raining outside so I will get specific instructions before I send you out in the rain” would have been really appreciated by everyone.

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  16. There have been comments made about a lack of alternatives when a subway breakdown occurs. The truth is there may not be an alternative (except a sea of people walking down Yonge st). A subway line with 30,000 people per hour would take about 600 buses (about 40% of the total TTC fleet) per hour lined up bumper to bumper for the 6 mi between the stations. Obviously this is an impractical solution.
    The old (defunct) loop idea of running each track as a separate line would seem to be the only possible alternative, although even here, there would probably be a safety issue concerning workmen clearing the wreckage working beside an active line.

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  17. Running each track as a seperate line? How’s that possible. do you mean interlining?

    Steve: This is bi-directional operation on one track. That is not currently possible within the limitations of the signal system, but will be possible with the new system to be installed over the next 10 years. Having said that, the level of service that can be operated on this basis is quite limited with crossovers 2 km or so apart. Certainly nothing like full capacity service is possible.

    The TTC is planning to reinstall crossovers at King, College and Rosehill that were removed some years ago as part of the resignalling. This will give them more flexibility downtown with crossovers closer together.

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  18. For the life of me, I can’t understand why it is that people couldn’t get off at Sheppard, take the 196 across to Downsview, and go down that way, or have the TTC promote that. That’s what we were telling people who had to get to Bayview or Finch stations on Monday.

    But I’m with the majority in here, to say that if half the buses on Yonge were sent to go express between York Mills and Wilson stations, this would’ve been a lot less problematic.

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  19. I got on the subway at Finch around 2:30pm heading south to Dundas. There was an audio announcement looping about every 5 min or so stating that there was a disruption. But as stated before, it was pretty lengthy and sounded pretty bad through the speakers.

    Once the train got to York Mills, we were informed to get off and get on the shuttle bus if we intended to keep going south. There were a few TTC personel directing people and answering questions on the platform. There were also signs directing people to the shuttle buses throughout the walk from the subway platform to the bus bay. These included hand made signs and printed out ones which suprised me.

    The buses were packed but it really wasn’t suprising since it was the begining of rush hour. The only bad part was that there was a bottleneck on Yonge where the incident occured. The right lane was reserved for emergency vehicles and this caused a lot of traffic.

    Once we got to Eglinton, there were signs and TTC personel that were directing traffic. On the way back, same story. All in all I was pretty happy with the information that was provided and how everything was run during this time.

    I have one question though. During these types of disruptions, where does the TTC get all the extra buses to carry the people from one station to the next, especially during rush hour where it would seem that they would have all their routes running at full service. Or do they have a reserve of buses just for this sort of thing that include older buses?

    Steve: Some of the buses come from spares in the garages and operators who are on standby to fill in for absences, but most are taken from other routes. This means that service on many routes suffers when a subway shuttle goes into operation. As several people have mentioned, if the advice to riders is to use the surface routes to get over to another line, grabbing buses from these routes would be counter-productive.

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  20. For Gordon’s idea about the loop lines or even some slow single-track running, can the power be shut off easily on a track-by track basis? I know there are switches under the blue lights, and I always assumed that these would cut power for several blocks on both tracks; I hope TTC has some more specialized switches.

    Steve: This can be done, but must be handled centrally at Transit Control. The power trips at the blue lights are intended for emergency use and they cut all power in the immediate vicinity.

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  21. My point wasn’t that there should have been whiteboards at Eglinton, but that they should have been at King and Queen and College and Jane and Greenwood and St. Clair West…. advising people as they got on the system that there was a problem from Eglinton to York Mills so that they could take alternative routes. Waiting until they get to Eglinton or York Mills compounded the problems unnecessarily.

    Of course, the whiteboards would supplement a full-screen video notification in stations where those are available and audio announcements in stations and trains where decipherable. A multi-pronged approach would maximize the likelihood that passengers would get the information in time to use it.

    Steve: The video screens are more powerful than the whiteboards provided that there are enough screens that people will see them wherever they are in the stations. Given the current speed of communications, I would hate to think of the problems keeping the info on all of the whiteboards up to date.

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  22. I lived in Brooklyn for a while, so I can tell you what the New York MTA does when the subway doesn’t work for some reason… nothing.

    I was waiting for the L train to take me home on a very crowded evening at about 11 pm. After about half an hour, this message was heard over the loudspeaker: “The L train is no longer running.”

    I asked an employee at the booth how I should get home (expecting at least alternate directions) and he said, “Beats me.” He wasn’t unfriendly or angry or even purposely unhelpful… it’s just that the L train was the only way to get home really. Anyway – I ended up sharing a cab.

    My feeling is, even though it may be poorly executed from time to time, at least the TTC tries to do something.

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  23. I’ve actually seen a pic somewhere of an electronic service disruption board for the London Underground. I don’t know if these are replacing the trusty whiteboard or just used in larger stations. Either way, my impression is that London has many more service disruptions to announce (planned and otherwise).

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  24. The whole thing was badly managed.

    I get on at Don Mills & get off at Union.

    They should be having announcements much more often, maybe signs at all the stations (even generic ones, saying that there was a problem, and maybe one specific one at the booth), I could have could have saved myself hours by taking a bus down to the BD line from Don Mills. Its not like I get on the train early, I started my commute at around 8:30.

    I didn’t even get the message that there was something wrong until we got to Sheppard-Yonge. There was nobody there to ask questions of, the collector just ignored anyone who was asking questions.

    So I figured that I would just hop on the Yonge bus southbound. After watching 5 Yonge buses with signs saying “Not in service” go past (I am assuming that these were being turned into shuttle buses–but what a stupid idea not picking people up), most of us (there were about 50+ people standing at the corner with the same idea), went back down into the subway.

    I then figured I catch the west bound Sheppard bus, got lucky, and just managed to squeeze on.

    When we finally got to Downsview, we sat on a stationary train for 15 minutes, and then crawled south bound.

    My 45 minute commute took almost 3 hours.

    Coming home was slightly better, but I still had to wait over an hour for a bus at Downsview.

    It was extremely frustrating all the way around.

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  25. I travelled to Buenos Aires last December on business and used the subway system to travel between the hotel and the office.

    I was impressed that at the entrance to the station I used, there was a display that showed you the status of operation on all five lines.

    In addition to this, many stations had video monitors on the platform that displayed a repeated scroll of operation status, even when everything is normal. Instead of having a single unit that faces both directions as they have in TTC stations, a station would have about a half dozen monitors that faced in the direction that the train travels – since passengers look in the direction the train comes from, that is the natural direction to display information.

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