“One Stop” Doesn’t Stop Here

The video advertising screens in our subway stations prompted robust debate when they were first proposed.  Many felt they were the thin edge of an invasion of our commuting space by relentless video ads especially on the vehicles.

Those who supported the video screens argued that they were a huge improvement over the old “Metron” displays, and touted the wondrous things this new advertising medium would bring us.  As we all know, the video screens were installed in many stations, and then everything stopped cold.

Where are the rest of the signs?  If this was such an important, profitable project, why haven’t all of the Metron units been replaced, indeed, why hasn’t there been a proposal to increase the number of screens?

Many stations, notably Davisville at TTC Head Office, still have Metron units, some of which are operating with ancient news items or commercials, not to mention clocks that are on time give or take a few hours.  These were supposed to be long gone, but they linger on.

One important function claimed for the screens was the ability to broadcast system status information.  How can you do this when many stations don’t even have them, and those that do have only one on each platform, and none in other areas?

Could it be that the advertising market is only lucrative for busy, high-activity locations such as Bloor-Yonge Station?

Is this an example of the shortcoming of expecting the private sector to provide an important piece of infrastructure that should be everywhere, but which is only where they have a hope of making money?

11 thoughts on ““One Stop” Doesn’t Stop Here

  1. Don’t forget next train arrival info, which is supposed to squeeze onto the screens once it’s available. And I did see a service message via the status mechanism once, so that is working but perhaps underused.

    Looking back, it seems like the controversy around video advertising led to the contract enforcing a maximum of 143 screens. Perhaps putting more than one screen on busy platforms has squeezed out the less used stations?

    Steve: It was supposed to be a one-for-one replacement with a few extras added for busy stops like Bloor-Yonge. There are many stations with no info displays working, and obviously they are prime candidates for expanding the rollout. I’m amazed that the advertising vendor hasn’t been jumping up and down about this unless, as I suspect, they really don’t want to spend money on the secondary and tertiary stations. Of course, the SRT never had “Metrons” and so it has no video screens either. Perish the thought the line might break down — nobody would ever know!

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  2. Steve

    I feel the same way about shelters. The downtown shelters will be rapidly converted from fairly shiny CBS to shiny Astral, and the lean-to on Coxwell which nobody uses because it’s small and decrepit will live on another decade.

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  3. There is really no point in comparing this to the real private sector, this deal was a farce from the get-go and is at least partially political – the group behind the signs was/is run by former premier Mike Harris, thereby drawing the obvious conclusion; it must be bad for the TTC. The TTC should have known better than to get involved with a group run by Mike Harris – the idiot responsible (in cahoots with Mel) for letting Sheppard live and Eglinton die.

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  4. Might one conclude that the major purpose of the video screen project was to outsource advertising sales? The TTC has never seemed very interested in selling avdertising. For example, the cards in vehicles include a large number of TTC messages and public service announcements. I know the argument is that advertising is a small source of revenue, but I’m fairly certain a few advertising salespeople who knew what they were doing could bring in many multiples of their salaries. Especially if they could establish for the commissioners what the actual value of the video screen project is.

    Steve: TTC advertising has always been outsourced. The ads you see in the vehicles are partly in space reserved for TTC use (although the cards are actually installed by the same contractor), or fillers taking up unused space during the “low season” for advertising.

    One last point — unlike many people, I do not find the advertisements as ugly as the TTC’s attempts at beautification. At the moment part of the godawful tile work on the platform at St. Clair West is covered by a billboard of a blue sky, which means you actually have something restful to look at. If the TTC could make its stations look better than ads, that would be fine with me. But their attempts at beautification usually end up making the stations looking worse — the mural on the mezzanine at the south end of the St. Clair West platform, for example, is not something you want to be seeing after a hard day at work. Maybe that’s why people cluster around the video screens — pretty colours.

    Steve: In fairness to the TTC, the artwork on the Spadina line including the mural at St. Clair West are the result of a separate public art competition totally unrelated to the standard tile walls or any advertising.

    My favourite, of course, is the streetcar mural at Eglinton West where we will have to await the Transit City project plus a fantrip with a preserved PCC so that one of those vehicles can actually visit the station with the mural immortalizing them.

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  5. Steve wrote, “It was supposed to be a one-for-one replacement …”

    Well, there you go – it is a one-for-one replacement with existing units — that are working!

    Surely, if a Metron unit isn’t working and no one is hollering about it, why bother replacing it with a new screen? 🙂

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  6. It’s good to see that Onestop still has people talking. But I think some fact-checking would help with the ongoing ‘debate’.

    1) Next train arrive information will be on the screens as soon as the TTC upgrades their data system to allow export of the signal information. Onestop has been ready to do it since day one – but it requires the speed control system to be finished.

    2) 143 screens will replace metrons, one-for-one in all stations there are/were metrons. Delays happen in any engineering project – before commenting on the speed of the installations, please undertand that in working with the TTC safety wins over speed… Lansdowne is currently being updgraded, as is Runnymede (hardly ‘high traffic’ stations).

    Onestop is more than happy to answer any questions we can. We’ve built a very strong partnership with the TTC – built on more than just advertising. When was the last time a transit wrap of a streetcar with a liquor ad provided information on transit delays, the Leafs score or the weather?

    Steve – you’re a great ambassador to transit in this city – and we’re trying to contribute too. Love to chat about it sometime: my email was submitted with the post.

    Thanks for the opportunity to chat about the other side.

    Steve: As regular readers here will know, there are times in an advocate’s or a journalist’s life (yes, I think of myself that way from time to time), where you have to write something a bit inflammatory just to find out what is going on. When One Stop first appeared on the scene, it was presented as being just this side of the second coming (no doubt to be advertised through that medium as and when it happens). The TTC has a bad habit of half-finished or badly strung out projects, and this is an example. Indeed, if this entire proposal were so attractive to the TTC, they should have been rushing to get the infrastructure for all of the video screens in place.

    The next obvious question is why stop at 143? Where is the proposal for expanding these displays to other parts of the stations where they can give info to users? Surface bus and streetcar transfer points, for example. In fact, if we were really going to provide a lot of coverage via One Stop for service information, two things would have to happen:

    First, you would need vastly more units to provide coverage. Second, the TTC would have to make a concerted effort to put useful information about all major routes on the displays at appropriate locations. Instead, the focus seems to be on “next bus” signs at stops that won’t really be practical until we get the new GIS-based version of the bus monitoring system, and I wouldn’t be surprised at a half-baked implementation even there because it’s a lot of work to keep text messages regarding delays up to date for all major routes at once.

    My complaint is at least as much with the TTC as with One Stop who is, after all, only the vendor. I don’t understand what “safety” has to do with this project unless there is such a backlog of true safety work that there are no electricians available anywhere to install power and data feeds in the remaining stations. Maybe they are the same electricians who appear once every two weeks or so to complete the work at Broadview Station.

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  7. Thanks for the clarification of TTC advertising practices. The conclusion I draw is that the TTC should stop outsourcing its advertising sales.

    I also like the mural at Eglinton West, although I was under the impression the closest streetcars ever got to the site was Oakwood. The totem poles at Spadina are good, too, although I don’t understand the connection between them and Toronto. There’s much I don’t understand, though.

    Steve: Yes, streetcars did make it to Eglinton and Oakwood, although they were gone long before Eglinton West and its mural were built. The Oakwood car did run with PCCs at the end, but they turned west to Gilbert Loop (south side of Eglinton, a little west of Caledonia).

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  8. If in the distant future we ever do get the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT completed and wish to have a PCC visit Eglinton West station, two things have to happen first – The Jane LRT and the St. Clair extension would also have to be finished so there would be a connection with the existing network (I highly doubt the TTC would be interested in trucking a PCC up there for one photo op), neither of those projects defined as having simultaneous priority, and secondly the poor thing would have to be butchered up to install a pantograph. That is, if the historic cars are even still on the property after the whole network is re-wired – don’t forget Mr. Moscoe’s confident statement that those cars would be forever banished to the museum once the wire is changed. That opinion has to be rooted in the management culture at the TTC for such a statement to be made so boldly. I’ve always been surprised we’ve managed to keep any historic vehicles whatsoever!

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  9. “That is, if the historic cars are even still on the property after the whole network is re-wired – don’t forget Mr. Moscoe’s confident statement that those cars would be forever banished to the museum once the wire is changed.”

    That’s forgetting, of course, that even in the late 1920s, the TTC experimented with bow collectors on a few Peter Witts and ex-TRC wooden cars on Yonge and Oakwood. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out how San Francisco manages to operate both trolley pole PCCs (and Milan Witts) and articulated, pantograph Bredas on the same track!

    Steve: One simplification in San Francisco compared to Toronto is that their system is radial rather than grid in layout, and they don’t have many, many intersections with 90-degree crossings and lots of interchange curves.

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  10. I too am disappointed — with the speed of installation and with the current product.

    When did the first monitors appear? When will most stations have operating monitors?

    Of the two major pieces of information that the new displays should offer, both are underwhelming.

    First — the time. You could see the Metron time from a great distance along most platforms. The OneStop time design has changed recently, but from my eyes it’s no more visible at a distance than the previous design. It’s puny.

    Second — delay info. TTC has the capability, (but not the resources?) to use the displays for alerting riders about delays on the subway network. How are they doing on this? I was told (for an article back in May) that TTC would work on adding surface delay info (principally streetcar) to the monitors. Has anyone seen this?

    Timely info could actually entice folks to check the TTC banner along the bottom. As it is, there is no longer much incentive to read the standard TTC messages that scroll there.

    Steve: I have seen such a notice once. However, given the small number of displays in most stations, and the total absence in others, I would have to be standing right under the display to actually notice that something worth reading was scrolling by.

    Leaving aside ‘next train’ warnings — which, while potentially popular, are not really a priority when maximum headway is five minutes — the two items that the monitors should provide to TTC riders are inadequate or absent.

    Steve: I am astounded that an organization that can’t find two pennies to rub together for automated fare collection wants to waste money telling people when the next subway train is going to show up.

    Ads, news and weather — while diverting — do not directly enhance transit service.

    I too see a need for monitors in other areas of stations, especially as collectors have little or no access to subway delay info. But if there aren’t resources to do it right and provide fresh, reliable data, let’s think before proceeding. Ditto with ‘Next Bus’.

    Further, how are the OneStop monitors performing when it comes to service updates such as planned route changes or RT closures, for example? TTC already provides these online and sends them out to the media — are they appearing on platforms?

    Steve: Surely you jest! Putting this sort of thing on the displays would require considerably more screen time and space than the TTC gets in the current arrangement. This is the problem when the organization sees the units as a way to raise revenue, not as a way to tell people what’s going on.

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  11. Let’s not forget the bus shelters from Mississauga, complete with smaller map holders. The TTC’s response? Reduce the size of the system maps by 20 % or so, instead of having a larger holder installed! (Ironically, this occured just as larger, blue and white street signs were being put up to help drivers.)

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