Fire? What Fire? TTC Public Info Missing In Action (Updated)

As anyone around Toronto knows, a major downtown fire on Queen east of Bathurst has caused the rerouting of the Queen, Bathurst and Spadina streetcars on February 20.

Details can be found at The Star and there are good photos of the fire itself on The Torontoist.

Meanwhile, over at the TTC’s service advisories page, all is silent. It’s nice to know that the TTC can disrupt three busy streetcar routes but not bother telling people how they should plan to travel around the area.

Maybe what we need is a multi-billion-dollar public information system so that people could walk to their carstop and be told that there is no service. No, they probably wouldn’t be able to make that work either, and I am sure stops on Bathurst and Spadina would be happily telling people that the next car would be along in 10 minutes or so.

Update 1: The TTC has posted a hotlink to a notice about the Queen car on their main page, but their brand new Service Advisories page is still silent on this situation. So much for consistent navigation to a single source of info.

Update 2: As of 6:00 pm on Thursday, February 21, the emergency band on the One Stop displays in the subway was still running yesterday’s message about a working fire on Queen and diversion of the 501, 510 and 511. Of course, by this morning, the fire was long past “working” and the 510 and 511 were back on route.

Update 3: As of 10:00 am on Friday, February 22, the emergency notice still claimed that there was a working fire and that the 510 and 511 services were on diversion.

If the TTC can’t even manage proper information from one emergency, how can they possibly handle bulletins to a network of transit shelters and subscription-based service alerts via text messages and email? These things don’t write themselves, and if the TTC is serious about public info, they need to actually make it someone’s job (on several shifts) to keep this sort of thing up to date.

35 thoughts on “Fire? What Fire? TTC Public Info Missing In Action (Updated)

  1. To add insult to injury, the Toronto Fire Services website has an up-to-the-minute-current website listing all of their active calls, at

    While it’s great that the fire department is this up to date, it doesn’t really matter to me as a citizen what they’re doing. I mean, I’m really glad they provide this service, but I also trust them to do their job without needing to know the details of how they do it.

    The TTC on the other hand, can’t even manage to get out the simplest of messages about disruptions on two of their busiest surface RT routes?

    Pathetic, through and through.


  2. The TTC cares not a whit (or should I say Witt) about it’s Website, one of the most inacurrate sites I’ve ever been on. If they are true to form, then, much like their service updates, the advisory will be posted about two days after the fire!


  3. cbc radio has been doing a consistent job of announcing there are mess-ups and re-routings though.
    maybe they’re taking advantage of that service of some tax dollars while trying to react. I’ve often wondered how a quick-response to crisis is pulled off – some responses are better than others.


  4. to add to the fustration there are two streetcar routes operating on spadina, the 510 spadina from spadina station to college and the 511 Bathurst from College to Union…. I only learned that much from . Thank you TTC for making my commute as simple and effortless as possible, even though I have to transfer to two different streetcar routes to get to get to my destination on the same street on which they both run. ** Shakes Fist **

    Steve: Actually, according to the Star, there is no service between College and King on Spadina, probably because the fire has affected power in the Queen/Spadina neighbourhood.

    Also, I note that the TTC has given up on running the 501 via Queen and Shaw and is sending the service east via King from Roncesvalles, again according to the Star.


  5. The problem appears to be not that the information is delayed in getting out, but that there is no mechanism for providing this information. The “emergency disruption” page only deals with subway and RT lines. Meanwhile, surface route diversions are only posted if they are planned events (construction, road closures, special events etc.). There doesn’t appear to be anywhere to put emergency diversions for surface routes (it would make too much sense to group them together with subway/RT disruptions…).


  6. And notice how those ad screens, which we were told could be overridden for emergencies, are never overridden? Even when Kennedy station was closed, those screens were useless.

    Steve: Well, actually, I have seen messages scrolling across a black band at the bottom of the screen. However, this has several problems:

    First, you have to be in a station where there actually are screens. Despite the fact that these are supposed to be moneymakers, the TTC had been slow to install the wiring needed to run them. Maybe they don’t pay for themselves after all?

    Next, you have to be standing beside one so that you can actually notice there is a message. This means actually being on a train platform, not wandering around up at street level.

    Third, for the complexity of today’s message, you have to read a lot in that scrolling message.

    To me, an “override” means that the advertising vanishes completely to be replaced by the emergency message. The different format would catch people’s attention and they would learn that this mean “you should read this right now”.

    I am sure that there is an advertising sign equivalent of “traffic congestion” that prevents this arrangement from being changed.


  7. The TTC finally added some information on thier website – 13 hours after the initial event. Regardless, they need to start posting any “big” diversions, anything that is going to require buses or streetcars to divery for longer then an hour, lets say. A fire, or a fatality on the streets for example.

    Steve: And what do they post? A completely separate link on the main page to an announcement that only talks about the Queen car, not about Spadina or Bathurst. This shows what a joke “public information” is at the TTC — they don’t even use the new page, announced with great fanfare at a recent Commission meeting, to describe the most significant disruption of surface traffic since Finch Avenue collapsed last year. Anyone who hotlinks to the “Service Disruptions” page would not know this problem existed.

    Meanwhile, the map on the Star’s site has been upgraded to use individual colours for each route’s diversion making this much easier to understand than their original.

    Just imagine the fun when we get a unified Metrolinx page. We will find notices of Queen car diversions under Brampton Transit because their web team won’t know about the Queen Street in downtown.


  8. Nothing unusual about a downtown diversion – this one just is getting more prominent coverage in the regular media. The people I spoke to who were downtown today said the 501 was moving just fine (on the east side of the city), and the 506 was once again crippled by parked SUVs in Chinatown (Broadview) – not that that makes the news …

    Steve: When I read the hype about how we will all be able to check on service with displays at all stops, how we will be able to subscribe to text messages or RSS feeds advising of problems with our favourite routes, I can’t help thinking that the TTC has a huge distance to travel when they can’t even maintain one web page for a major disruption.

    As for Broadview & Gerrard, this is an excellent example of a location with serious traffic problems that have nothing to do with the peak periods and everything to do with the intensive delivery activities at many stores. Strangely, we have not yet heard any TTC proposals to take over these streets for the benefit of transit riders.


  9. I remember that Joe Clark (The PM not the Transitfan) made a comment once about how the TTC was a bunch of hyped up mortormen. The suggestion was that the TTC is not built for passengers. Part of the problem beyond that is how the news reports, there are updates every ten minutes for people who drive cars, but nothing for people who take the bus. It falls on the blog owners to try to keep transit users updated. GO is far better at this, they had news of the derailment up quickly. Why cant the TTC do the same? Even YRT is better.


  10. First-time poster, somewhat-new reader….

    Although an up-to-the-minute website for the TTC would be nice, I am not convinced that this would actually be a useful endeavour. I have never checked the TTC website before riding the streetcar (or the subway for that matter), because the internet is not always accesible – when you’re going home from the Eaton’s Centre, for example. It takes quite a lot of dedicated resources to run such a service; resources which could be better spent elsewhere. Perhaps small electronic schedules to replace the current schedule placard, which can be updated as neccessary?

    Steve: There are schemes to have info signs in transit shelters that would advise you of problems, as well as text message and email feeds with alerts to which you could subscribe. I’m astounded that the TTC basically depended on the Star to have a good map on their site, and on the media in general to tell a story they claimed, only a few months ago, they would handle themselves with the bold new Service Advisories page. They have a lot to learn.


  11. I have never checked the TTC website before riding the streetcar (or the subway for that matter), because the internet is not always accesible – when you’re going home from the Eaton’s Centre, for example. It takes quite a lot of dedicated resources to run such a service; resources which could be better spent elsewhere. Perhaps small electronic schedules to replace the current schedule placard, which can be updated as neccessary?

    In theory, you should be able to call 416-393-INFO.

    Two problems with this:

    1) There is an automated menu option for subway disruptions only (if I remember correctly.)
    2) The staff are only there something like 9-5, often don’t have the correct information (I called before heading out that day, and I still got the wrong info about the 511 Bathurst diversion), and are often UNBELIEVABLY RUDE. They sound annoyed that you’re asking them questions (isn’t it their job to answer?) and attempt to rush you off the phone ASAP.

    Now, with regard to the platform video screens, at 11am yesterday I saw this:

    A slightly non-sensical and non-grammatical message scrolling across the bottom of the screen saying that 501 was disrupted (no details), and CP24 had added three “COMMUTER ALERT” messages (as they’ve been doing lately) to news headline rotation on the right side of the screen detailing the disruptions on each route. This information was WRONG too, but CP24 is not the horse’s mouth and I can’t blame them since they’re at the mercy of the TTC for correct info as well.

    So, kudos to CP24 for making an effort and boo to the TTC for doing as little as possible.


  12. Peter K is certainly wise not to rely on the present TTC website for current transit information and he is right in saying that even if the website were up-to-date it would not reach people on the street. “The Answer” is that we need both up-to-date information on TTC website – the new version of which is, I think, due in April – AND some information on local diversions and delays at the actual stops. (Knowing when the next vehicle will arrive when things are running properly would be nice too but it is the unexpected delays or diversions which are so annoying!)

    I would be interested in knowing how the TTC updates its website, I suspect that any changes have to be approved by a succession of Managers so that it is inevitable that the ‘news’ will be long out-of-date by the time it is approved for posting, and the website manager has gone home by then anyway! While the diversions yesterday were certainly major, and unusual, it is not uncommon to wait for a 504 westbound at stops between River and Jarvis while the cars have all been diverted along Queen and Church. Who knew? Certainly not the customers!


  13. The people I spoke to who were downtown today said the 501 was moving just fine (on the east side of the city)

    It is to laugh. Seriously, I think the 501 was the worst I’ve seen it in a long time yesterday. Let me tell you about it… I got to Queen and Bay around 5:20 p.m. and waited for an eastbound 501 car. The first one that came along said it was short turning at Parliament, so I waited. Next car was a 502 (should’ve taken it, but it was pretty packed, and I still had faith). Then I got on a 501 that claimed to be going to Neville Park, but the driver promptly announced he was also turning at Parliament.

    We all got off at Parliament and stood at the corner for a while; I eventually went into Shopper’s for a snack, which was a mistake, because a streetcar went by as I was waiting. I got the 502 that came next. Then waited at Kingston Road. The next 4 cars to come along: 503, 502, 501 turning at Kingston, not-in-service car going to Neville Park. (Actually a fairly typical lineup if you’re stuck waiting at that corner in the evening.) Then a 501 going all the way to the end, finally. Everyone was grumbling.

    In the morning a lot of westbound cars were short-turned at Church, too. I mean, I get that the fire likely meant a lot of disruption in the service, but did it really have to be THAT bad?


    It does seem a shame, after the big fanfare of the new buses and improved service over the weekend. I want to love you, TTC. Why do you make it so hard?


  14. Speaking of better ways to get service updates, this is just dreaming aloud, you understand, but if the Weather Network can manage text messages about regular weather or weather warnings, wouldn’t it be cool if the TTC could do the same? It wouldn’t have to be a subscriber service; you could text a route number to the TTC and get info by return text message.

    This assumes that the TTC’s technological setup and information currency would be way, way better than they are at present, of course. 😉 Can anyone remember if this option, or anything like it, was one of the items in their website survey several months ago?

    Steve: The TTC actually lists this as one of the Customer Service initiatives they plan over the next year or so. However, as we all know, if you don’t put the info into the system in the first place, all the technology in the world isn’t going to tell the customers anything. Even worse, it could happily report that there are no known problems when in fact the line hasn’t operated for half a day.


  15. CBC Radio 1 (99.1) reports GO & TTC transit problems every 15 min or so in the morning and the afternoon. They’ve listed subway slowdowns, stalled buses at major intersections, and certainly the large incidents like the Queen/Portland fire.


  16. As a result of the Queen Street West fire, the Star reports “Bathurst St. will be open to streetcars, but closed to other vehicular traffic between Adelaide St. and Dundas St. W.”

    It seems that the Bathurst streetcar has a temporary transitway. Would service on Bathurst be temporarily improved? Would such a transitway be usefull on a permanent basis?


  17. After three years of walking to work I changed jobs and now have to take the TTC again. It took only three days before I experienced two horrible delays in one trip!

    I take the subway from Dundas West or Keele over to Lansdowne and then take the 47B/C to just north of Eglinton. On day three I waited FIFTY MINUTES for a train. Then the bus couldn’t make the turn around the construction fences at St. Clair and Lansdowne and we waited TWENTY MORE MINUTES for a supervisor to help spot the bus backing up (while all westbound auto traffic was also completely blocked.)

    My trip ended up taking FOUR TIMES LONGER than it should have. It was bad enough that the two delays happened in one trip. But the worst thing was that there was no PA announcement about the subway delay for at least 45 MINUTES! If I had known that an H4 train had broken down at High Park Station I would have immediately left the subway and taken a cab to work so I wouldn’t be forty minutes late instead of forty minutes early. I really don’t care if the service is broken as long as I’m told in a timely manner so I can quickly detour or make other travel arrangements. The TTC continues to fail miserably at providing the most basic of necessary public information.

    On a related note, it mystifies me that no attempt was made to turn back a train or two at Keele to fill the massive service void that was forming westbound. Even though it was noon-hour, by the time the disabled train was pushed off the line the next train was packed to the doors and the platforms at Keele, Dundas West and Lansdowne were filled to the edge. There are so many ways that this situation could have been handled better, none of which occured. Was everyone at Transit Control out for lunch? Or was that ‘Out to lunch’???

    I have already had to reduce my availability at work to account for the unreliability of the transit trip. I shouldn’t have to leave early enough to allow for the trip to be four times longer than it should be. I can’t afford a car. My only practical means of getting to work is transit. I require effective communication about delays from the TTC so my job record isn’t ruined by late arrivals. Vast portions of the TTC network have reached the point of essential service all day long and they need to be treated as such.


  18. Contrast this to my own transit commute experience this morning:

    I was waiting at Islington Station to transfer to the Mississauga Transit #76 Burnhamthorpe bus. A couple of minutes before it was scheduled to arrive/depart, a Mississauga Transit employee came to the platform to let us know the bus was delayed due to a breakdown. He clearly explained some alternative options, and told us when the next #76 was due. He then answered some peoples’ questions directly.

    MT earned some points from me today, even though I was a few minutes later than I should have been.


  19. Kristian says, “I really don’t care if the service is broken as long as I’m told in a timely manner so I can quickly detour or make other travel arrangements. The TTC continues to fail miserably at providing the most basic of necessary public information.”

    The TTC could take a lesson from Metrovías in Buenos Aires – aside from useful service bulletins being displayed on the monitors on station platforms, they have indicator signs at the entrance to many stations that indicate the operation on each subway line. These tell people if the line is operating normally, or if it is experiencing a delay, with an estimate of the length of that delay.

    That is the sort of information people need in order to make a decision before entering the system.


  20. Put some kind of GPS/wireless transmitter receivers into buses and streetcars and at bus/streetcar stops to get accurate information on how far away the next bus/streetcar is and get that information on a display. As for the subway, how about some indication of how many minutes until the next train arrives? It seems like all of this should be possible, right?

    Steve: The vehicles already have GPS capability. However, if the line is blocked, the display may continue to predict the next car’s arrival based on its unchanging position. Also, if the car is going to divert before it gets to you, the information will not be valid. In cases where multiple routes (or branches of one route) serve the same stop, the system needs to distinguish between branches and deal with situations where express trips will not serve local stops. This is particularly important for short turns where a trip scheduled to go to Neville, say, is really only going to Woodbine Loop, but stops continue to advertise its approach and scheduled destinatioj.

    In the subway, it would be possible to say “next train in X minutes”, but again there are issues. There must be some way to distinguish a train that is two minutes away but not going anywhere, as well as trains that are short-turning or running out of service.

    In both cases, human intervention is needed to post meaningful information via station and stop displays about unusual conditions on the routes. The signal system can only figure out so much on its own.


  21. In responce to Ian’s comments about TTC staff being very rude/frustrated/upset when you ask for information on delays (because of the THOUSANDS of people asking the same question) my response of simple – they have no right to be upset. If they want to get mad with someone, tell them to go yell at their boses, the guys who refuse to give us the proper information. There are 50 people on a bus, and only 1 of them is a driver. If the TTC wants us to take them seriously, they are going to have to start telling us what is up.

    Steve: They are also going to have to tell their own staff who often are just as much in the dark as we are.


  22. It sounds like even the GPS won’t be a complete solution (it can give estimates based on current speed/distance from a stop but is not aware of routing changes). It sounds like what they really need is a computerized routing management system. I’d imagine that something like this would already exist for the subway (perhaps I’m overestimating their technology?) but it would also seem like these tools should already exist in off-the-shelf packages…the problem with human systems is that your always going to run into issues where someone forgets to do something (tell the driver what is happening, put the information on the website, call the radio stations)…what is needed is automated and extensible systems…especially when there is so much data (as there is in this case)…


  23. I’m not the former prime minister and what I said was that the TTC is run by jumped-up motormen. This is actually an old line of Paul Arthur’s.

    (Incidentally, the CAPTCHA word that makes this blog provably inaccessible to the provably extant blind readership gives me the word “hogtied” to retype.)


  24. Barring other evidence, the OneStop banner showing the very dated info regarding 501, 510, 511 was changed to indicate just the 501 diversion once I told TTC CGM Gary Webster about it, when the Metrolinx public meeting ended before noon Friday.

    Later on I saw the change, though “diverting” was missing its “t”.



  25. However, if the line is blocked, the [GPS] display may continue to predict the next car’s arrival based on its unchanging position.

    Fortunately, thats a pretty easy one to solve with barely a line or two of code. speed = distance / time. if you’re reading zero distance passed in a reasonable amount of time (say, 5 minutes) its a pretty clear indicator that somethings amiss, no? 😛

    Steve: This assumes the coders had specifications that allowed for other than ideal conditions.


  26. I’m considering regretting ever having pressed the TTC to enhance its protocols for informing the public.

    This is from Friday eve. What does it tell us?

    “Subway/RT Service Disruption Notice: Friday, February 22, 2008

    “A section of the Scarborough RT service is currently shut down at Scarborough Centre Station. Shuttle buses are in service.

    “Generated: Fri, 22 Feb 2008 18:41:01 -0500”

    Steve: Ah yes. I rode the McCowan bus to get down to the subway from STC myself. The notice you have is nearly one hour after the event because I was there at 6 pm and the incident was already in progress.

    As of 7:30 pm, there was nothing on the Service Advisories page, and I assume that normal service (such as it is on the RT for the past weeks) has resumed.


  27. Well any way you look at it, the TTC website is definitely NOT one of the better transit agency websites I’ve ever visited. It sounds to me as though someone at the TTC isn’t very web-savvy.


  28. Humm. You know back in the 1950s, Toronto was cut from York County. South of Steeles became Metro and north of Steeles became the York Region. Perhaps it’s time to add Toronto back to the York Region – and let YRT run the TTC’s website. YRT might have problems, but they sure know how to run a website


  29. Nick J Boragina wrote: “Humm. You know back in the 1950s, Toronto was cut from York County. South of Steeles became Metro and north of Steeles became the York Region. Perhaps it’s time to add Toronto back to the York Region – and let YRT run the TTC’s website. YRT might have problems, but they sure know how to run a website”

    This may be true but YRT (outside of Viva) doesn’t know how to run regular transit service. As a TTC operator who frequently operates on “North of Steeles” TTC routes, I constantly hear complaints from passengers about poor service on YRT’s regular routes.


  30. This is a little on the tangent to the fire, but has been on the back of my mind since I first noticed this situation during the Dundas reconstruction.

    Saturday, while waiting for the Ossington bus (for 25 minutes, despite the claimed new 6-minute frequency) at the corner of King and Shaw, every 501 (westbound only as no eastbound cars passed by for this period, despite the claimed new 5-minute frequency) that was detoured through this corner dewired. Over and over there was a two or three minute delay while the connection was put back. This appeared to happen frequently at Queen and Shaw also. Back during the Dundas diversions, for months my trip in the morning would get held up by a dewirement at Gerrard and Parliament. Does the TTC not do any overhead maintenance on the non-revenue track?

    Steve: Generally this happens only when someone reports a problem. Non-revenue frogs like the one at Shaw and Queen get well worn in to the main direction of travel. When diversions start, unless someone complains a lot, the overhead crew never even knows that there is a problem. This is another example of things falling between the cracks.


  31. If any one is still paying attention to this post, believe it or not the TTC has been running a shuttle bus McCaul to Shaw for the last couple days.

    The TTC /finally/ has updated their website (it either happened today or yesterday) so the public knows that such a shuttle actually EXISTS.

    On a vaguely related note, if you go look at the map on the TTC website, I have no idea why the TTC is even running this shuttle as its practically useless — For all the bother you may as well just walk from King, its just not far.


  32. How hard would it be to have a print shop print off a hundred or so placards. Then have someone (like the supervisors) put them on the stops that are out of service (or using shuttle buses) and at the subway stations affected? I know that’s old technology, but it seems to work.

    Anyone with any sense would have realized that Queen would be blocked for at least a week!

    I doubt the TTC could ever have anything approaching the COMPASS system that MTO has for the freeways. The same is true for the VIVA style bus shelter “next bus” notifications. It just seems too complicated for them.


  33. Just to add to the missing public info bit…

    There was no subway service between Lawrence West and St Clair West tonight because of power problems, and yet again neither the TTC website nor the onestop signs had any useful information.

    Steve: I did hear detailed announcements on the PA system, including one correction issued in mid-breath. Irony of ironies, I was at Kennedy Station at the time.


  34. Re: Real time service information
    Most European cities now have very efficient real time information systems, which are usually based on combinations of computer driven screens at stops/stations, PA systems and text (SMS) messaging. All European systems have control centres, where emergencies are co-ordinated, usually to a pre-rehearsed plan, after work in the 1980’s in Dublin. Text (SMS) messaging has become widespread, both for emergency information but also for more routine information like timetable changes, new routes (in your home registered area), special ticket offers and reminders for ticket renewals.
    Prof. Lewis Lesley
    Liverpool England


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