The Look of the TTC

Today’s Toronto Star has an article Sick transit: TTC dirty, leaking, decaying about the sorry state of many of our subway stations.

Although this is the worst time of the year for assessing the general look of anything that is used by hundreds of thousands of people per day, many of the complaints from Star readers ring true.

Stations don’t look as clean as they once did despite the TTC’s attempt to arrange its crews for heavy-duty blitzes on stations rather than superficial dusting. This is further complicated by the now-and-forever construction and repair projects that give the impression of jobs half done and forgotten. The TTC could do a much better job, both on site and online, of posting notices that should be kept up to date about what is going on.

Speaking of notices, there is a huge, ongoing problem that notices when they do appear remain in place long after the work is done and they act as magnets for grafitti and other abuse. This sort of thing contributes to a look that says “we don’t care”.

(My personal favourite was College Station during the 506 streetcar track reconstruction where three different generations of diversion notices existed, in some cases side by side, in various locations.)

Oddly enough, just a few days ago I did an interview with some journalism students from Ryerson about “design on the TTC”, to which my first offhand reply was “what design?”. Yes, there are various standards for new signage as well as older generations, but this is obscured by so much pure junk that the clean, unifying benefit of consistent graphics is totally lost.

Plant maintenance is one of those TTC budget lines that was squeezed for years, and gets little respect because it’s always easy to say “just get more productivity out of your staff” rather than looking at the underlying problems. Like so much else in the TTC (and municipal services in general), we need to know what it would cost to provide better service in this area. As long as the attitude is “we can’t afford it”, we (the public) never get a chance to weigh in on where the TTC might spend more money. This was the situation with service quality and, although it has taken forever, the Ridership Growth Strategy allowed those who want better service to advocate for it with hard numbers on costs and benefits.

Litter will always be with us, and the sooner the TTC picks it up, the better. Scratchitti is becoming a major problem and I’m not sure how quickly the TTC addresses this. My gut feeling is that I see far too much of it, and it can’t all be fresh.

Attracting riders isn’t just a matter of better service, it’s the environment in which that service runs. Telling riders that it’s their fault for littering blames the many for the thoughtlessness of the few.