No Pearl in the Oyster?

Today, Transport for London announced that they would be terminating their support contract for the Oyster fare card at the 10-year opt-out anniversary:

Transport for London to terminate £100m a year Oyster contract.

The Mayor and Transport for London (TfL) are convinced that any new contract will deliver enhanced services for less money, driving significant savings.

The Mayor is keen to improve the Oyster card to make it even more attractive for Londoners and TfL will work to make sure this happens both quickly and in a way that represents the best value.

Shashi Verma, TfL’s Director of Fares and Ticketing said: ‘Transport for London is committed to delivering value for money across all of its services.

‘As part of this we are looking at more cost effective ways to manage and develop the Oyster card system that we expect will save millions over the next few years.

‘The savings will be reinvested to deliver further improvements in London’s transport system.’

Full news release

BBC coverage

TfL took pains to emphasize that they think the Oyster card is a great thing, but that the cost of providing the service can be reduced from the £100-million annual cost to a consortium of private contractors.  Issues have already surfaced about ownership of the “Oyster” brand and other components of the system.

Meanwhile, Torontonians continue to hear about the wonders of Presto as the salvation of regional travel.  I must emphasize that I don’t object to technology per se, but in London’s case there was an overwhelming need to replace an antiquated and complex fare structure and fare collection system.  Toronto does not face the same level of complexity.

An odd thing seems to grip advocates for technologies in various guises:  all of that private sector, value for money, keep an eye on the taxpayer’s dollar stuff flies out the window the moment someone wants to sell a system.  Metrolinx and Queen’s Park seem to be big on “alternate financing”, a scheme by which we keep the cost of infrastructure off of the public books by having a private company own and operate it under a long-term service agreement. 

Will they turn the same eagle eye on Presto, or will we simply be dragged into the new system without understanding its true cost?  The last time I heard, the cost to implement just for the TTC was approaching $250-million, plus annual costs to operate the system of at least $10-million greater than the current elderly but simple token and pass scheme.

Will there be a option to get out of the Presto contract at, say, a 10-year anniversary as there is in London?  Will the contract be written to ensure that the infrastructure, the trademark and any valuable side-agreements such as the use of a fare card as an electronic wallet stay in the public realm?  Will we just give away the store like Highway 407 to the salesman with the best song-and-dance who offers a quick solution, don’t fret about the details?

Stratford Reviewed (4): All’s Well That Ends Well

This week took me back to Stratford for a performance of All’s Well at the Festival Theatre.

The play turns on the premise that a country lass, Helena, orphan daughter a medical doctor of great renown, manages to save the King of France’s life using the most revered of her father’s potions.  For this, she is rewarded with her choice as husband of any man in the King’s power to command.  Of course, she picks the one real idiot, Bertram, a young lord who thinks she is far beneath him and not worthy of his attention.  Although the marriage is enforced by the King, Bertram is off to the wars in Italy, never to return until Helena can win the ring from his finger and carry his child, difficult feats at the best of times over long distances.  But it’s Shakespeare, and there’s always a way involving disguise, seduction and the wooing of the fool with his own ego.

There is much to like in this production directed by Marti Maraden who was briefly part of the troika of Stratford artistic directors who succeeded Richard Monette.  Much to like, but not to love.

Daniela Vlaskalic struck me as a rather one-dimensional Helena, and she doesn’t get to do much more than pine and plot.  Even the plotting depends as much on luck as skill, and one can’t help wondering how Helena managed to be in exactly the right place at the right time.  As the clever daughter of a doctor, one would expect her to show great skill and intelligence (I can’t help thinking by comparison with Kate in Shrew), but that’s not how Vlaskalic plays Helena.

Jeff Lillico as Bertram is saddled with an unsympathetic role from the outset.  He thinks he’s hot stuff even to the point of defying the King’s wishes (a chorus of “off with his head” would have ended the play rather too soon), and despite his behaviour, the King lets Bertram go off to war rather than settling down with his new wife.  When we see Bertram in his military guise, he’s a good if somewhat misguided leader with a friend, Parolles, whose swagger disguises a complete lack of military skill or daring.  Helena does manage to get both ring and child, and in the end Bertram is properly contrite.  He may be a lord, but it’s his generals who know what they are doing.  Fortunately, peace breaks out.

The real strength of this production lies elsewhere. 

Martha Henry is the Countess of Rossillion with the majesty that Henry can muster, but here muted both as Helena’s surrogate mother and as a friend of the King.  I can imagine Martha Henry eating poor Bertram alive for his impudence, but that’s not her role.

Brian Dennehy, in his first Shakespearean role (!), is the King of France.  He’s rather avuncular, and as we first see him, weary of those who cannot relieve his medical problems.  Once cured, there’s strength, but used sparingly.  I liked Dennehy’s reading of the part, although by the end of the performance he had slipped into a somewhat more natural delivery than suited his role.

Stephen Ouimette is Lord Lafew, the King’s right hand man.  He echoes Dennehy’s genteel manner, but tells us much of his private thoughts about other characters with looks rather than words.

Finally, Juan Chioran as Parolles the braggart is a delight.  He is completely full of himself, but easily undone after a mock capture by his own company.  Ever helpful to the “enemy” he quickly gives a complete and unflattering assessment of his compatriots.  This is a wonderful role for any actor, but it should not overshadow the rest of the play as it does here.

In all, this All’s Well took a while to get off the ground, and had delightful spots.  A production worth seeing if you’re in Stratford for something else, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to see it.

Finch West LRT Proposal

The information panels from the Finch West open houses are now online at the project’s website.

A few items of interest from the preliminary plans are:

  • Station designs for both Finch and Finch West stations
  • Design problems for the Highway 400 crossing
  • Options for the western terminal

At both subway stations the LRT will serve, one of the options will be an underground LRT station.  At Yonge Street, a few of the proposals seem a bit far-fetched especially a lengthy “around the block” arrangement that would encircle Finch Station with LRT trackage.

Something that needs to be remembered in whatever design the TTC chooses is the possibility the line will eventually be extended east on Finch.  An east-west alignment for the terminal as well as the capacity for a large volume of transfer movements with the subway are important, and my gut feeling is that the underground scheme will be chosen.

At Finch West Station, there are two main options:  surface or underground.  The surface option has two variants.  Either this would emulate the classic streetcar/subway interface such as we see downtown with passengers walking to sidewalk subway entrances, or there would be a centre platform with connections directly to the mezzanine level of the subway.  The latter is my preference.

The western terminus is not settled yet, but the Woodbine Live centre is certainly an extension option.  Totally absent from the panels is any discussion of an airport connection.  The possible alignment shows up on an overview of all transit studies, but as part of a Hydro corridor scheme. 

Finally, I must congratulate the TTC in finding a photo of an attractive substation, a lovely brick structure that would actually complement any neighbourhood rather than the dull bunkers we have seen in previous open houses.  Who knows?  Transit City may launch a whole new generation of “hummer houses”, a disappearing feature of the Toronto landscape.