Some Day My Train Will Come (Updated)

Over the past week, I have spent a lot of time in Dundas Station what with the AMC theatre being a major venue for the Film Festival and the location of the principal box office.

On opening night, September 4, the “Next Train” information was up and running on the One Stop video monitors.  Alas, by closing night, September 13, all we got was a black band with “No Information Available”.

As those who’ve been reading here for a while know, I am not impressed by technological tricks, especially when they are of dubious value and don’t work reliably.  There’s probably some very good reason for the system’s failure, and this is part of the 90-day pilot, but I can’t help wondering whether the TTC will be any better at keeping information systems running than escalators.

The full rollout of One Stop monitors is supposed to be completed, along with the in-station “Next Bus” info screens, by the end of 2009.  This brings me to one huge problem with One Stop:  It’s an advertising medium, and it is located to be seen by the most people, up to a point.  Many stations (including the one right under TTC head office) still have Metrons, some with working displays advertising for that same kennel near the Airport.  Donlands may even have a full set of working displays, and the ones at Museum were carefully preserved until days before the station redecorations were unveilled.

At Yonge Station, the monitors are far enough apart that the “Next Train” info, were it present, would be illegible to half the waiting passengers, and Yonge has more than one monitor per direction.  The problem, of course, is that if signs are intended to offer information, there have to be lots of them and this runs headlong into the design issue of overwhelming stations with video screens.

Speaking of Museum, the white columns are starting to look dirty, and there has been at least one naked lady (at least a classical reference) sketched on a column.  This sort of thing is endemic on the TTC.  Projects start but never finish.  Things are built but not maintained.

During the whole 9 days the displays at Dundas actually worked, I didn’t experience a delay to see whether they gave accurate info, or resolutely showed the same estimated time for 10 minutes running while the next train sat somewhere down the line.  I didn’t get to see a display with any value higher than 3 minutes, and have no idea of how reliably the system will deal with service holds and gaps.  We shall see, once they get it working again.  Any other observations of the displays’ behaviour would be appreciated.

Updated Sept 14:  I have been advised that different versions of the “next train” software will be tested and that the display will be out of service from time to time.  All the same, it bears watching to see how reliably available and accurate the information will be.

21 thoughts on “Some Day My Train Will Come (Updated)

  1. Speaking of “technological tricks”, I wonder how long it will take for “Future home of Trip Planner” on the TTC website to live up to its promise.

    At the very least they could provide a link to MyTTC.ca.

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  2. I’ve never really understood why it’s important to indicate the arrival of the next subway, when one rarely has to wait more than 5-7 minutes for one. I’d be more interested in “next bus” alerts on busy bus platforms.

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  3. To echo Jordan, I really don’t care too much if I have to wait a bit longer for a subway, they run very frequently, and subways are ‘indoors”. Most bus stops are outside so it is useful to know that the next bus will not come for x minutes (if it’s true) and one should maybe take shelter somewhere. Of course, the bus stops with no shelters are exactly the ones which will NOT have displays! (Or I assume they won’t, if the displays are connected to the advertising. I have been in other cities where the “next bus” information seemed to be at every bus-stop, with no advertising.)

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  4. The reason for the testing location of this piece of arbitrarily useless technology (as it exists in an environment where unreliable service is rarely cause for concern, and is often made up by the “express” nature of the subway) is because the infrastructure to support it already exists.

    Forgive my lack of sarcasm, but the TTC has moved at a remarkable pace (for the TTC), in establishing the audio/visual next-stop information system across the entire system.

    Assuming the success of this experiment, I would expect the next roll-out to be on the streetcar fleet, where it is arguably needed most (insert troubled line, not 502, 503, 504, 505, 506, 508, 509, 510, 511 or 512) and where the cost of installing the necessary equipment would be certainly smaller (in terms of the overall number of locations as compared to) a roll-out on the bus fleet which would inevitably follow.

    For a system that is legendarily in it’s lack of appropriate (multi-level!) funding, it’s much easier to justify an experiment in customer service where the infrastructure already exists.

    Everyone wants to see it on the surface, where it counts, so let’s all hope that they can manage it in the most controlled environment that they operate in. The original announcement included the line “in house design.” Which, frankly makes me think of duct-taped “this way to streetcars” signs at St. Clair West.

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  5. Yet another frill the TTC can do without, trains run every 6 minutes in the worst of times. Instead of fixing the problems with reliablity they put this in instead. The only way they should put this technology in is in the GO network, yet a simple read of the timetable posted in the station will be the best. As said make the trains run on time, that means more then anything.

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  6. Seems to me like little more than a ploy to get riders to watch the ad screens then anything else. Not a very useful ploy, in my opinion, because the ad screens and especially the text at the bottom are not legible from very far away. At most, this will just enrich the ad company.

    Here’s the way to do it properly (from Paris):

    Notice the much simpler and easier to read design. All it shows is the time and the expected time of the first two trains – in this case, there are two branches, so it shows the first two trains on each branch. These displays are installed throughout the system, on all lines (except 3bis and 7bis).

    Though I agree that these signs are useless in Toronto because trains run so frequently, and all trains follow one route. They are only useful in case of delay, in which case I suspect that they aren’t reliable.

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  7. Further to your comments on Museum Stn Steve, many of the spotlights highlighting the column figures are burned out now as well. I guess we’ll have to wait until the next scheduled re-lamping for them to be replaced.

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  8. I’d do a graphical representation that shows us where all the trains on that segment are — just like the 1960s tower control mimic board at Islington.

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  9. Yep, ‘next train’ signs are a novelty unless there is a delay. Then they are important, as long as the delay info is accurate.

    How are the VIVA ‘next vehicle’ signs faring? I wonder if they are measured regularly for accuracy and ‘customer acceptance’.

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  10. Will the surface “Next ” signs include branch/destination info?

    It would be interesting to see “Westbound to Long Branch in 3:55” change to “Forget it, bub!” because you’re waiting at Spadina westbound and CIS just shorturned the packed Long Branch car at McCaul.

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  11. Or, you know, not have a packed streetcar on St. Clair, when there are two (three?) streetcars idling at St. Clair station?

    Regardless, the amount of stations that still need these things. Let’s see, all of the Scarborough RT, all of the Sheppard line, and at least Donlands, Museum, Old Mill, and can anyone think of anything else?

    Nice idea, but wrong usage.

    Sigh. Someday we’ll live in a real city. Not anytime soon, though. It’s always nice when you have folks running the city you wouldn’t want running a lemonade stand.

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  12. Ed, the VIVA boards are faring great! They have been accurate every time when I wait at a VIVA “Station.” People in York are slowly moving onto the VIVA system so I expect that somewhere within the next five years, that combined headways south of highway 7 be in the under two minute range in it’s ROW. Of course the Yonge subway will be packed by Sheppard and people who live at Eglinton using the crosstown line to the subway will be picking their noses wondering why they can’t board a train.

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  13. I agree that it should be a higher priority to have information on when the next bus will arrive at bus stops – is anything like that planned? Once you are in the subway station, you’re stuck there anyway; but it would be nice to be able to call a phone number to find out when the bus is coming to a particular stop, so that you can plan accordingly. I have no idea about the relative cost of this compared to this “One Stop” plan, but they have such a system in Hamilton and Halifax, and from my limited experience it seems to work fine.

    Steve: The TTC is planning to have both displays in bus shelters as well as interfaces to query arrival times via PDAs or text messaging.

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  14. There used to be a display system at Warden Station similar to what you see at airports as it identifies which buses are scheduled to leave, the bay that you need to be in to catch that bus, how long before this bus leaves the terminal, and how long before the next one comes in. I wonder why they took that system down.

    The fact that Viva has a functional signage system does not hide the fact that it is a terrible service. The Provincial and Federal Conservatives seem intent to showcase the benefits of the “state of the art system” while hiding the most obvious wart: that it is nothing more than an cheap express bus with bells and whistles like the arrival signs to fake a rapid transit system. It is this reason why these nutjobs get more funding commited to running this cheap system than the TTC.

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  15. Would it not be cheaper and easier to just have a “busline”? In Hamilton, they have a good one that is fully automated and you can search for your stop very quickly if you don’t know the 4 digit code, you can not only get the next few arrival times, but you can look up times for later in the day or even another day of the week….

    If you’re curious, try this:

    Dial 1-905-527-4441 when the prompt comes enter 2744 (that’s the stop near my Mum’s place) it’s for routes 1, 10, 52…

    For more information on the system go here: http://hamilton.ca/hsr

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  16. There was a system that told you all the info regarding bus departures at warden? Steve why did they take it down. Any ideas?

    Steve: The only thing I remember was a “bus at platform” flashing light, and as these broke one by one, they were not fixed.

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  17. yea they still have them. They all work except for the one in Bay 9 which is only used to shuttle buses. They did have a giant panel in the bus platform waiting area that acted as as map and directory. The directory and map has now been removed but the panel remains.

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  18. I remember the ‘bus at platform’ flashing lights at the old Eglinton terminal. While all they told me was whether or not I had to run to catch the bus, it certainly saved me many times from missing my ride on a less-than-frequent route.

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  19. Those bus at platform lights are in Islington Station too, I use them frequently as I depend on the 50 a lot and as well the ability to stay relitivly warm while waiting for a bus is kinda nice…

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  20. Am I to take it from the report that the relationship with OneStop is not going well?

    There are still many station without screens (some constructed many years after asbestos was banned), even though the discussion above was that rollout would be complete by 2009.

    Steve: This issue was held down at by the Commission for a further report on the status of OneStop’s proposal to be brought to the August meeting.

    And now TTC is working on their own system, at least to be placed in the station entrances … though presumably once it’s running, it can be deployed on platforms as well.

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