NextBus Adds More Routes

The information in this post just appeared on Facebook, and so I no longer feel bound to treat it as “pre release”.

The NextBus TTC displays now include the St. Clair, Bathurst, Carlton, Dundas and King routes in addition to Spadina and Harbourfront which have been publicly visible for some time.

Real time predictions for next vehicle arrivals are available as well as maps showing vehicle locations and movement.

Now you can monitor the quality of service from the comfort of your own computer.  Warning!  Some images may be unsettling, such as the view I had earlier today when all but two St. Clair cars were between Oakwood and Bathurst.

The NextBus site works with PDAs and will detect the type of device you are using.  This access has its own URL, although you can navigate down simply by going to the home page at nextbus.com and drilling down to the TTC from the selection of locations and systems.  Maps on PDAs are available, but they don’t refresh automatically, and they are much simpler as befits the small screen.

Transit 101: Questions for Toronto’s Candidates (Updated)

Updated March 5 at 16:50:  An interview done in association with this article is now available.

Starting today, I will be publishing a series of articles both here and on The Mark, a public affairs blog.  There is a Toronto section of that site with issues specific to our city, and that’s where my pieces will appear.

Candidates for public office, especially the Mayor, should understand what they’re talking about when they prattle on about public transit.  It’s a big part of Toronto’s municipal budget, and easily the largest of our municipal agencies.

Politics by sound bite is no way to run a railway.  In the interest of educating would-be office holders and encouraging them to broaden their views of the subject, my own Transit 101.  The first article asks many questions, and in coming instalments I will address many of these topics.

No, I am not running for Mayor, or Council, or Traffic Warden, but could be tempted by a fleet of Swan Boats.

The article itself follows the break.

Continue reading

TTC Announces Customer Service Advisory Panel

The TTC has announced the makeup of its customer service advisory panel.  According to the TTC’s press release, the first work of this panel will be to review the scope of work including:

  • A review of Operator, Collector and other frontline employee initial training, as well as recertification training;
  • A review of the commendation/complaint process;
  • A review of the selection and hiring criteria for frontline employees;
  • The introduction of a customer Bill of Rights that would include employee as well as customer expectations;
  • A review of current TTC plans to address customer service;
  • Conducting public consultations/meetings/focus groups;
  • Conducting employee consultations/meetings/focus groups;
  • A public report on recommendations; and
  • Advising on expertise/resources needed to achieve success, e.g. external consultants, organizational changes that could include members of the Commission, members of management, as well as private citizens to address specific areas of interest.

The panel is expected to report by the end of June.

From my own point of view, a review of how the TTC interacts with its customers is only one part of a three-part problem.  Two others must be addressed in parallel.  If they are ignored, then this panel’s recommendations won’t go very far.

First of the two is the relationship between the Amalgamated Transit Union and the TTC, and through them with the public.  Recent media reports and “gotcha” photos of TTC staff in less-than-productive poses, coupled with public furor over the botched fare increase procedure, raised antagonism between frontline TTC staff and the public.  My gut feeling from riding the system is that this is dissipating, but wouldn’t take much to become a major issue again.

If the ATU has specific issues regarding working conditions (the protocols re work hours and breaks, for example), then these need to go on the table in a public forum.  If we, the public and the larger political framework in which the TTC operates, don’t know the nature or the scope of the problems, we cannot possibly assess their importance, priority or how they might be addressed.

The contentious nature of public statements by ATU leaders only serves to undermine support for the frontline workers.  This may “play to the house”, but it alienates the public whose support is essential.

Second of the two is the nature of TTC management.  Far too often we hear what cannot be done, not what can be achieved if only we have the will to do it.  Some of the issues are financial, others are organizational.  If there are ways to improve the quality of service, we need to have a public debate about how this will be achieved and at what cost, if any.  The Ridership Growth Strategy was based on the premise “tell us what you can do” while placing the policy decision for what we considered “good” in the political realm where it belongs.

Meanwhile, the TTC needs to examine everything it does through a customer service lens.  Will proposed changes in fare inspection annoy riders and frustrate operating staff?  Are operating and management procedures for surface routes appropriate for provision of good service?  Can customers and route supervisors benefit from widespread availability of real time displays of service conditions (eg: Nextbus)?

Whatever changes are made, they must not be superficial, but should bring a real sense of improvement for the riding public and for TTC staff.  Riders must feel in their bones that the system is improving, and staff must feel that they can actively contribute to this process with the support of TTC management and the Commission.

Wandering Streetcars (Updated)

Updated March 1 at 10:00 am:  Data for the Queen route for the months of October and November covering the period of split operation are now available for viewing.

George Bell has put together an application that displays the TTC’s vehicle monitoring data as an animation.  The effect is something like NextBus, but for historical data.  You can watch streetcars bunch now from the comfort of your own computer.

He is using the same source data from the TTC as I used for my analyses.  At this point, only St. Clair for January is available.

A few notes from George:

I’ve put together the beginnings of a bing maps viewer for the data. Love for feedback from the community.

Just a word to people before clicking on the link – the data files for each day are about a meg or two each. Silverlight is required, and if you don’t have it a link will be shown so you can get it.

Please leave general comments in this thread, and send bug notes, requests for fixes, etc. to George using the link provided on his site.

When you view a day’s data, be sure to zoom in so that the route fills your screen and you watch things unfold in full detail.  January 8th, a date already mentioned in my analytic article, gives a visual feel for the complete chaos of the line’s behaviour.

There is part of me that SCREAMS out that the TTC should make this data and the presentation format available for every route, every day.  Anyone who wants to know how a route behaved would only need to pull up its animated version.

Real time would be even nicer.  I can imagine a route supervisor (or an interested member of the public) sitting with an iPad to keep track of the service.

St. Clair From The Archives

The City of Toronto Archives contain many photos and documents of the early days of the TTC and its predecessors.  Among them is a June 1914 schedule for the St. Clair car, a line that had opened only a year earlier.

The line ran from the Grand Trunk Railway crossing just west of what is now called Caledonia Road, but on the timetable shown as “Station Street”.  A one way trip was given 18 minutes to reach Yonge Street during all hours of service.  Headways were 4.5 minutes AM peak, 6 minutes midday, 4 minutes PM peak, 7 minutes evenings.

There were 13 crews for a day’s service with work hours ranging from 8 to 10 hours, most of them over 9 hours with a spread of 11 to 14(!) hours.

Thanks to Martin Phills for alerting me to this item in the archives.

Once you visit that site, it’s hard to leave without much browsing.  Here is a selection of photos of St. Clair before and during construction of the streetcar line. Continue reading