Where’s My Car?

Today, the TTC unveiled the next step in its customer information services with the ability to obtain next vehicle information via an SMS text message from any cell phone.

The cell phone “short code” for this service is 898882 (txtttc), and all stops for which this service is available now have stickers showing their individual codes prominently.  The reponse that will come back looks like this:

505 E 3min / 505 E 3min / 504 E 4min / 505 E 4min / 504 E 6min / 504 E 7min. Predictions generated as of 14:54.

This happens to be for the northbound stop on Broadview at Withrow for my return home after today’s press announcement across the street in Riverdale Park.  The message does not include location info because you would already know this from making the request in the first place.

The list shows the next predicted vehicles at the stop.  For stops served by multiple routes where you are only interested in a specific route, you can append the route number to the stop number as in:

12345 504

where “12345” is the stop number and “504” is the route number.  This can be further qualified with a direction (N, S, E or W) although few stops have cars for the same route travelling in more than one direction.

An as-yet unadvertised service is the ability to retrieve information for any stop using a route, direction and stop name lookup from NextBus.  Once you reach a display you want, you can bookmark it for direct access.  Even if you want to look up a different location, it is faster to pick any bookmarked lookup you already have, and then select an alternate location.  These displays auto-update.  (The link given here takes you directly to the TTC route selection page.)

At some point, the TTC will create a page on their own site where you can look up stop-based info using the stop number, or navigate to NextBus for the more general selection menu.

Finally, I hope that the TTC will agree to expose the NextBus maps to public view again soon.  There have been internal debates about the way these maps show how, at times, the service is not well-organized, but this information is very useful in cases where someone wants to get a general idea of the state of a route for use in the near future without having to look up service “now” at a specific stop.

Paying the Piper

The Toronto City Summit Alliance (TCSA) recently published a discussion paper on transit and transportation infrastructure funding in the GTA.  This document will be discussed at an invitational working group meeting on July 14.

There is little new information in this report which follows on the heels of a similar paper by the Board of Trade (see my post from May 2010) and a Metrolinx review of revenue options in 2008.  Much more fascinating is the process:  a major discussion of provincial infrastructure planning and revenue generation policy is taking place outside of the agency charged with that task.  Indeed, Metrolinx VP John Brodhead is listed as a co-chair of the working group along with TCSA’s Julia Deans.

Metrolinx itself may be unwilling to discuss the so-called “Investment Strategy”, but this does not stop well-connected external groups from pursuing a more activist agenda.  After years of decrying excessive public sector spending, Toronto’s business community has discovered that failure to spend on infrastructure costs the city dearly in lost productivity and attractiveness for investment.  This is not a problem that turns around overnight even assuming we all agreed on what to do.

Queen’s Park may be horrified of proposing new taxes, tolls, “revenue tools”, but with the understanding that spending on transportation in urban regions is essential, even the more conservative elements at the Pink Palace will have to take notice.

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