TTC Mobile / Trip Planner Not Quite Ready For Prime Time (Updated)

Updated September 18 at 2:30 pm:

The following additional “features” have been noted on the mobile interface (in addition to many reported in the comment thread):

  • Service alerts started to appear this morning with announcements about the Howard Park and Roncesvalles work.  However, there are two separate notices for the same thing, and no notice for the subway shutdown on the Spadina line.  If I call up the page for the YUS and ask for info about Yorkdale Station, I get a wealth of material, but not the vital information that there is no service today.
  • The service alerts are not hotlinked back to the longer version of the information on the main TTC site.  Of course the fact that the TTC has multiple pages describing the same project/diversion makes consistency on this sort of thing difficult.
  • When I call up a schedule for a route, I am presented with the weekday schedule, even though the system is smart enough to present me with the next three vehicles at my selected stop for Saturday.  This has long been a problem on the desktop version of the site, and clearly has not been fixed yet.

Meanwhile, NextBus still doesn’t know about where the King car is these days.  In the west end, it is back on King east of Roncesvalles, but in the east end the Queen diversion from Church to River is not reflected in the stop list.  The TTC really needs to have a simple way of modifying NextBus info to reflect where routes really are.

Original Post from September 17 at 23:52:

On September 17, the TTC announced an updated version of its website with mobile device support, as well as an improved (and no longer “beta”) trip planner.

I kicked the tires briefly, and was only mildly impressed.

The announcement claims that I should be able to view service alerts on the new site, but there is no mechanism to do so.  If I call up information about the 504 King car, the site does not tell me that there are any service alerts, nor, if I select a stop around which service is now diverting (e.g. Sherbourne) does it advise that there is really no service available.

The service alerts only appear if I use the trip planner, and the suggested trip involves a route with an active alert.

If I don’t know about the new mobile site, but navigate to the main site via my Blackberry, I get an even more malformed page than before thanks to the combined effect of Blackberry’s browser and the TTC site’s device insensitivity.  The site does not detect a mobile device and offer the alternate site as an option.  The link to the mobile site is at the bottom of the page should I happen to scroll that far.

There are several other issues, but I won’t dwell on the matter.

As for the Trip Planner, I tried one of my “test cases”, and it failed even more miserably than before.  The requested trip is from Queen & John to Adelaide & Parliament at 4:20 pm on a weekday.

If I specify a walking distance of 250m, I am offered the following three possibilities:

  1. Walk east to McCaul and take the 4:34 502 car (the idea of this route operating even vaguely on time is laughable, but that’s not the trip planner’s fault) east to Parliament, then walk south.
  2. Take the 4:25 501 car east to Parliament, then walk south.
  3. Take the 501 car to University, transfer to the subway, ride to Queen Station, and then transfer to the 501 car again.

In another iteration, the planner suggested that I take the 502 from McCaul to Broadview and then double back on the 504 King (which of course doesn’t run on King right now), a practice that is invalid under transfer rules.  If it were, the proper transfer point would be at River Street, not at Broadview.

As in the past version of the planner, if I accept a long enough walk, it suggests that I use the 144 Downtown Express, although it is kind enough to tell me that an extra fare is required for this option and even picks up the fact that I can board westbound on Richmond and ride around the loop.

I particularly liked a variant that had me walk east to Osgoode Station, ride around to Queen Station, and then take the 501 east to Parliament.

For another trip linking my current address at Broadview & Danforth with my former location near Eglinton west of Bayview, the trip planner consistently sends me via bus routes involving a transfer onto the 56 Leaside (this, at midnight when it doesn’t run very often), but misses the fact that I could make a one-seat ride via the 100 Flemingdon Park even though it would take a bit longer.  The planner completely ignores the availability of the subway.

I can’t help having the feeling that this software may work tolerably well for some trips, but gets easily confused for those where there is a dense network of alternatives.  It will be interesting to see how Google Maps handles this once the TTC sets up a data interface to this service.

Sorry TTC.  You may have organized a back-patting session and an “award” for your website (or more likely your consultant tried to puff up their work), but it still has problems.

18 thoughts on “TTC Mobile / Trip Planner Not Quite Ready For Prime Time (Updated)

  1. GO Transit seems to have nailed how to do a Trip Planner.

    Their webpage now imbeds the Google trip planner.

    Though it also has issues … entering Main and Danforth to Georgetown results in it trying to route you to Georgetown, Texas! I wonder what fare zone that is in …

    (had they linked to instead of it would actually have worked!)

    Oh well, I bet GO spent less money …


  2. I used the trip planner to get directions to a business on McNicoll near Victoria Park. Though I am on Charles Street East, and the Hayden entrance is closest, the trip planner routed me down to Wellesley Street and Yonge. The route it chose was north on the Yonge subway to Finch, then east on the 42 Cummer bus along McNicoll. I wanted to compare the alternative route along the Bloor line to Victoria Park and then north. Even when I chose destinations on Victoria Park Avenue just north and south of where McNicoll crosses that street, the trip planner still routed me via Yonge Street.


  3. Having lived in Ottawa for a few weeks, I can only commend Google on the usefulness of its transit trip planner function. For any given trip, Google Maps can suggest many different routes, even utilizing some of the more obscure, only-comes-three-times-a-day routes when convenient, and it always finds the fastest trip in a network where there are always many, many different options. I only wish it could include Hull as well, but wouldn’t we be better off leaving these sort of tasks to the people that know how to do it well?


  4. Yes, indeed.

    I “planned” a trip from the Neville loop to Yonge and Eglinton, but no matter how many ways I tried to jig it I couldn’t get an option that connected to the BD line via the Main, Woodbine or Coxwell buses.

    I did however get a fascinating suggestion to ride past Eglinton on the Yonge Line to Davisville, and then ride back north to Eglinton and Yonge on the Davisville bus…

    Not quite ready for prime-time.

    Steve: Especially considering that the Davisville bus does not go to Yonge and Eglinton.


  5. After trying the TTC’s trip planner, I stick with It’s a lot easier to enter your information. The routings do vary from the TTC’s suggested ones.

    For example, your test trip comes out as:

    Walk to Eastbound on King at John
    Board the 504 King departing from Eastbound on King at John at 4:25 pm and travel to Parliament
    Walk to adelaide and parliament
    You should arrive at adelaide and parliament around 4:36 pm

    Steve: Just for clarity, my trip is from Queen and John, not King.

    There is an “accessibility options” selection with a few selections, but it’s in beta and there’s no way to specify max walking distance. When I used the “cane” option (avoid staircases and long walks) it gave exactly the same routing.

    I tried your other trip, from Broadview and Pretoria to Eglinton and Hoyle, leaving at 11:59 PM. Three routings were suggested, subway to Eglinton and Leaside bus, Mortimer bus to Donlands and Leaside bus, and Flemingdon Park to Overlea and Leaside bus.

    One thing I wonder, if the TTC route planner will become the “official routing guide”. Going from Long Branch loop to York University’s west side, starting around 10 AM on a weekday, I took 123 Shorncliffe to Kipling and 191 express to Humber College and Finch. The 36 Finch West operator said, “That transfer is no good.” He was of the opinion that I was “out of my way”, and I should have taken the Kipling bus, because “the express runs all day”. (It doesn’t. But he insisted that it did, and he was right because he was a bus driver.)

    Oddly, the TTC route planner tends to like a Shorncliffe/Islington South routing to the subway, and then a Jane or Keele bus north. likes the 191 routing, which I do as well (especially when Humber College is not in session, as it was not). Also, the Jane bus wasn’t worried about my Shorncliffe transfer.

    I have recently used transfers in other unlikely places, as a result of making routing choices on the fly, based on a bus being there or not, or knowledge of traffic conditions. For example, I presented a Finch East transfer to a westbound Queen car at Islington and Lake Shore. It was at least a reasonable routing for where I wanted to go, but try explaining that to a TTC operator who knows one route, but rarely tries to navigate long distances on the system.

    With the TTC’s grid layout, there are lots of options. The route planners can’t be as intelligent as users who know the system. For example, I have verified that the fastest way to Kipling station from Long Branch loop is likely to be a 110A/B Islington South bus, transferring to a northbound Kipling 44 at Horner and Kipling. No route planner will show this, but that combination beats a Shorncliffe bus that left Long Branch a few minutes before the 110 — as I had the opportunity to recently verify when the 123 blew us off at the 39th St. stop.

    Both the planners, and the operators, don’t know complex routings nearly as well as observant users who have tried the various options and understand how they work. (Like your Flemingdon Park example.)


  6. Finally the Trip Planner does not just say “Take Bus X to Subway Station Y” without telling one which direction to take on the subway or even where to get off!

    Also, it’s good to see they have put the Streetcar Stop numbers onto the web timetables, but it would surely be useful to tell people how to use them, on each page. Now to get them added to NextBus, also with the instructions!

    Steve: If only they would simply hotlink to NextBus from the stop. Obviously, one is already on a browser, so why not simply call out the appropriate display? This could be used both on the mobile and desktop versions of the site.


  7. Can anyone explain why it’s taking so long to get the data to Google to add to its public transit directions? I know the city is ‘working’ with Google according to Miller, but what’s the hold up? Are we conducting feasibility studies on it? Why do other major and minor municipalities feel safe in handing over transit data?

    I have to wonder why we spent the money to develop our own in the first place. I guess you could make an argument against having to rely solely on a foreign company whose main interest is profit for such an important civic tool. But Google’s not going away any time soon, and having the transit data there is just as good for them (keeps people on their site) as it’s good for us, so I can’t see them yanking it.

    Steve: According to the TTC, Google was having problem with the complexity and frequency of changes in schedules on the TTC. I suspect there was also some foot-dragging within the TTC as they have had to add a net new position for handling the Google data interface. It would be interesting to know whether this person will also look after the other external interfaces such as real time vehicle monitoring and archival data of route operations.


  8. They have apparently fixed that annoying issue where you enter a subway station, it even autocompletes it for you, then goes to “do you mean”? screen.

    It still does it for intersections though. Go to google maps homepage and search “Bathurst and Eglinton” even on the entire continent. TTC, however, gives you a choice of:


    1) The correct intersection is blatantly obvious.

    2) “Bathurst and East Prom.” matches “Bathurst” at least. And I guess “East” and “Eglinton” are similar in that both begin with E. That said, there are multiple roads that start with E that intersect Bathurst. Some of which are even in the 416. That said, this intersection is actually served by the ttc, with a rush hour branch of the 160.

    3) For some reason this choice is repeated twice.

    4) The fourth option is a real head scratcher. For information, it’s a minor intersection of two quiet streets in the middle of an older subdivision on the west side of Frenchman’s Bay in Pickering.

    I was under the impression that geocoding had improved significanlty since 1996.


  9. The best trip planner I have still seen is for Mississauga Transit.

    However, the new TTC Trip Planner is actually better then the old one. The new one recognizes what loops – what “Long Branch Loop” is. The old one never realized what a “loop” was – I tried the planner several times, and each time the old planner would not recognize a “loop”. The TTC did have a feedback page for the old planner, which I did provide feedback for, so they must have listened to what I had to say.


  10. Steve Said: “I particularly liked a variant that had me walk east to Osgoode Station, ride around to Queen Station, and then take the 501 east to Parliament.”

    This actually works quite frequently if a streetcar has just gone by and you don’t see an other one coming. During rush hour you can often get to Queen and Yonge in time to jump up a car.

    Of course. The trip planner should only send you this way if it has real time data on where the cars are or it could be sending you on a goose chase to catch the same car you would catch at Queen and John if you just waited 5 minutes.

    Steve: And since the trip planner is using scheduled information which is completely useless on busy routes like Queen, it will make a lot of bad guesses.


  11. Trip planner worked fine for me, but I got lost after it told me to get off the 501 and turn right (not left) at Albuquerque, NM.


  12. Many years ago, we had some friends who wanted to go from Toronto to Boston so I used Amtrak’s trip planner. One route involved taking the Lake Shore Limited from Buffalo to Albany, then getting off and boarding the section of the same train that went to Boston.

    I also tried ways of getting to New York. At certain times the trip involved changing trains just east of Chicago.

    A few weeks later the feature was no longer online.


  13. This summer the TTC Trip Planner was regularly (I checked every couple of weeks) that people use the Dufferin 29D bus to get to Exhibition GO — even though 29D service was basically suspended from early June until after Labour Day.


  14. I’m not sure which thread these questions fit into:

    1. Has anyone started a pool for how long after Rob Ford becomes mayor that he has a fatal heart attack from the combination of massive waistline, beer and fast-food consumption, plus stress?

    2. When do we get to read your TIFF movie reviews? It’s been a whole day since the festival ended, Steve. Enough foot dragging already. 🙂


  15. Dave M, I wouldn’t get my hopes up about anything bad happening to Rob Ford. Pro-streetcar people are just going to have to brainstorm ways to keep this guy from getting his way about getting rid of streetcars. He is as good as elected so the time is now to brainstorm on keeping this future Mayor from killing streetcars. The polls are already showing his election to be a sure thing so let’s stop this guy from committing this unmitigated evil.


  16. David Aldinger, it won’t be just the streetcars that Ford will get rid of. He has to find hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to make his dreams come true, including paying the penalty for canceling the streetcar order: I expect we can kiss our pools and rec centers goodbye too. The program to add to the tree canopy will be gone. High Park will be paved over for parking because there will be no Forestry, Parks and Recreation department to maintain it. I believe that Toronto will enter that brave new world where everything will be privatized — children will have to pay an admission fee to private playgrounds because the public ones will be sold, for instance — and road rage will replace hockey as our favorite sport. But the police will get a helicopter or two.


  17. @DaveM

    Re: Rob Ford: This election is not just about transit. I suspect that his popularity is as high as it is as much for his “Taxpayer Action Plan”) as it is for his transit plans. I can see that options 1 & 5 may be contentious, but the other candidates would do well to get behind the “movement” behind his other points, which have absolutely nothing to do with political ideology, but more to do with showing respect for citizens and moving us toward democracy at the municipal level.

    Steve: Point 2 involves putting all City spending online. The details show that this is intended to reveal purchases on City credit cards. What Ford folks don’t seem to understand is that in large organizations it is much cheaper to let staff make smaller purchases this way than to go through any form of “petty cash” of formal purchase contract. Indeed, many items are sold only online, and a credit card is essential. The irony here is that the big money goes through contracts where you will never see the details — truckloads of cappuccino machines could be buried inside a contract for subway cars, as a simple example. I have personally read through the TTC capital budget (never mind the reams of individual purchases this represents), all 1600 pages of it, in each of the past few years. It is a mind-numbing experience. This is all about providing political ammunition, not about accountability.

    Point 3 involves competitive tendering. While there are cases where this was not done, sometimes under political direction, it is not clear that a 5% saving is “on the table” for easy recovery by the City. Ford often mentions the subway car contract, and overstates the actual savings even using Siemens and Bombardier’s own numbers. He also uses gross costs, not the cost after provincial subsidy is factored in. Whether Queen’s Park would agree to “save” money by shipping the work to China is ignored. The real question here is whether the 5% would come from large savings on a few contracts, or if there is a vary large pool of sole-source work where small savings are available.

    In some cases, the cost of tendering can wipe out the “savings”. Tendering is not just a matter of getting quotes, but of ensuring that a new “cheaper” source will provide products that actually work, meet the specifications and won’t increase future costs through low reliability or bad product support. It is quite common for vendors to attempt to circumvent the tendering process by claiming that it was unfair, and to appeal to the political level. At this point, politicians need to decide whether they trust their staff, or want to personally inspect every purchase.

    Finally, some things really only have one supplier. Typically this is for proprietary goods such as computer software or specialized equipment. Once an organization standardizes on a specific vendor’s product line, then future purchases must be for the same or compatible gear.

    I am not defending mismanagement, but warn that trying to second-guess staff based on cases where there has been clear political intervention in the process is putting the responsibility in the wrong place.

    In my opinion the only department worse than the TTC is Urban Forestry, and I’m saying this as an inveterate tree hugger and member of NANPS. In this case, they truly are all about “not seeing the forest for the trees”. They’re all about collecting fines and making a big stink about individual trees, and very little to do with saving Toronto’s forests, ravines or native ecosystems — especially if there is a big fine to threaten and residents to intimidate. Sadly, the city makes a lot of money out of those trees we “pretend” to protect until a developer is willing to fork out enough $$$. Those tree “laws” seem only to apply to disempowered residents, but not to the city, and not to developers.

    Fortunately, there is a department at City Hall that IS concerned with saving trees, ravines AND ecosystems: the water department. Unfortunately, neither department moved a hair to save the large greenspace and mature trees that will be razed to make way for the new streetcar barn.


  18. Also a bit of a side topic, but while procrastinating I noticed on the TTC website that it says that “Forms of fare payment include credit or debit” for some stations. For a second I thought that the TTC was FINALLY allowing people to pay for fares quickly and easily using cards. After a bit of browsing, I found a page which specified that cards can only be used to pay for passes.

    Imagine getting to Downsview station and expecting to pay your fare or buy tokens with plastic. If I recall, there are no banks or ATMs in the immediate vicinity, so one would have to travel an extended distance to get fare money if they don’t have cash on hand. Ultimately it is a very troubling inconvenience.


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