Today, January 30, 2013, is the seventh birthday of this site.  As I write this, we are in striking distance of 1,400 published articles and 28,000 comments.  You readers are a prolific lot, and I thank you for helping to keep the many discussions here alive and interesting.

We have been through The Big Move, my own “Grand Plan” (not to mention Swan Boats), Transit City, MoveOntario, and enough announcements and deferrals to eat through a forest of trees just for the press releases.  We have seen Mayors Miller and Ford, the latter still very much on the scene even though his influence may be on the wane.

Thanks to everyone for their kind words over the years.  There are transit fans (and I am proudly one), urban aficionados, politicians, transit professionals and the working press who read and enjoy this site (many as lurkers).  That diversity of audience is quite gratifying.

When I started the blog in 2006, I was still working as a Data Centre Manager and thought of myself as an “IT guy” who did transit on the side.  Now, if someone asks, I’m a transit advocate and a writer, retired from IT and a lot happier.

There is much more in transit’s future which, after many false starts, may finally get underway with proper funding.  We will have a Premier who actually knows the transportation portfolio.  Within a few years we should have a Mayor who can think about policy in more than three repeated words.  I will turn to the issues facing the new government in my next article.

The intricacies of TTC budgeting and operations will continue to be major topics here for the simple reason that Toronto’s is by far the largest transit network in the region, and its funding is so heavily supported by Toronto taxpayers and transit riders.  Toronto deserves better, to paraphrase TTC CEO Andy Byford, to be a city we can be proud of.  We must aim for what we can do with our transit system, what will make it a real gem, even if affording our aims might be difficult.  Great systems, great cities are not built with excuses.

I hope these articles and all of your comments will help make Toronto and its transit network shine!

What’s This Photo Doing on Metrolinx’ Website? (Updated)

Updated January 29, 2013 at 1:45pm:  Metrolinx’ response has been added at the end of this article.

A discussion has been running in the comment thread on another article about one of the photos used on the Metrolinx site.  The first of four photos in a rotating display is shown below.


This is clearly an Intermediate Capacity Transit System line (ICTS), and it has been identified by readers as part of the Kuala Lumpur system.

A strange choice considering that Metrolinx does not plan to build any ICTS in Toronto, or so they claim.  At one point, it was clear that Metrolinx had no interest in LRT, and my advocacy of it at an early public speech by the former Chair Rob MacIsacc was not well-received.  Simply “extending” the SRT to the airport was the preferred technology choice until the City of Toronto put its foot down with the Transit City LRT plan.

Why does Metrolinx use an ICTS photo to illustrate their home page when this is not supposed to be part of their plans?  (The other three photos showcase GO, Presto and the ARL.)

I asked about this last week and am still awaiting an answer.  Meanwhile the photo remains up on the site.

Metrolinx responds:

The image in question is stock photography from a website known as Shutterstock. While the image may resemble the Skytrain, it has been chosen through a creative selection process.

It should be noted that the image was also selected according to Metrolinx brand standards. Photography plays an important role in Metrolinx print and communication materials, which includes our website. Our images represent speed and action, giving the viewer a powerful sense of perpetual motion and transformation.

When shooting or selecting photography, we always try to add a touch of green, or at least, select and/or use colours that will complement the primary colour palette and add to the unique flavour of Metrolinx.

In particular, the image in question was chosen for its interesting perspective on city life, and has been blurred for use on the Metrolinx website as an artistic representation of rapid transit.

We plan on changing the images on our website soon to in order to keep it fresh, and avoid the appearance of a static site.

Well, that’s the longest “Ooops” I have read in some time.  The shot does not “resemble” Skytrain, it is the same technology in use in another city, Kuala Lumpur.

Resurrecting the Scarborough Subway

The coming TTC meeting agenda (which I will review in a separate article) includes a report on the technology choice for the Sheppard East and Scarborough RT lines.  No, TTC staff are not having second thoughts (it’s not their decision to make anyhow), but they wrote the report in response to a request from the Commission.

That Commission, frankly, should know better than to reopen this can of worms, especially when some Scarborough Councillors can’t get past the idea that somehow a subway is what their constituents deserve.  In a city that is trying to create an inclusive view of transit as something that benefits us all, this divisive approach is the last thing we need.

In any event, Metrolinx is basically telling Councillors advocating yet another technology change to get lost.

My full commentary on this is over at Torontoist.  Please leave comments there so that the thread is all in one place.

Headway Reliability on 501 Queen for November 2011

This is the first in a series of posts about service on the Queen car following on from my article about evaluating the quality of transit service.  Queen is a major TTC route that includes many problems including its length, traffic congestion in certain parts of the route, and a general dissatisfaction among riders.

Just how bad is the service?  A common observation from riders is that they can walk to their destination without being passed by a streetcar.  On the outer ends of the route, service can be unpredictable especially west of Humber Loop where only half of the service is even scheduled to travel and some of that is short-turned.

The TTC’s goal is to operate 70% of streetcar service within 3 minutes of the advertised headway.  On Queen, scheduled headways at most times lie in the range from 5 to 7 minutes, and this translates to an acceptable band of service that treats gaps of up to 10 minutes as “punctual”.  In practice, the route rarely attains that 70% score.

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How Should We Measure Transit Service Quality?


The question of service quality has been a central thread on this site more or less since its inception.  It is not enough to have service on a street (or even in a subway or on a private right-of-way) if it shows up unpredictably, or can’t be used because it is overcrowded or short-turning before it gets to many riders’ destination.

For as long as I can remember, the TTC’s stock excuse for poor service was “traffic congestion” coupled with “it is impossible to provide good service with streetcars running in mixed traffic”.  When detailed information about vehicle movements on the transit system became available, it was quickly evident that congestion was only one problem.  Moreover, some bus routes on wide avenues exhibited service qualities almost indistinguishable from streetcars tethered to rails on narrow streets.

After a period when the Toronto supported more spending on transit to improve loading standards and hours of service, the city swung to the right treating transit service as a waste of taxpayer dollars.  Despite cutbacks that could throttle demand, transit riding continues to rise, and with it the problems of service quality.  Much of the service improvement we do see is funded not by subsidies but by fare revenue, not to mention by overcrowding.

The TTC has focused much effort the “soft” improvements — cleanliness, information systems and customer relations — but for the really important one — service they actually provide to riders — the jury is still out.  The situation is compounded by budget constraints of the Ford/Stintz era, of just getting by with trims around the edges, but with no sense of a plan to make substantial improvements.

The time is overdue for a clear direction on improving transit service.  The answer is not just to run more buses or build more subways, although service improvements are needed.  We must also run the buses and streetcars we have more reliably.

The common thread through measurement schemes is that a transit system must be viewed from the passenger’s point of view.  They are the people actually riding and telling their car-driving friends how good or bad transit is.  In Toronto, at least, the riders are also substantially paying for the service.

How should we measure how the system is performing now and in the future?

For those who do not want to read to the end, no, I do not have a grab bag of solutions, a “right way” to do things.  What we do need is a better understanding of how the system behaves at a detailed level — are there specific problems on individual routes that can be removed or at least lessened, and are there systematic problems with transit operations?

Some issues are external — there really is traffic congestion — but the question to answer is how we will deal with it.  Will transit priority really take precedence at a possible cost to other road users?  Some issues are internal — is there really enough service on the road, and could these vehicles be better managed?  What improvements will riders accept with glee — service reliability — and which will they regard as “nice to haves” that don’t address the underlying problem that “my streetcar never shows up when I need one”.

Detailed reporting together with measurements that riders can understand are essential to maintain the transparency and credibility of a transit agency.  One common element through this review of many systems and papers is that any measurements should be based on what the rider sees, not on management’s view and goals.  The purpose should not be to trumpet how good Toronto’s transit is, but to find how to make it better.

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