How the “Small Stuff” Can Wreck the Best Intentions

A comment arrived from a regular reader, David Crawford, about how the TTC mishandles the details of its service and information. This really belongs in a new thread, and I’m sure it will spawn a trove of examples from other parts of the system.

The TTC is, probably necessarily, a very complex organisation but seems to lack the ability or ‘culture’ to look at projects or services as a whole. This is apparent in major ‘conflicts’ between priorities where the priority to reduce overtime results in short-turns and ‘maintaining the schedule’ rather than thinking of the priority to provide ‘good customer service’ and thus ‘running to headways’. This inability to ‘think things through’ is also apparent in much smaller ‘projects’.

More minor examples are the strange absence of links to NextBus on the TTC schedules pages (because the ‘schedule folk’ don’t talk to the “Nextbus folk” or resent Nextbus?) and in the recent temporary splitting of the 72 bus route.

Splitting the route may have been a good idea but giving it a new number (172) led to (unplanned) problems. Many bus stops had the Route Number painted on them, someone had to go out and add a “1″ before the “72″, the Nextbus displays at the King Station were not working for months (and may still not be), someone was sent out to fasten new 172 route schedules to poles, but was not told to remove the ones for the 72 – which no longer ran to those stops. In addition, because the 72/172 is on a ‘temporary’ routing downtown there were also large signs along the route noting that the 72 ran there – these too had to be changed to read 172. Furthermore, there are (old) buses that do not seem to be able to display a route 172 sign so they still actually run as 72s – though are, in fact 172s. There were also references on the TTC website to the 72 bus – getting to the Distillery for example – when the new (temporary) route was the 172.

It would have been far easier and less confusing if they had simply created another branch of the 72 that would only run between King and Commissioners. When the route numbering was changed it would also have made sense to have bitten the bullet and officially changed the routing so that the bus will go permanently to the King and St Andrew subway stations. This temporary change has clearly resulted in far more ridership as the 72/172 is now a very viable alternative to the (too often short-turned) 504 streetcar.

The lack of direct links between the TTC schedule pages and Nextbus is very annoying, and you have to know your way around to use the information.  That said, there are a few challenges in presenting the information.

Both the desktop and mobile versions of the site provide the “stop number” which can be used with a text message to retrieve predicted arrival times for vehicles.  The desktop version includes a clickable “?” that is supposed to call out a help panel, but on the 504 display I tested, this has no effect. I believe the idea is that the pop-up should tell you how to use the stop id in a Nextbus call.

There is no reference to Nextbus on the general Schedules and Maps page, but it is included with much other info on a Connect With the TTC page.  If one is using either a desktop or a smart phone, it is not necessary to know the stop number as there are other paths into Nextbus, but their availability is not explained by the TTC.

Other apps, of course, use the same data feed and have their own benefits and drawbacks, but they all depend on having something beyond a basic cell phone.

As for the 172 and the Pape diversion in general, the truly annoying feature was that it was so prominently advertised in King and St. Andrew Stations while information about the 509 Harbourfront bus (a much more frequent and well-used service, especially by people unfamiliar with the area) went for a long period with only minimal signage. Visitors from other planets might be forgiven for thinking that 72 Pape / 172 Cherry are vital routes without which the city would collapse.

The problem for the TTC is inconsistency.  One day a change or diversion will get saturation coverage, another day it’s a small paper notice if you look in just the right place.

As for the 504, yes, it’s a mess. I am working on a large collection of vehicle tracking data for a series of articles on the evolution of service on this route over past years. What is abundantly clear to anyone riding the system is that managing for headway is a myth, and short turns to keep operators on time are more common than ever. Meanwhile the King route supervisors cluster outside the John Street Tim Horton’s in an obvious display of wasted manpower.