TTC Fouls up Variety Village Service Plan (Updated)

Updated April 26 at 2:30 pm:

I received a note from the TTC castigating me for the “gotcha” nature of this article.  In effect, in my zeal to show this as a staff error, I left out information that would have painted a different picture.

The background for this is that at the December 2010 meeting (the first of the new Commission), there was a presentation on the options for serving Variety Village.  This presentation is not available online, but was sent to me with the complaint.  Given its size, I have excerpted the portion relating to the proposed 12 Kingston Road split in which it is clear that (a) service would be removed from Kingston Road at some hours and (b) staff do not support this option.

2010.12 Variety Village Route 12

The December report accompanying the presentation includes an earlier report on Variety Village which mentions the split 12 Kingston Road service as an option, but recommends against it.  There is no mention in the 2004 report that a split service would remove buses from Kingston Road completely during some periods of operation.

The loss of service with this option is not mentioned in the April report or recommendation approved by the Commission, nor in the “Commission Highlights” posted after the meeting.  It is quite clear that this was seen as a “good news” story, and that the Commission did not understand (or if they did, care to acknowledge) that a service cut was involved.

The original post from April 25 follows below.

Continue reading

Where’s My Stop? (Updated)

Updated December 28 at 11:45 am: I have received a note from Brad Ross at the TTC advising that there is an unspecified issue being worked out between the TTC and the supplier of the stop announcement system.  Once this is settled, the backlog of changes will be implemented.

This post is intended as a container for reports about inaccurate stop announcements.  Given the legal hassles the TTC went through about their implementation, it’s odd that they don’t bother to adjust the info in the GPS-based units when stops are moved.

I have relocated two comments about this from another thread to this one just to keep the info separate, and in the hope that someone at the TTC will actually read and act on this.

The single largest problem I have seen in years of watching TTC’s attempts at customer service is the complete lack of co-ordination between departments, and the concurrent lack of credible or accurate public information.

For example, there are still signs at Bloor-Yonge Station telling you that the subway doesn’t run north of there late at night, although the project that triggered this operation ended some time ago.  The line remains closed north of Eglinton for tunnel work, but south of Eglinton, the line is operating.

Other diversion notices remain in place months after they are obsolete.  Even if they contain an end date, a reader may not notice this, especially if they are unfamiliar with the system.  Construction notices acquire a layer of stickers telling us when projects will finish, some day, eventually.  At least they are now real printed notices, not hand-written (mostly).  And, yes, the elevator at the east end of Yonge Station is finally back in service.

TTC Meeting Wrapup for December 15, 2010

[My apologies for the lateness of this post.  The last few days have seen a number of distractions and conflicts with blogging in my life, and I am just getting back to it “full time” now.]

The Commission meeting began with two unusual events.  One was a “motion without notice” by newly-minted Commissioner Palacio proposing that the Commission ask Queen’s Park to give the TTC “essential service” status.  (This was a procedural device requiring a 2/3 majority to permit for an “urgent” situation, although with the current Commission makeup, that sort of majority is easy to attain.)  After a brief debate and with only Commissioner Augimeri (the token non-Ford supporter on the Commission) opposed, the motion passed.  The “urgency” was caused by this item’s being up for debate on Council’s agenda for the following day based on a similar motion at Executive Committee earlier in the week.  I have commented on this issue separately.

The other event was an inaugural address by the new Chair, Karen Stintz.  (See Chair Stintz’ blog and scroll down to “My Priorities as TTC Chair”.)  There are four main aims, none of which is worked out in much detail.

  • Sharpen the client focus.  A troubling note here is that “clients” is read to include “funders”, and getting value for money is considered a matter of customer satisfaction.  I agree, although probably not as Chair Stintz would like, from the point of view that money well managed and spent can give us more and better service.  This runs headlong into the next point …
  • Realign transit expansion plans.  Chair Stintz takes the Ford party line that voters want underground transit, although she also wants to stay in line with the regional view of Metrolinx and the funding of state of good repair projects.  Voters may want underground transit, but whether we can afford it or need it in the larger context is quite another matter.
  • Invest every dollar wisely.  If I comment on this, I will start to repeat myself.
  • Embrace new ways of doing business.  This point is rather vague and the only concrete proposal is a change in the Commission’s composition.  The real problem, as we have discussed at length on this site before, is the question of who would be “qualified” and “appropriate” to sit on the TTC board, what their agendas might be, and which masters they really served.

I wish Chair Stintz well in a very difficult role in difficult times.  The TTC and the transit system is a large, complex organization, and its effect on the City of Toronto is greater and more long-lasting than most other agencies Councillors direct.  Collisions between being “pro transit” and being part of “Team Ford” are likely to come as soon as the 2011 budget process, and certainly as Council begins to look at planning for 2012 and beyond.

Union Station Second Platform & Concourse Improvements

This report, authorizing a contract for the construction work on this project, was approved, but not until after considerable questioning by Commissioner Minnan-Wong who is greatly perturbed by the increasing cost of the project.  How did it get from $90-million to $137m (not including work funded from various TTC facility improvement lines in the Capital Budget), and who was paying for the added cost?

The project is funded primarily by Waterfront Toronto which, in turn, has a nest egg contributed by the City, Queen’s Park and Ottawa in equal measure.  WFT agreed to fund the increased cost, and the money was redirected from the cancelled Front Street Extension project.  The cost increase comes mainly from changes in the design to accommodate the City’s own Union Station project as well as the complexity of rebuilding a major subway station while it remains in operation.

The project gets underway in January 2011.

Ashbridge’s Bay Maintenance Facility

This topic was the subject of several deputations by members of the Community and by area Councillors, as well as some debate among the Commissioners.  The primary issues raised were:

  • Why was the cost of site preparation not included in the original project budget?
  • Are there other properties owned by the TTC or by City agencies that could be used either in place of the proposed Ashbridge’s Bay site, or that could allow the TTC to shuffle existing uses among sites to free up space for the new streetcar yard elsewhere?
  • Is the land that would be used for the new facility needed for future expansion of the sewage treatment plant next door?

A few points are worth noting.

  • Any change in site would require a new Transit Project Assessment that would take the better part of a year to complete.
  • A site in New Toronto owned by the City’s agency Build Toronto was previously rejected by the TTC as being too small, although at 24 acres it exceeds the property requirements for a new facility.  The real issue here may be that Build Toronto hopes to reap $50-million from the site, considerably more than they would be paid, if anything, by the TTC.
  • The Lever site south of Eastern Avenue near Broadview was previously rejected for being partly unavailable, but that condition no longer applies.
  • The need for expanding the sewage treatment plant had been ruled out during the study for the Ashbridge’s Bay site, but in any event would require taking of the existing open space and berm which some local residents are defending against the TTC project.
  • The scope of work planned for existing carhouses keeps changing.  For example, a proposed expansion of Russell Carhouse to be used as a temporary facility for work on the prototype streetcars, and later as a major collision repair shops, has been dropped.  This work will now be done at Hillcrest in the bays used for maintaining the articulated streetcars (ALRVs).

TTC management will report back on these issues early in 2011.

Again, the question of project budgeting came up.  There is a still unsettled battle between TTC and City finance staff about whether the TTC can spend money on a project whose scope and cost have changed without first obtaining Council approval.  Because the TTC board delayed action on awarding this contract, the issue has not yet come to a head, but may do as part of the 2011 budget process.  A revised project scope for this facility will be included in the overall Capital Budget and this may, or may not, attract attention.  As I understand current Council policy, only if the revised scope is approved by Council through an updated budget would the TTC actually have the authority to proceed.

New Overhead Facility Lease

As I mentioned in the preview of this meeting’s agenda, management recommended that the Commission relocate its overhead maintenance crew to new quarters to be leased for five years.  This will allow for expansion of the crew to undertake major reconstruction of the streetcar overhead infrastructure.

This report was approved without comment.

Post Secondary Student Metropasses

A large crowd of students demonstrated on Nathan Phillips Square before the TTC meeting, and they moved into the Committee Room to support speakers on this issue.

The Commission decided that students in Private Career Colleges who have full time programs (defined as 20 or more hours/week) would be eligible for student metropass pricing.  This will come into effect probably for February 2011.  Other groups, notably students at Community Colleges, will be the subject of a separate report early in the new year.

Most interesting about this issue was the fact that the Commission made no attempt to dismiss the request on the grounds of budget constraints or equity with other riders.  This particular room full of students got an uncharacteristically warm reception from an agency whose usual response to requests for subsidies is “go elsewhere”.  The Commission (partly in their other role as Councillors) is spending the “surplus” in the TTC budget even though this may not last into 2011.  The presence of a well-known former politician as the legal counsel government relations consultant for the Ontario Association of Career Colleges may have had something to do with the success of this student appeal.

Transit Service Variety Village

After an impassioned deputation by Councillor Crawford, one of the new faces at City Council, and a staff presentation outlining the problems involved and the options available to serve Variety Village, the Commission decided to go forward with a staff proposal to increase the hours of service on the Variety Village Community Link bus so that instead of ending at 7:00 pm, the service will run until 10:00 pm.  Moreover, the frequency will be improved from hourly to half-hourly.  Both changes take effect in January 2011.

Unknown to most would-be riders, this service is available to any transit rider, not just to Wheel Trans users.  The combination of longer hours and better service are expected to improve riding on this route.  A report on the success of the improved service and on alternative ways to serve Variety Village will come forward no later than June 2011 with the intention that any changes would be implemented in September.

Praxis II Showcase 2009 at U of T

When:  Wednesday, April 15 from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm

Where:  Bahen Centre Lobby, 40 St. George Street

What:  First year engineering students spent half a term identifying and researching issues of usability, accessibility, and sustainability within the TTC system.  This led to 80 “Requests for Proposals (RFPs)” of which the top six were selected as design challenges to be solved during the second half of the course.

Topics:

  • Improving Passenger Safety Near TTC’s Exposed Subway Tracks
  • Solving the Heat Loss Problem
  • Improving Wayfinding Signage on the TTC
  • Service Delays Caused by the inefficiency of Passenger Dynamics Into and Out Of Subway Cars
  • Revising TTC Bus Interiors to Maximise Space and Boost Passenger Satisfaction
  • Improving the Emergency Response System on the TTC Subways to Decrease Delay Time and Increase Safety

For more information, please see the full invitation.

Green is Nice, Working is Better

The New York Times has an article today about a scheme in NYC to operate escalators at variable speeds.  This is intended to save energy by slowing down escalators when nobody is on them.

Despite claims by the MTA, several of the “converted” escalators either were not working at all, or were not behaving as advertised.

The nub of the issue comes right at the end of the article:

Rick O’Conor, who runs the Roosevelt Islander blog, questioned the need for the new technology. “It’s not of primary importance to have motion-activated escalators,” he said. “It’s of primary importance to have escalators that work.”

He said that all 10 escalators at the Roosevelt Island station had been out of order recently, and that his elderly mother had had to walk up the stairs. “A group of teenagers were nice enough to ask if she wanted them to carry her,” Mr. O’Conor said, adding that his mother pressed on.

Of the 10 escalators at Roosevelt Island on Monday, two had yet to be fitted with the sensors and two were shut down.

Another resident, Valentina Montecinos, 28, said, “Sure, it’s a good idea to save energy, but these escalators are never working anyway.”

Alas this is the fate of so many good ideas that bedevil transit systems and other public agencies.  In the name of some higher goal, be it the environment or fiscal responsibility, something is rolled out through an organization that is already doing a tenuous job of running their system.  The new, improved function doesn’t work and may even work less reliably than what it replaced, and “going green” takes a black eye.

Toronto has a bad habit of ignoring or downplaying the importance of a lot of things like reliable escalators and elevators.  Without these, many people can use the subway and RT only with difficulty or not at all.  We hear a lot about “safety” and the number of checks that must be made before a machine can be restarted.  The point is that if you’re going to have this technology, then it has to run reliably and staff must be available to keep it online.

Meanwhile, if anyone has some brilliant brainwaves about transit, make sure that they can actually work successfully rather than creating one more way for riders to be annoyed with poor service. 

Elevation or Escalation?

In the past, I have discussed the issue of non-working escalators, and Ed Drass devoted a column to this yesterday in Metro.

GO is moving away from escalators according to Ed’s column:

Why not replace the units with new ones? Replies Boyle, “The escalators do not perform well in the rather harsh environment that we have subjected them to.” He says the salt and sand that is used on platforms gets into the machinery and causes “premature failure.”

There is also an issue with escalators feeding into crowded platforms and pushing more people out into a space where there is no room. This is an issue at Union Station, and GO is planning to eliminate escalators as they wear out (or sooner if the reconstruction plans go ahead).

At Bloor-Yonge and St. George, the TTC monitors crowding conditions and stops escalators if they have to.

This brings me to a question about the role of such devices on transit systems. Nobody likes climbing up stairs, especially when it’s more than one flight, and escalators contribute to the convenience of moving around in stations. Unlike elevators that are fitted in one per vertical rise wherever they will fit, there are often many escalators to serve demands right where the demand exists.

Imagine if you were on the lower level at Bloor-Yonge and wanted to get to the surface. First you must go all the way down to the east end of the platform, ride the elevator up to the Yonge line level, then come back onto the northbound platform to take an elevator up to the mezzanine, then make your way out into the Bay’s concourse.

For someone who has trouble with stairs, that’s a lot of walking just to get to the elevators, and in many ways it defeats the purpose.

There’s an analogy with vehicle design and the range of options for those with mobility problems. At one end is the Wheel Trans bus fleet, then accessible taxis, then accessible surface transit and subway stations. A major reason for making the base system accessible is that this removes some demand from Wheeltrans and allows those who can get around more or less on their own to use the same system as everyone else.

If we start to treat escalators as things we can do without, this will have a profound effect on accessibility of the system to those with a moderate impairment, not to mention on station design where walking distances to elevators will become an important consideration.

As for GO Transit, this system will evolve from one whose primary mission is to carry hale and hearty folk who sprint up and down stairways, to one with more off-peak travel and customers for whom stairways are a major impediment. Making elevators convenient to get to and reliable will be a vital part of their service.

Keeping escalators running is a major headache for transit systems, but those escalators are just as much a part of “the network” as the buses and trains people ride on.

A Place to Stand, Revisited

Some time ago, I wrote about the disappearance of “Walk Left, Stand Right” on TTC escalators and the cock-and-bull story the TTC puts out on why such an unusual burst of efficiency was launched to remove all of these overnight.

The latest installment in this saga is a new brochure that has shown up on TTC vehicles called the Escalator Safety Guide.  Notable by its absence in this guide is any reference to walking on escalators.  Indeed, we are told:

Escalator steps are not the correct height for normal walking and should not be used in that manner. The risk of tripping and falling is greatly increased.

I would have more faith in this statement if the escalators I use regularly were actually running.  In many locations, walking to an alternate route either requires a considerable detour, or the available stairs are incapable of handling the demand in both directions.  People walk on escalators whether they are stopped or running, and the TTC should get used to it.

Later, the brochure goes on, in the best TTC tradition, to blame customers for all of their problems:

Many escalator incidents are due to:  falls, resulting from the rider losing balance;  entrapment in the mechanics of escalators caused by clothing, footwear or suitcases; and use of mobility devices or strollers.

Strollers and the like are supposed to use the elevators, if you can find one, and it’s working that day.

But bless the TTC.  One of their great traditions is the preservation of old signs, and they even manage to do this online.  There is an Escalator Safety Poster (I passed FIVE of them leaving Broadview Station) linked from the Safety page on their website.

The third bullet, complete with illustration, is “Stand Right”!

Walk Left, Stand Right Revisited

Oh gentle reader, you may remember that the TTC, in an unusual show of speed, removed all of the “Walk Left, Stand Right” signs on all of its escalators virtually overnight.  For an organization that can leave up public notices months after they are current (often with two conflicting versions of the same notice in the same place), this was truly breathtaking.

You may also remember that the TTC claimed the reason for this move was that the signs encouraged people to walk on the escalators and this was a safety hazard and we don’t want any of those on the TTC.  In this dubious stance, the TTC was supported by the TSSA, the regulatory body that watches over escalators and elevators.

Today, I noticed a poster on the subway about escalator safety, no doubt a matter of burning interest to riders especially in those cases when the escalators are actually running.  You can look at it yourself on the TTC’s website.

Notice point three:  “Stand Right”.  I’m not sure what you are supposed to do on the left, although point 5 tells us not to rush other passengers, complete with a photo of two people “standing right”.

One of these days, the TTC will learn to check out their own promotional materials before putting out bogus explanations for taking down signs that encourage people to follow an international standard in escalator behaviour.

Now for extra points, class, how long will it take for all of these “safety” posters to disappear from the system and the PDF to be pulled from the website?  No fair stealing them yourself as souvenirs!

Wheel Trans Woes

Today’s Toronto Star has an article about the problems of the Wheel Trans system.  For years, this “service” has been a distant second class operation within the TTC.  It has all the earmarks of a service provided by the City not because it wants to, but because it has to.  There are long-standing problems with the vehicles and with the dispatching system, some of which are only now being addressed.

Recently, two friends of mine set out by Wheel Trans.  One is wheel-chair bound, the other was his companion for the trip.  The goal is to get from Dundas & Jarvis to York Mills & DVP. Continue reading

We Get Letters

I have received a number of comments recently that have turned rather more abusive about past efforts by myself and others.  Also, I’ve had comments that attempt to trivialize the advocacy of LRT as railfan nostalgia. 

Please note that anyone who posts such comments will simply fall off the earth as far as my publishing any future feedback they might have, and they should spend their time elsewhere. Continue reading