So You Just Bought A Subway Station!

Let me be the first to congratulate you on buying the naming rights to one of our fine subway stations!  You’re probably wondering if there are extras in the contract, things you should know about your new home.

We’re sorry about the holes in the walls.  The stations are getting on and we suspected that there might be problems, so we took a look.  We will put the walls back in April, June, September, maybe next year.  Have we asked you about sponsoring the walls too?  We’ve cleaned up a lot of them, but every little contribution helps!

The ceilings are a bit grotty in a few stations.  We were planning to fix that too, but a scheme to develop a new easy-to-maintain ceiling tile system was cut from our budget.  Could we interest you in sponsoring that?

The collectors’ booths are a bit of a mess in some stations, and we know all those posters don’t look nice, especially the ones that are a few months out of date.  We’re working on it.  Could we interest you in buying poster space on the booths?  We really would rather sell it to you than put useful information on them, and our only request is that you leave an opening so that riders can talk to the collector.

Signage.  Yes, we know. Our signage isn’t the greatest in some stations, but we look on this as a museum of design.  This is Toronto, and artsy-fartsy stuff doesn’t count for much here.  We are prepared to take down all of the signs and replace them with new ones in your corporate colours and typeface.  We regret that this is an extra charge option.

Announcements.  All station announcements will include your company name, and a short message, changeable monthly, tailored to a specific campaign.  In keeping with our practice on print advertising, we will ensure that the new messages are posted on our trains no later than two weeks after any special offers are no longer valid.

For a small added fee, we will include your logo on our transfers.  They are sure to become collector’s items!  This offer will end once the entire system converts to Presto smart cards, but the more affluent among you could afford to sponsor that entire subsystem.  Please talk to our friends at Metrolinx about regional sponsorship opportunities.

Escalators and elevators.  Your contract does not include any guarantees that the vertical transportation elements within your station will be reliably operating at any time.  We regret that this could produce a poor impression on some target audiences.  To compensate, we invite you to sponsor one of our Wheel Trans buses.

Our trains are an important part of the transit system, and we will endeavour to have them pass through your station reasonably often.  Although service may at times be irregular, this gives you an opportunity to market to a captive audience.  Video advertising screens will be programmed to launch special advertising campaigns when there is an extended delay.

We regret that the shiny exteriors you saw in our brochure only are available on brand new equipment.  Older cars are washed as and when we can get them to the one working car wash in our system.  If you have purchased exterior advertising on our trains, we regret that it may not be legible or attractive to your target audience.  Our plans for platform doors will completely eliminate the need to wash train exteriors, and this problem will solve itself in a few decades.

Are you wondering why your station doesn’t have your name on it yet?  We’ve issued the work order, but there have been problems with co-ordination and we hope to have the station looking bright and new to your specifications in a few months.  Trust us!

What?  You’re want a refund?

Rob Ford’s Designs on Metrolinx (Update 2)

Updated 9:45am: Environmentalists scoffed at plans to convert rail corridors to roadways.  “Electrification of GO was our big chance to show the world just how green a transit system could be”, said Jamie Kirkpatrick of the Toronto Environmental Alliance.  Trains would not just run with clean electricity from overhead wires, they could be covered with solar panels to provide supplementary power, and wind turbines could be mounted on every car.

“We always suspected Metrolinx didn’t believe in electrification, and Queen’s Park’s quick embrace of Ford’s scheme shows we were right”, said Kirkpatrick.

Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne refused comment on rumours that a new “Ministry of Highways” would be unveiled in the coming provincial election campaign.

Updated 9:00am: Sources inside the Harper Campaign leaked word that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro, eager to show Federal support for Mayor Ford, will ditch their hopes for GO rail service to Peterborough.  In its place will be the “Shining Waters Expressway” linking directly into Toronto’s highway system in the Don Valley.  The Harper Government, if re-elected, will support the project through PPP Canada.

Mayor Ford welcomed the early endorsement of his rail corridor plan saying that with the private sector involved, the taxpayers of Ontario and Canada will benefit from his own innovative financing for the Sheppard subway.

Original post from 8:00 am:

As illustrated on our banner, the Ford clan has secret plans for conversion of the commuter rail network to a new highway scheme.

After banishing LRT from city streets, Mayor Ford continues the hunt for public spaces that are wasted on transit.  Ford argues that the rail lines are empty most of the time, and they’re a vital resource in re-establishing the balance between transit and cars.

Premier McGuinty was not available for comment, but sources tell us that he’s open to any reasonable suggestion from his friend at City Hall.  The Air Rail Link may be the first candidate for this scheme, although community opposition may demand that the line be reserved for hybrid cars.

More info as this story develops.

(Thanks to Len Dieter and Mike Sullivan for catching a test run of Ford’s proposal.)

Sunlight Park Carhouse?

The TTC has a report on its Supplementary Agenda for the June 2 meeting regarding the Unilever property at the foot of Broadview as a possible carhouse site.

During the initial search for new carhouse and maintenance sites, this property was rejected because the then-available acreage was too small.  The situation has now changed, and quite a large block of property is available.  However, the lead time to acquire and clear the site means that a new carhouse and maintenance facility could not be ready in time for the delivery of the Flexity LRV fleet.

All the same, it would be worthwhile investigating this property as a long-term site for a new carhouse replacing Russell and/or Roncesvalles once the high-floor fleet is completely retired.  This would allow redevelopment of two choice pieces of property on Queen Street.

Those familiar with the old Lever Bros. property know it is bordered by Sunlight Park Blvd., a street named after a well-known product.  If this does become a carhouse, that would make a fitting and historical name.

Of course, with that BMW dealership next door, the carhouse would have to feature a large window framing an LRV looking out onto the DVP!

The SRT As It Might Have Been

John F. Bromley sent me a photo of a new LRT line running through a commercial development.

Look familiar?  Can you say Scarborough Town Centre?

The photo is from June 1972.  The cars were the first in Europe to be air conditioned.

This shows the kind of thing done with LRT in Europe even before the TTC reversed its anti-streetcar policy, about the time Queen’s Park decided that we needed an “intermediate capacity” system midway between buses and subways, and before the TTC collaborated with Queen’s Park in destroying an LRT plan that could have been built 40 years ago.

“Admiral Adam” launches Amphibious City

[This article is cross-posted with spacing]

Spacing exclusive – we have learned that the Toronto Transit Commission will announce a major service increase. Smarting from recent customer service issues including higher fares, sleeping employees, and rush hour service cuts, the TTC will roll out an ambitious plan for rapid transit expansion. New routes will utilize the city’s waterways to link the downtown core with neighbourhoods across Toronto.

The plan – Amphibious City – calls for partially grade-separated waterway routes as the means to quickly move commuters to and from the city’s core. Several new routes will operate as soon as this summer. In mid-March, Spacing lamented minor service cuts by the TTC and GO – despite increased ridership and higher fares. We now learn that the cuts released enough operators for intense training allowing a “quick launch” of new services.

The preliminary fleet of seven-year old “Hippo” buses will operate on three routes by the end of June. Several routes will be added in coming years leading up to the 2015 Pan-American Games.

The news of an upcoming official announcement, barely a week after the Ontario government’s budget delivered a kick in the teeth to Toronto’s LRT plans, is surprising. However, TTC officials explained to us that this is part of a contingency plan for any Transit City delays. Hippo buses will be cheap to implement, require much less money in construction costs, and the first phase can be implemented without going through a lengthy environmental assessment.

The purchased Hippo buses, acquired by the City of Toronto from a defunct private tourism enterprise, will provide service until larger and wheel-chair accessible vessels can be acquired, preferably from a Canadian manufacturer.

Some dredging and remedial work will be required for service on inland waterways such as Highland Creek or the Don River.

Speaking to Spacing insiders, TTC Chair Adam Giambrone called this the “most exciting transit news since Transit City.”

Continue reading

Divine Intervention May, Or May Not, Affect Service

The Atheist Bus Campaign reports that the TTC has approved the text of advertisements suggesting that “There’s Probably No God”.  This campaign has stirred controversy in the U.K. where it first appeared, but at last report the island kingdom has not sunk beneath the waves.

Before anyone starts blasting my site with a bunch of religious drivel, no matter what your persuasion, don’t waste your time.  It will be deleted mercilessly.  I take the Old Testament approach to smiting, and there will be much smiting if you readers don’t toe the line!

For my own part, my view of immortal forces owes a lot to sundry polytheisms, and not a little to the novels of Terry Pratchett where the gods are a bunch of quarrelling, self-centred and not always competent folk rather like what passes for senior management in any organization.

Whether they exist in an absolute sense we will never know.  One hopes that things like the Scarborough RT were the product of a god-in-training who could never get things to come out right, but wrote a lot of impressive reports for the big guy upstairs in the hope that he would never actually ride the thing.

What intrigues me is that these ads come to Toronto with comparatively little fuss, although that may come once they start appearing and word gets around.  If anything, this should be a big yawn, just one more sideshow in our wonderfully diverse city.

Influence in High Places

Elsewhere in the transit universe, allegations have been raised that I have far too much influence in decisions about how our city and our transit system should grow.

I admit it.

Tonight I was at the Toronto Consort’s Marco Polo Project, and there hanging for all to see behind the performers was an illustration from Li Livres du Graunt Caam which now resides in the Bodleian Library.  This beautiful image shows Marco Polo’s departure from Venice on his travels to the east.  (Warning: 5MB image)

Note the large white swans.

These are disguised swan boats, and my influence back into early 15th century transportation is revealed for all to see.

Beam Me Up, er, Adam?

Ads are appearing in TTC vehicles jointly from the TTC and its three unions extolling both the virtues of Transit City and of the service provided by the system’s over 10,000 employees.

The headline proclaims:

Going Where No Streetcar Has Gone Before

We know that Admiral Adam already has designs on a modest fleet of ferries, but streetcars boldly going out into uncharted lands, such a concept! What will they find? Will they roam forever lost in the outer reaches of the GTA(H)?

TTC and Star Fleet. I’m not sure that the world is ready for this marriage.

Now It’s Time For Ridership Growth Strategy Two (Updated)

[The original version of this post, up to the point where the update starts, appeared as a guest column on the Op Ed page of the Toronto Sun on January 5, 2008.] 

[Updated January 4, 2008 – see end of post for the changes.] 

Here we are in 2008. We’ve survived threatened cutbacks to service and even have hopes of improvements starting in mid-February with more to come through the year. Mayor Miller’s 100 new buses and Mt. Dennis bus garage will operate, eventually. Plans are afoot for a new streetcar fleet and a huge expansion of rail services via Transit City.

Often, people ask why I’m not satisfied with our plans, and the answer is simple: as an advocate, it’s my job to never be satisfied, to always say “you can do better and we want more”. In that spirit, this thread is intended to ask: what should happen after RGS? What should we aim for next?

In a separate thread’s comments, there’s an important issue about Transit City: we need to establish minimum service levels for major surface routes that are much more like subway standards. Today, we run trains every five minutes everywhere even though there are times that half that service would be adequate for the demand. Why? Because part of the allure of a subway is that you don’t have to wait a long time for it to show up. Moreover, a good chunk of the operating cost relates to the stations and infrastructure, and the trains are a comparatively cheap addition once the line exists.

People on Transit City routes, and even on major surface routes that are not part of Transit City need the same sort of guaranteed service quality.

The TTC hopes to implement two RGS changes later this year. First, service will run on all routes whenever the subway is open. If a route exists, it runs 7 days/week, 19 hours/day. Second, no headway will be worse than 20 minutes anywhere. Both of these will fill out the network and get us back to the idea that transit isn’t just something we run when hordes of people want to use it.

However, a next step might be to designate “A-list” routes, major routes where the maximum headway is no worse than 10 minutes.

With new buses finally coming into play in 2008, we will see reduced crowding during the peak period because the TTC will actually meet their own loading standards. Great stuff, but what happens if we set the loading standard so that there is more room for growth on major routes? What happens if we actually try to encourage people to use the system by making it frequent and if not uncrowded, at least less than jam-packed?

By late 2008, it’s possible the TTC and their political masters will be feeling rather pleased with themselves. Press releases will be issued. Similing faces will appear in front of buses and streetcars everywhere. The job will be done.

No, that’s only for starters.  We need the next round of plans on the table before the year is out.

RGS was first proposed when David Miller was still a Councillor, and it’s taken ages to implement with no end of bureaucratic and political interference, not to mention a fiscal crisis or two. While Miller is still Mayor, it would be nice to see a second round of RGS hit the streets so that Toronto can take on the challenge of making transit a better alternative to driving.

We won’t do it overnight, but we will never do it if we stop after one long-overdue effort.

Update: Today I learned that the TTC is working on a scheme for better bus service.  According to Chair Adam Giambrone:

The TTC is developing a Transit City Bus plan that will likely include max 10 minute service to match subway hours at a grid of streets and new separated bus ROW’s.

Some streetcar lines have service worse than every 10 minutes at times.  This should not just be a plan for the bus system.

Examples include Harbourfront (off season), Queen (west of Humber Loop), and evening service on King, Dundas and Carlton on some days. Some of these will probably qualify as part of the “grid of streets”.

Good news if and when we see this plan on the street, but the service has to actually show up.