Categories
Brampton Ontario Transit Travels

Stranded at Bramalea GO: Metrolinx’s missed connections

Temporary bus terminal, Bramalea GO Station
The inhospitable temporary bus terminal at Bramalea GO Station

On Tuesday, August 25, I paid a visit to Kitchener.

Greyhound suspended all operations in Eastern Canada on May 13, 2020 due to low ridership during the COIVD-19 pandemic. Meanwhile VIA Rail reduced its operations, including Train 85, which departed Union Station at 10:55 AM for Guelph, Kitchener, Stratford, and London. Therefore, GO Transit became the only way to get between Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo for a day trip without a car.

From boarding the 11:53 Kitchener Line train from Union Station, it should have taken just under two hours to get to Downtown Kitchener. Instead, because of a minor train delay, and a failure of the connecting bus to hold for transferring passengers, it took me three and a half hours.

If we value transit users, passengers must not be left behind when making these transfers, especially when connecting between posted connections.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Toronto Transit Walking

Dysfunction junction: Union Station’s continued disruption

Over two years later, concrete Jersey barriers continue to disrupt pedestrians in front of Union Station

A year ago, I wrote about the unsightly Jersey barriers that were plopped down in front of Toronto’s Union Station in April 2018, creating bottlenecks at two of Toronto’s busiest pedestrian intersections. Though the city promised improvements in 2018 and in 2019, the only changes were the application of decals to the existing Jersey barriers.

Though the front of Union Station looks slightly better, and the bottlenecks have been lessened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this is not a satisfactory solution, especially for Toronto’s busiest and most important transportation hub.

The Jersey barriers were hastily plopped down on Front Street after the April 23, 2018 van attack, where one man steered a rented cargo van onto busy sidewalks in North York, killing 10 and injuring 16 more before he was apprehended by police. As an iconic and crowded pedestrian area, it was felt that special protection was necessary. At the time, the assumption was that the van attack was an act of terrorism, requiring such drastic measures. (It was soon found the motives were not terrorist related.)

In 2018, city councillor John Campbell likened the front of Union Station to “a war zone” while a city spokesperson said that a broader security plan was “in the works,” including for protecting the station has been in the works for some time, including interim measures that would fit into the streetscape.

In March 2019, nearly a year after Jersey barriers were added, the Toronto Star’s Jack Lakey dismissed complaints about their awkwardness and appearance, calling them “effective in stopping a driver bent on another deadly attack.” However, Lakey noted that another city spokesperson said that “city is finalizing the design of permanent vehicle barriers around Union Station”, that would “be smaller, more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate for pedestrians.” Those barriers would be installed later in 2019.

Afternoon rush hour crowds navigate around the Jersey barriers at Front and Bay Streets, August 2019

It is now August 2020, and the concrete barriers are still there, creating a mess for anyone using a wheeled mobility device, or for anyone in a hurry.

Bay and Front Streets, August 2020

The only thing that has changed are new artistic vinyl stickers covering the bare concrete, with messages saying that “artwork is donated by TD [Bank].”

TD is the “premier sponsor and exclusive financial services partner” of Union Station, most of which is owned and operated by the City of Toronto. (Some sections used by GO Transit are owned by Metrolinx.) TD enjoys exclusive branding rights, ATM locations, and sponsors Union Station’s wifi and charging stations.

“Artwork is donated by TD”

Perhaps TD was embarrassed by the Jersey barriers (after all, it has its headquarters just up Bay Street). Or perhaps the city decided that something needed to happen here., after two years of unfilled promises.

While examining the barriers, I noticed construction signage wedged within the gaps, creating a trip hazard. I also saw the original metal bollards installed when Front Street was rebuilt for a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape in 2014-2015.

Construction signage creates a trip hazard in the gaps between Jersey barriers. Note the original metal bollard behind.

Though the inconvenience caused by the lingering “temporary” concrete barriers has been lessened as there are fewer pedestrians entering and leaving Union Station right now, it also makes it a good time to finally make the necessary renovations by installing permanent sturdy bollards.

Categories
About me Brampton Toronto Transit

Podcast News

This week, I appeared on two podcasts, talking about municipal open data, crowdsourced mapping projects, and Brampton’s success in building suburban transit ridership.

For Spacing Radio’s Future Fix series, I spoke about a recent Walk Toronto initiative to map sidewalk pinch points during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. We used Google Maps to pinpoint specific locations where queues to enter grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential businesses and services made physical distancing difficult or impossible.

Through Walk Toronto’s social media accounts, we asked Torontonians where these locations were, then submitted a list to city staff and public health officials. Not long afterwards, CurbTO was announced to address this specific problem, the first of several initiatives that recognized the need to get outside.

Also on the podcast are Shabnem Afzal, road safety manager for Surrey, British Columbia, speaking about that city’s Vision Zero plan, and Halifax City Councillor Waye Mason, who spoke about that city’s interactive map that allows its citizens identify spots where safe street interventions are needed.

Just before the pandemic hit, I spoke with Helen Lee and Vincent Puhakka of the new podcast The Next Stop about Brampton Transit’s success, and the implications for other suburban transit agencies. Also on the podcast are Brampton Transit General Manager Alex Milojevic and Mayor Patrick Brown.

I hope you have a listen to each of these podcasts, and consider subscribing.

Categories
History Roads Toronto Transit

The story of Stop 17

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Stop 17 Variety, 2835 Kingston Road

Kingston Road is one of Toronto’s oldest and most important thoroughfares. Sections of the road were first laid out by Asa Danforth in 1799, though a straighter, more direct route was established by the early 1800s. By the 1830s, it was a busy stagecoach route, connecting Toronto with Cobourg, Belleville, and Kingston.

As Toronto grew into a major city, Kingston Road was an obvious route for a radial railway line serving Scarborough Township; by 1906, radial cars extended as far east as West Hill, near Morningside Avenue. The radial line’s stops were numbered from the beginning of the line, first at Queen Street and Kingston Road, then at Kingston and Victoria Park Avenue after the TTC took over city operations.

Kingston Road, east of Bellamy Road, 1918: a rural scene. This siding, Mason’s Switch, was Stop 22. The house on the far left of the photograph still stands at the corner of Kingston and Mason Roads.
From Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 148.

Stop 0 was at the city limits at Victoria Park (with connections to TTC streetcars). Stop 14 was Halfway House at Midland Avenue. Stop 26 was the Scarborough Post Office, near today’s Scarborough Golf Club Road, and Stop 35 was the end of the line, at West Hill.

With increasing automobile ownership and new intercity bus lines in the 1920s, Kingston Road was busier than ever, becoming part of the new provincial highway system, but ridership on the radials declined, especially after the TTC extended city streetcars east to Birchmount Avenue in 1928, leaving behind a mostly-rural service. Radial service was cut back to Stop 26 in 1931, and completely replaced by buses in 1936 (the 86 Scarborough bus route is the modern legacy).

Stop 14, in front of Halfway House in 1955.
Photo by James V. Salmon, from the Toronto Public Library collection.

Despite the switch to buses, the stop numbers carried on for many years, listed in TTC timetables through the 1950s. Locals would often refer to stop numbers instead of street intersections. Stop 17, at Kingston Road and St. Clair Avenue East, is one example that has lingered on. A mural on the side of Stop 17 variety depicts a green radial car in front of the Scarborough High School), with a cow blocking the way of a truck looking to pass.

Mural at Stop 17 Variety

Scarborough High School, on the opposite corner of the variety store, was built in 1922, expanded several times, and later renamed R. H. King Academy. The original building was torn down in 1976, but the entrance way, depicted in the mural, was retained.

Arched entrance way to the demolished original section of Scarborough High School

Nearby, towards Brimley Road, several older motels date from the motoring era, when Highway 2 was the main route into the city. Though Highway 401 drew some of the traffic away in the 1950s, it wasn’t until the completion of the Don Valley Parkway (which provided a direct route downtown) and the rise of chain hotels saw a decline in independent motels along Kingston Road and Lake Shore Boulevard. Some have been repurposed as shelters, while others, like the Hav-A-Nap, diversified by offering paid parking for nearby Bluffers Park.

Hav-a-Nap Motel, with the Americana Hotel just behind
Categories
Brampton Infrastructure Politics Transit

Terminal Gateway: how bad decisions will affect the safety thousands of daily transit riders

Brampton Gateway Terminal from the southeast corner of Hurontario Street and Steeles Avenue, Brampton

Last month, Metrolinx held a virtual open house to present information on the progress of the Hurontario LRT project, planned work, and details on some of the stops along the line. For now, roadwork is limited to median removal and utility relocation, but by next year, heavy construction will commence along the 18-kilometre long corridor.

I was hoping to get some information on the northern terminus, at Steeles Avenue in Brampton, but no details were provided. I took the opportunity to ask specific questions about the transfer between the LRT and local buses, but I was disappointed by the answer.

If Metrolinx goes ahead with their plans for a minimal station on the south side of the intersection, anyone connecting between modes will be forced to cross two sides of a busy, hazardous intersection at grade, impacting both accessibility and safety. We can thank politicians on the 2014-2018 Brampton City Council for this situation, which provide just one of many examples of how systemic racism manifests in transit decision making.

Categories
Brampton Toronto Transit

Sorry, bus full: riding transit during a pandemic

Brampton Transit bus on route 502 Zum with “bus full” displayed

On Thursday, I took the subway for the first time since Ontario declared a state of emergency in March. I entered Queen Station at 9:45 that morning, and rode to Wilson Station. The subway ride north was noticeably quiet, and I had a good choice of seats, even though most were marked as restricted for physical distancing.

Empty subway train northbound on Line 1, June 11, 2020

On my return home, at 4:00 PM, the subway was busier, but still quiet enough to take a seat in the middle of the train, while just about everyone had a non-restricted seat through the downtown core. That never happened prior to March 13.

As I am used to crowded subway trains — even on Sunday mornings — my first subway rides in months proved to be a surreal experience. Though as most passengers were wearing face coverings and keeping distance, it felt safer and more comfortable than many of my recent supermarket trips.

Platform edge marker, Queen Station

Though subways are mostly empty, and streetcars pass through downtown with only twenty percent of their normal ridership, things are very different on the buses. In Toronto, Brampton and Mississauga, vehicles regularly bypass crowds of waiting passengers while displaying a “sorry bus full” sign.

Miway bus full on Hurontario Street, on the same corridor as the Zum bus pictured above

Back in March, I mapped the TTC’s most crowded early morning routes. These ten routes were generally located in Toronto’s suburbs, serving employment lands and neighbourhoods with lower incomes and higher proportions of racialized persons. Brampton and Mississauga, which also have large food production and warehousing industries and significant immigrant and racialized populations, are experiencing similar problems with crowding.

All buses only allow passengers to enter through the rear doors, with many seats marked restricted with paper signs similar to those on the subway. The area behind the driver is closed off as well. While the TTC expect riders to tap their Presto cards at the rear or pay by cash or ticket at a subway station, Brampton, Mississauga, and other systems are permitting free rides for now.

A typical TTC bus contains only 33-36 passenger seats; an articulated (“bendy”) bus has 46. The TTC operators’ union instructed its members to allow only 10 customers aboard a standard bus (though the operator has discretion), and 15 aboard an articulated bus. Transporting that few people on each bus is unsustainable, and with tens of thousands of essential workers relying on the TTC to get to work — many of those jobs difficult and poorly-paying — it’s yet another inequity laid bare by this pandemic.

Crowding on ten TTC bus routes in late March 2020

With loosening restrictions, the demand for transit has already begun to increase. By early July, local transit agencies will require all passengers to wear masks or face coverings. At the same time, passengers will be directed to enter buses through the front doors, while reinstating mandatory fare payment.

Meanwhile, Brampton Transit — which was operating on a modified weekend schedule since March — is restoring some of its weekday service on Monday June 15 to meet re-surging demand, while Mississauga increased service levels on June 1. Brampton, Mississauga and Toronto will require masks or face coverings on transit starting July 2.

While Brampton plans to hand out 100,000 free non-medical masks to its transit users, the TTC plans to give out one million disposable masks, specifically targeting lower-income neighbourhoods where transit demand remains high.

Poster in the TTC subway with instructions on how to make a no-sew fabric face covering.

Front-door boarding and mandatory mask use will help with some of the capacity issues on buses. Offering free masks is a welcome acknowledgement that many who have taken transit may not have money or time to purchase or make their own face coverings. (The TTC has instructions on how to make rudimentary masks posted in subway stations.)

Even then, bus capacity will continue to be limited to ensure physical distancing, and buses will likely still pass by crowds of waiting customers.

While central Toronto benefits from walkable neighbourhoods, existing and new cycling infrastructure, and subways and streetcars with more capacity to spare, suburban residents will still have to rely on buses. Though I see mandatory mask use as a necessary step towards mitigating the risk of viral transmission, I fear it may not be enough for those who work at hospitals and clinics, food plants and warehouses, and grocery stores, restaurants, nursing homes, and daycares.

Bus riders deserve better.

Categories
Ontario Toronto Transit

A sudden drop in transit usage across the Toronto Region

IMG_6299-001Last week, I wrote about how several TTC routes were facing overcrowding, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and a severe drop in system-wide ridership since early March. I shared this analysis on Spacing’s website, and Ben Spurr at the Toronto Star reported more about the story this week.

Though detailed ridership data is not freely accessible, I wanted to see how ridership on the TTC, GO Transit, and other Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area transit agencies was faring. Helpfully, the team behind the Transit app, a trip-planning smartphone tool, made their usage data available to transit agencies, journalists, and data nerds to track transit demand during the pandemic. Although there are some limitations to using this data (more on that later), it’s an excellent metric for tracking transit ridership for dozens of major transit authorities across Canada and the United States, representing nearly every major metropolitan region.

The numbers used to determine transit ridership demand is based on usage of the Transit app. (While Transit is one of several apps that can be used to plan trips, including Metrolinx’s own Triplinx app, Transit is my favourite). Normal usage is defined by Transit as app sessions observed on the same day of the week one year ago, averaged over three weeks and corrected for yearly growth in the corresponding transit agency. Hence, a rapidly-growing system, such as Brampton’s, can be represented accurately by the app.

Data was available for every transit agency in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, apart from paratransit services (e.g. Wheel-Trans, Transhelp, DARTS, etc.) and Milton and Caledon Transit, the smallest fixed-route services. The graph below shows the how the usage of the Transit app fluctuated based upon the expected value, reflected as a percentage.

GTHA Transit app usage from Feb 15 2020
Transit app usage compared to expected for GTHA transit agencies, February 15 to April 6, 2020 (click for larger image)

Note how the actual Transit app usage dropped by over 40% for every transit agency on Monday, February 17, which was Family Day, a provincial holiday in Ontario. Most transit services were operating on a weekend or holiday service, while students and many workers did not take transit. This was likely compared with normal Mondays, hence the one-day drop.

It wasn’t until the second week of March that ridership began to decline as the number of COVID-19 cases began to surge in Canada and the United States, and governments began announcing new measures to reduce the rate of infection. On Thursday March 12, Ontario announced that public schools, scheduled to close for March Break, would stay closed for two additional weeks (the shutdown has since been extended). That day, the National Basketball League suspended the season, followed quickly by all other sports leagues. Employers began to implement contingency measures, such as work-from-home arrangements. By Monday the 16th, all restaurants were closed to sit-down clientele, and most entertainment venues closed.

By the week of March 29, transit demand was down by 75 to 82 percent across the Greater Toronto Area. Although many workers were either laid off or were sent home to work, employees in the healthcare, personal care, logistics, essential retail service (i.e. grocery workers), and food manufacturing industries remained on the job. This is evident in the difference between the demand for the subway (-81%) and the surface network (buses and streetcars, -76%) as they serve very different employment centres. Transit’s numbers are comparable to the TTC’s own ridership estimates.

GTA_Ridership_COVID
Map depicting estimated drops in transit demand for GTHA transit agencies compared to expected use for week of March 29 to April 5, 2020. Data from Transit app.

Brampton Transit had the lowest estimated reduction in demand, at -75%. This could be for the same reasons that several bus routes in Toronto saw crowding despite a system-wide drop in ridership. Brampton’s population is relatively lower-income than many other suburban municipalities in Halton, Peel, and York Regions. Brampton also has many large food processing employers, such as Maple Lodge Farms, and many warehouses and distribution centres, including two major Amazon Fulfillment Centres. Brampton Transit connects to other major manufacturing and logistics employment areas in Mississauga, Vaughan and Toronto, including Pearson Airport.

Oakville Transit had the greatest drop, which can be explained by two factors. The first is that Oakville, is a relatively more affluent municipality, with fewer logistics and food industry employers. Secondly, its bus network is designed entirely to connect with GO Transit’s Lakeshore Line, which feeds Downtown Toronto. Therefore, the ridership dependent on Oakville Transit is more likely to be working from home than Brampton’s.

It must be noted that Transit’s figures are not the same as detailed ridership numbers collected by each transit agency. For example, Metrolinx cited a 90% drop in ridership across the GO Transit train and bus network, compared to Transit’s 79% estimate drop. Nonetheless, Transit’s data is a valuable metric.

With the sudden drop in ridership, there’s also a sudden drop in revenue. While many systems, including Brampton Transit and GO Transit have made service reductions, they have been careful to ensure enough capacity remains to safely meet demand. Every system has also increased vehicle and station cleaning, and most have stopped collecting fares to protect both passengers and operators. Just like laid-off employees, students, and freelance workers, transit too will need a bailout of some kind to rebuild lost ridership and maintain safe and healthy services.

Transit projects such as the Eglinton-Crosstown LRT, the new relief transit service for central Toronto (be it the Relief Line or Ontario Line), and GO Transit expansion must go on, as does the progress made in building ridership at suburban systems such as Brampton and Durham Region.

Categories
Maps Toronto Transit

Mapping TTC crowding during a pandemic

IMG_6314Rear door boarding on TTC buses is just one measure the TTC has taken to address the COVID-19 crisis

Note to readers: I have since written an updated version article (with a revised map) on Spacing’s website.


While most people are urged to stay home as much as possible during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are those who must carry on. These include health care workers, staff at grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential businesses, and others who can not work from home. There are also those who continue to require transit to undertake essential errands, such as medical appointments.

Thankfully, most transit systems have carried on. Through GO Transit has experienced an 80% drop in ridership since the beginning of March, it continues to operate all rail lines and most bus routes, providing fewer trips, but maintaining the same span of service hours. The TTC discontinued most express routes, but it maintains a grid of frequent bus and streetcar services.

However, the TTC and Brampton Transit continue to struggle with crowding on certain routes. Brampton Transit — which has resorted to an “enhanced Saturday service” level –will only carry half a bus’s seated capacity to enforce social distancing, which has resulted in “closed-door” situations where buses won’t stop for waiting passengers. As a result, several routes are now discontinued during peak periods so that buses are sent to address crowding elsewhere. Brampton Transit serves many shipping warehouses, including two Amazon fulfillment centres, which remain busy during this time.

Meanwhile, the TTC is struggling with morning rush hour crowding on ten bus routes:

  • 29 Dufferin
  • 35 Jane
  • 41 Keele
  • 44 Kipling South
  • 96 Wilson
  • 102 Markham Road
  • 117 Alness-Chesswood
  • 119 Torbarrie
  • 123 Sherway
  • 165 Weston Rd North

These routes, mostly clustered in the city’s northwest, are illustrated below.

TTC_COVID_CROWDSMap of overcrowded early morning TTC routes during the COVID-19 pandemic
(click for larger version)

Routes 117 and 119 are industrial services, connecting warehouses and food service plants. These industries — like the infamous Fiera Foods plants served by Route 119 — rely on low-paid, often temporary workers, with early morning starts. Certain warehouses and many food-service plants also have very early starts to the day. It would be tough for workers to accommodate the TTC’s request to travel at later times. Routes 96, 102, and 165 also extend into major industrial areas. Route 123 serves the Metro supermarket chain’s distribution centres on Dundas Street and The West Mall.

Many of these routes run through Toronto’s neighbourhood improvement areas, which are identified by the city as those requiring additional investment due to issues such as poor access to services and higher concentrations of low-income families. In addition, routes 41, 96, 119, and 165 serve the Humber River Regional Hospital, one of Toronto’s largest health care facilities, while the 96 Wilson also directly serves Etobicoke General Hospital.

Though it would be best for private essential employers to stagger shifts during this unprecedented time, there may be a need for the TTC to redirect some resources towards these parts of the city.

Categories
Ontario Politics Toronto Transit Walking

The consequences of losing the GO-TTC discount

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When the Toronto subway system was extended by six stops to York University and Vaughan, it marked the first time the TTC’s rapid transit system extended beyond the city’s boundaries. But it also exposed a major failing of the Golden Horseshoe’s transit structure: the complete lack of fare integration.

In 2017, the provincial government announced a new fare discount between the TTC and GO Transit, which operates the region’s commuter rail and bus network. This $1.50 fare discount, available to Presto card users, was funded by the previous Liberal government’s fledgling cap-and-trade carbon pricing scheme, with the promise of further fare adjustments (such as discounts for transferring between the TTC and other suburban transit agencies, such as York Region Transit and Miway) to come.

With the election of the Progressive Conservatives in 2018, the cap-and-trade scheme was cancelled, and with it, the continued funding for the GO-TTC fare discount. That discount is set to come to an end on March 31, 2020. Neither the cash-strapped TTC or Metrolinx, the provincial agency responsible for GO Transit and transit planning, will step up to make up the difference.

IMG_7865-001GO Transit buses used to stop right in front of Vari Hall, in the heart of York University’s campus

Though many regular GO rail commuters will feel the impact of the loss of the fare discount, the impact on York University students and staff will be especially felt. That’s because the new subway extension was planned to remove GO Transit buses from the heart of the campus to a purpose-built terminal at a remote new subway station next to Highway 407. I recently wrote about the problematic fare structure on those GO buses serving Highway 407 Station. Now, those commuters going two more stops will pay $6.40 a day in TTC fares on top of those expensive GO fares.

Unless they decide to walk to campus.

On Thursday, March 5, I tried do just that. It was not a pleasant experience.

Highway 407 Station features a large bus terminal for GO Transit and YRT buses, a passenger drop-off and pick-up area, and a commuter lot. But it was not built with pedestrians in mind. That’s understandable. The only places within a few minutes’ walk are Beechwood Cemetery across the street, a warehouse, and the employee entrance to a major UPS parcel centre.

The main — and only authorized — entrance is on the opposite side of Jane Street, facing the passenger drop-off/pick-up area and the parking lot. It is quite clear in the design that most passengers would be transferring between bus and subway, perhaps with the idea that the fare boundary issue would be resolved by the time the station was open.

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Jane Street, with the entrance to Highway 407 on the right, and Beechwood Cemetery on the left

The vertical circulation prioritizes bus-subway connections. At the bus platform level, I spotted a sign that said “to street, subway” leading to a downwards escalator. But it led me past the mezzanine level straight to the subway fare gates. I had to climb halfway up to get to the entrance doors.

IMG_7848-001The stained glass at Highway 407 glows in the late afternoon sun. But it doesn’t take away from a poor user experience.

Once outside, I noted that the pedestrian path between the parking lot and the passenger waiting area was completely covered by a giant dirty snow pile. It’s clear that pedestrians are not welcome here.

Snow left on the only legal sidewalk leading out of Highway 407 Station

The circuitous route is designed to keep pedestrians out of the way of the buses entering and exiting the station. But I was left wondering why a shorter, direct, and snow-free route was not designed into the station plan at the beginning. It would have cut a few minutes from my efforts in leaving the station.

IMG_7835-001
Pedestrians are barred from the more direct route into the station, even though the bus terminal is not a TTC fare-paid area.

Eventually, I made it to Jane Street, and began walking south towards Steeles Avenue and campus. The narrow sidewalk hugs Jane Street, and right into a splash zone under the CN Railway underpass.

IMG_7853-001
An unpleasant walk along Jane Street

After twenty-seven minutes, I made it to Pioneer Village Station, which was designed with two separate bus terminals. YRT buses use the smaller bus loop on the north side of Steeles Avenue, outside the fare-paid area. TTC buses use a larger terminal south of Steeles Avenue, on the York University lands. YRT passengers headed to campus must cross Steeles Avenue at grade as the mezzanine level underneath is fully within the TTC fare paid zone. Technically, one could transfer from GO to the YRT 20 Jane bus at Highway 407 Station (with a Presto card, it would cost only $1 each way with the YRT-GO co-fare). But it would still only get you part of the way to campus.

IMG_7863-001

After 35 minutes, I made it from the GO bus platform at Highway 407 Station to the Life Sciences Building at York University, on the northwest corner of the central campus, with another 5-10 minutes to major buildings such as Vari Hall or Scott Library. This was at a relatively quick pace (I’m an able-bodied thirty-something man), in quite pleasant weather. A rainy or bitterly cold day would be quite a different matter. Therefore, most will be forced to pay $3.20 each way (the current TTC Presto fare).

The subway, with the major GO and YRT terminals off campus, was designed for a new fare structure where students and university staff wouldn’t be penalized for having to transfer one or two subway stops to get to the middle of campus. The most we got was a fare discount for GO Transit riders, with nothing for YRT commuters. (Only Brampton Transit continues to directly serve York University.) And now that meagre fare concession is going away, because no one wants to pay for it.

Sadly, this is just further evidence of how we get transit so wrong in the Golden Horseshoe, despite it being the country’s economic heartland.


Transit advocacy group TTC Riders, along with allies at York University, have been calling on Queen’s Park to continue to fund the fare discount. You can find out more here.

I also expect that the opposition New Democrats will submit a motion in the legislature to maintain funding for the discount next week. I’ll update this post as necessary.

Categories
Politics Toronto Transit

The TTC needs customer buy-in, not a campaign of scolding its passengers

IMG_7472-003Imagine any retail store welcoming its customers the way the Toronto Transit Commission does these days.

This week, at least two TTC streetcars were wrapped with messages promoting the transit agency’s new aggressive anti-fare evasion campaign. Any passenger caught by fare inspectors or special constables without a valid fare is subject to a fine of up to $425.

As a regular, fare-paying passenger, I am sympathetic to the TTC’s need to balance its books — it relies on transit fares for 68 percent of its $2.14 billion operating budget — but the more aggressive fare enforcement program — including advertisements inside vehicles and stations and hiring 50 more fare inspectors in 2020 — is insulting to its customers.

Typically, businesses and public services strive to welcome their clientele and promote themselves to potential new customers. At one time, the TTC even ran television commercials, with a particular focus on promoting off-peak ridership.

Not anymore.

Customer notices on posters and on the PA system are restricted to subway closure notices, reminders about etiquette, and now warnings of $425 fines for not tapping a Presto card. Riders are no longer thanked for using the TTC. Instead, we’re subjected to poor and inconsistent service, streetcar shortages, regular weekend subway closures, fare hikes, and repeals of recent fare integration measures, along with lectures on fare payment.

Other transit and municipal politics writers, including Steve Munro, Matt Elliott, and Ben Spurr have written about the TTC’s push for stricter fare enforcement as well as the problems passengers have when paying, including malfunctioning Presto readers and fare payment machines, and overcrowded vehicles. Fare payment machines do not accept bank notes, debit, or credit cards. Though the TTC estimates that 5.7 percent of all riders engage in fare evasion, the rate on streetcars, where passengers board from all doors and tap or pay on board, is 15.9 percent.

There has been an inconsistent approach to fare enforcement, with inspectors commonly found at streetcar terminals at subway stations. There are reports and credible accusations of racial profiling by fare enforcement officers.

A friendlier and more wholesome approach would be addressing the technical problems, including the reliability of fare machines, and replacing generic Presto cards being used for child fares that other passengers — such as York University Station — are illegitimately using. There should also be a friendlier education campaign, enforcement discretion, and less aggressive behaviour towards customers, would make far more sense. If the TTC is truly interested in “disrupting” negative behaviour, it should adopt a customer service model, and address the distrust towards its officers from racialized and economically marginalized communities.

Putting aside the bad optics of the crackdown on fare evasion, transit ad wraps are an insult to transit riders. Furthermore, they are a detriment to the brand. Toronto’s streetcars are an icon of this great city; this is cheapened by gigantic ads for Starbucks, Sephora, or Scotiabank.

Inside, the large panoramic windows are obscured by perforated vinyl sheeting that is difficult to see out of. Though the vinyl wraps leave a sliver at seat level, the view is obstructed for anyone standing on a crowded vehicle.

IMG_5204-001A typical streetcar advertising wrap

The current 12-year, $324-million contract with Pattison Outdoor brings in a total of $27 million a year. The contract includes interior and exterior transit advertising (traditional placards, posters in stations and vehicles, and wraps). In total, advertising in all forms represents 1.1 percent of the entire TTC budget, with wraps representing a small portion of that. These wraps, commissioned by the TTC itself, are part of the contact.

Messages on the newly wrapped TTC streetcar

The streetcar wraps that scold, rather than welcome, riders are even more of an insult. What message do they send to visitors to Toronto? And what message do they send to potential riders?

Customer buy-in is about so much more than just paying one’s fare. The TTC should realize that.