Thursday, March 13, 2014

TTC: good on paper

Ridin' the Rail. (Mine)
The recent transit study that everyone’s talking about — the one that ranks Toronto as having the best transit in Canada — was compiled by Walk Score, which helps people find places to live based on ‘walkability.’ The study ranked city transit on ‘how well a location is served by public transit’ — how many kinds there was, the number of stops on routes and the frequency of the scheduled routes.

Of course Toronto ranks high in these areas — the Toronto Transit Commission is vast, I would never argue with that — on paper, we’ve got an amazing system, covering the entire city and connecting with the surrounding cities. You can get basically anywhere in the city on the TTC.

The problem is this: the study doesn’t in any way take into account travel time, ability to actually board vehicles, comfort, cost or customer frustration. In other words, the actual usability of the system.

Of course it’s frustrating to have occasional delays, I hear you say, all systems have hiccups here and there. But the delays are not occasional anymore, they’re daily. And not confined to rush hour — which, by the way, is no longer 8am-6pm but now starts before 7am and stretches far past 8pm.

15 years ago I took the TTC from the far east end to the downtown core and could do it in 45 minutes, with a signal-related or passenger-assistance-related delay maybe once or twice every couple of weeks, and the only problem was changing trains at Yonge and Bloor — sometimes (and again, I mean every couple of weeks) I would have to let a train pass because it was too full.

Four years ago I moved to an area that is in the north end and on a weekday, without delays, my commute takes me 50 minutes. At least it did then. I always leave the house in enough time to be to work 20 minutes early, in case of delays.

Backed up much? (Mine)
In the past two years that commute has been getting steadily worse, to the point that in the past eight months or so I haven’t had a full week where I got to work on time every single day — usually I’m a bit late for work two or three days a week and ridiculously late one day, with me being on time or a bit early only one or two days out of that week. In a good week, I’m on time maybe three or four days out of five.

And no, the answer is NOT to leave home earlier, I already leave 75 minutes before my work start time. I’ve recently checked that transit time again, on a weekend on a low-travel time, and making all my connections it’s actually a 45-minute trip — bus to subway station, subway train West to connecting train at Yonge & Sheppard, train South to destination station.

During rush hour, on the Subway, there should be a two minute wait between trains during rush hour along the two main lines, maybe four or five on the Sheppard line. The Sheppard line works, and it runs the same now as it did four years ago, no problems. In the entire time I’ve lived on that line I’ve seen it have a total of maybe three delays, and one was because someone had a stroke right in front of me on the train.

Might be faster. (Mine)
Along Yonge/University/Spadina, however, there are constant signal problems. And I do mean constant. I think there might have been one day two months ago where I didn’t hear an announcement about signal delays. I’ll look up on the platform display and, yes, most times it will say a two minute wait. But at least once a week, it will either say two minutes but instead 10 minutes will go by before the next train arrives, or it will actually say six minutes or eight minutes or 22 MINUTES like it did one day a few weeks ago. During rush hour.

And because of this, we have massively packed trains, with commuters playing a little game I like to call Spooning With Strangers every single day. And that’s the other problem that delays trains — because when people get packed in like that it’s far easier to get overheated, lightheaded and start to panic... and hit the Passenger Assistance Alarm. Which causes the entire line to shut down again. TTC have in fact happily blamed customers for these delays, and yes, that’s a passenger doing that, not the TTC — but the TTC has put the passenger in this panicked state, haven’t they? If the trains really came as often as they’re supposed to, and not jammed tight only 3 stops from the north end of the line, would we have as many alarms tripped? Would we have as many people trying to hold doors, which also causes delays?

But the TTC are updating the platform signage, because apparently THAT’s a big problem. Come on. The signs aren’t confusing. We’ve only got three subway lines, four if you count the Scarborough RT. Priorities, people. In 2011 there were 740 subway and LRT cars combined to serve 2.61 million people per day; in 2012 that fell to 736 for 2.683 million customers daily. Now we only have 706. Less trains for more people. (Yes, I know the new Red Rockets fit more people, but that doesn’t mean you use less trains — it means you use at least the same amount of trains and relieve the ridiculous amount of congestion.) (Also, I recognize that my number for the current rolling stock comes from Wikipedia, but I couldn’t find a solid number anywhere else, if you know of one let me know and I’ll revise.)

I guess the most galling thing is the fact that, every single year, the service gets worse and the price goes up. We’ve got more customers, they say, so we have to charge more. WHAT? You’ve got MORE PAYING CUSTOMERS, but you haven’t actually improved the services, so you have to charge more? How does that work? Right now, in order for a metropass to pay for itself, it must be used fifty times within the month. FIFTY. Most expensive monthly pass in North America, people. It’s supposed to be cheaper to use a monthly pass than to pay cash fare every day, not the other way around.

To be fair now, arguments could be made that it’s because TTC doesn’t get the level of government funding that other major world transit systems get, and I agree. They have, indeed, brought on new trains — but from what I see they’re not expanding the fleet but replacing the oldest trains, so good try but not enough. They’re fixing the tracks and the signals, although it’s going at a snail’s pace. And let’s face it, there really are some awful customers — the ones who lean on the doors, or even hold the doors, when the operator tells them 18 times that’s only going to delay the trains; the ones who wear giant backpacks or read the Toronto Star fully spread out in the middle of a packed train; the ones who stand in the doorway and won’t move; the ones who stampede in when people are trying to get off. The TTC ridership is not perfect.

But for what we pay, I think we deserve more. “Better Way” my ass. Good on paper, not so much in execution.

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