I’ve been planning to write a series of articles/open letters to the CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission (the TTC) for some time. He has a weekly column in the Metro Newspaper where he gets to address of the people who live in this city, but I’m not sure he really has a good understanding of the reverse: the kinds of things that the transit users have to go through. I know, I know: he does the occasional token trip or two through the system, much like our mayor does as well, for a moment of publicity: but coming down and meeting travellers in such a context is not really the same as having to depend on the TTC like the rest of us do. And that difference in perspective can seriously influence how to approach the problems.
I’ve read his columns several times in the daily paper (which is free at the subway); and noted that a lot of time he has to lament the high costs and fare hikes and the necessary investment in infrastructure because the city hasn’t done much to improve the transit system for some time. That is: things have been pretty stagnant for decades in this regard. I understand all that, and it’s the unfortunate legacy of previous leaders who’ve been unwilling to invest in the possible community: and instead were shackled by individual interests. I get all that. And my response is that a lot of what is most frustrating about our transit system is also probably the cheapest to fix. If these things are not fixed in the near future, then all the investment in infrastructure will not much improve the riders’ experience. Most of these things have to do with simple ideas like consistency and communication, listening to what riders need in their daily commute. I plan to illustrate a few of these in the coming weeks as I continue this series.
But I wanted to start with a positive story of my commute today: many of my trips take too long, or illustrate problems with the system, but this morning’s was good. I was running late today: I had to go in to the office unexpectedly, so I was a bit behind in spite of the “Next Bus” app which tells me when the next bus is coming. As I approached my stop at Finch & Driftwood, the bus was already there and waiting for the light to change. So: because it was so cold this morning and it is so difficult to predict when the next bus will come, I sprinted to catch the bus and ended up crossing against the changing red light, cutting in front of cars that were waiting themselves to go on the opposite green. And the bus (Route 108, Bus 1336) waited for me. As I clambered on and paid my fare, the driver chuckled wryly and said, “Well you just ran that red light, didn’t ya?”
To which I responded with a similar sigh: “Yeah. It’s important not to be late on the first day of the year.”
Once last year I sprinted across the street in a similar fashion, and caught the bus: but the driver yelled at me that time. At least that’s how I remember it. Illegal to run across the street like that, he said, not to mention dangerous. I was lucky he waited for me; the next time he wouldn’t. To which I responded that if the buses actually followed anything like the printed schedules and I had any kind of regularity to the times they appear at stops, I wouldn’t feel like I had to risk my life in order to get to work. Believe me, I don’t like such risks either, but when I have to play transit roulette, I don’t have much choice.
But back to my positive post. Today’s driver was great; as many (most?) of them are. Waited for me to cross the street, got me quickly to the subway station, and even let me back on the bus when I thought I’d dropped my glove (I hadn’t). I find that rarely are the drivers a problem, though there have been notable exceptions. Rather, it’s the system that binds them together that breaks down under the pressure of having to deal with so many riders and such a complex schema. Without communication and consistency, so that riders understand what is happening to them on their travels, such a system is doomed to failure. So Mr. Byford: I hope that as you try to gather money to pay for upgrading infrastructure and increasing buses, you’re also improving those aspects of the riders’ experience of the TTC. I think you’ll find that with regard to returns on investment (is that the right business term?) you’ll find it is much more effective at making riders happy.