This is my new Presto card:

Presto card

It’s much more convenient than the old 10-trip tickets I used to get for my occasional travels on GO Transit: it fits in my wallet, it can be purchased in advance and used for any random trip rather than a fixed route between two specific end points, won’t expire when fares change, and uses card readers that are far less finicky than the old ticket readers. I bought and first used it for the Toronto-Newcastle portion of my trip to the cottage a couple of weekends ago and think it’s great.[1] I look forward to being able to use my Presto card on the TTC. I love tokens and all, but seriously, it’s the 21st century already.

This, on the other hand, is the agreement I apparently entered into when I first used the card:

Presto card terms and conditions

It’s a full page of impenetrable legalese written in virtually unreadable 5-point text. Some say that government should operate more like a business[2], but I don’t think that foisting indecipherable and unenforceable standard form contracts onto people is quite what they have in mind. I’m not really sure why they need all of this just to let me hop on a train. Still, I’ll take Presto over a 10-trip ticket any time.

[1] As an IT guy, I could poke holes in some of the customer-facing issues that betray back-end limitations, but that’s a post for another day.

[2] People who think that government should be run like a business understand neither government nor business.

When is it acceptable to delay someone's commute?

I always marvel at how it’s okay for non-car commuters to suffer “minimal impact” to their travel times, but if a car commuter suffers the same “minimal impact,” everyone screams like it’s the end of the world.

I believe that the language people use says a lot about their beliefs and intentions, so I find it interesting that someone like Rob Ford, in the two quotes linked above, basically sits on opposite sides of the congestion fence at the same time. In defending TTC cuts (or as he calls them, “service level modifications”), he co-opts the reasoning of cycling advocates who defend bike lanes, saying that a few extra seconds of waiting isn’t a big deal. But in his case, he’s applying it to transit riders instead of drivers. It’s a perfect example of windshield perspective: delaying my commute by a few seconds is a travesty; but it’s okay if it happens to those other people. All those buses and bikes just get in my way anyway.

My guess is that Ford will always rail against congestion while simultaneously taking actions that will only make it worse, all in the vain pursuit of saving a few seconds and/or dollars. The only question is how long this council will let him get away with it.

Cutest TTC alert ever

If you sign up for them, the TTC sends out service alerts as text messages or emails. They’re usually pretty humdrum: a bus diversion here, a subway alarm there. But one of this morning’s alerts was a little different:

A family of ducks on the SRT tracks has caused the TTC to hold service on the line temporarily while we humanely work to relocate them.

(Sent at 8:07 a.m.)

And then a little while later:

ALL CLEAR: The family of ducks have been safely relocated and regular service has resumed on the SRT Line

(Sent at 8:45 a.m.)

All together now: Awwww.

Visiting Lower Bay – Part 2

The good news for fans of Lower Bay piles on. News broke last week that Lower Bay will be open to the public during Doors Open this year. Not only will people who aren’t willing to brave a dash through the tunnels be able to explore the mythical station’s platform, but this could mark a small turning point in the TTC’s relationship with its fans and boosters.

This is certainly the first time in my memory that the TTC has acknowledged that any part of its infrastructure may hold some measure of interest for a lot of people. I’m not aware of any other TTC property that has been open during Doors Open. The Wychwood Car Barns don’t count because the TTC no longer owned or maintained the barns by the time that Doors Open came calling.

The TTC seems to have a bit of a phobia when it comes to interacting with the public. Last summer, photoblogger David Topping set out to take pictures of all 69 TTC stations in 69 days and was almost forced to quit by overzealous TTC employees (scroll halfway down, just past the photo of the Spadina walkway). Saner heads prevailed and he was able to complete the project, but not before getting far more grief from the TTC than necessary.

So based on the admittedly shaky assumption that the TTC is warming toward the public just a little bit, what else could they add to Doors Open? I’d like to suggest that they park a couple of their work cars in Lower Bay. I think it would be a real treat to get a close-up look at some of the subway’s more esoteric cars, the workhorses that enable the rest of the system to run.

Rather than merely idly wishing for it to happen, I’ve used the Doors Open suggestion form to pitch my idea that the Lower Bay opening include some TTC vehicles. If enough people think it’s a good idea, the TTC may eventually be convinced to do it. Even if they don’t do it this year, a multi-year campaign may convince them to do it sometime in the future. Hey, it’s only taken eight years and probably hundreds of requests to get Lower Bay included in Doors Open.

Visiting Lower Bay – Part 1

Like any good Torontonian Rail Fan geek, I took a ride on the TTC’s temporarily re-aligned Bloor-Danforth Subway today to get a look at Lower Bay station. While I won’t say that it was like visiting Nirvana, it was an interesting experience for a couple of reasons.

The primary reason for going was, of course, to see Lower Bay. While many have been there before me, it didn’t disappoint. We were stopped in the station for about 7 minutes while traffic ahead of us cleared and so got a good look at the station. Two things struck me immediately about the platform: the ceilings seemed much higher than in other similar stations, and it seemed very bright and relatively clean. The former no doubt owes thanks to the lack of a dropped false ceiling with metal slats as has become the standard in most other stations. The height difference couldn’t have been more than a foot or so, but it seemed like the platform ceiling was towering over us as we sat on the train. It’s funny how you get so used to small changes over time that the original configuration suddenly seems so foreign.

As for its cleanliness, aside from a caged-in storage area at the eastern end of the platform which my wife called “kind of junky,” the station was remarkably well-kept for an unused space. Or maybe it’s well-kept because it’s an unused space — no giant piles of free newspapers, empty coffee cups, or the general detritus of thousands of city dwellers passing through every day.

People-watching was the other interesting aspect of the trip. I was surprised that the people sharing my subway car seemed roughly split in thirds — one third of them were quite happy to be taking a trip through Lower Bay, another third were a little annoyed by the delay, and the final third were perplexed by the announcement that the train was going south to Museum station and didn’t quite know what to do once dumped onto the platform there. This ratio was roughly maintained in the crowd waiting at Museum for north-, east-, or westbound trains.

I’ll admit that I originally thought this would be an operational disaster for the TTC. When I saw crowds of subway refugees at Broadview and Chester stations yesterday because of the signalling problems on the Bloor-Danforth subway, my worst fears were seemingly confirmed. But what I saw today restored a small portion of my faith in the TTC’s ability to do something right. Considering the potential for trouble in running a variation of the interlining service that they abandoned forty years ago as unworkable, it all went fairly smoothly.