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New York Transit Agency needs Andy Byford

I actually missed the TTC last weekend.

I travelled to New York for a few days of broadway shows and incredible food. Unfortunately, it was a tad brisk outside. The tall buildings, while impressive, created wind tunnels that nearly caused some severe frostbite. Despite New York being an extremely walkable city, my travelling companion and I decided to take advantage of the relatively cheap seven-day pass and take the subway to as many destinations as we could.

And man, the time we wasted trying to figure that sucker out.

The New York transit system is rather large, which is great. You can get almost anywhere using public transportation, whether that’s uptown Bronx or downtown Brooklyn. You don’t have to live centrally in order to explore the entire city. You also don’t have to pay a separate fee for transitioning into each neighbourhood or region (great for your wallet). However, because it is so big, it can be difficult to navigate. As the person responsible for the transit map, I couldn’t tell which lines went where. Sure, simply having the green or yellow lines go North-South makes sense, but certain trains only went so far down the line, and where that line ended wasn’t indicated clearly on the map. A few times my group got confused and ended up on the wrong train, including getting stuck in a slow-moving loop with no one else on the car! 

To make things even more confusing, not all trains stopped at all local stations. The map showed not only coloured lines (which were easy), but also lettered and numbered trains that were unique. I still don’t understand what each of those letters mean.

The biggest problem, however, wasn’t the confusing maps. You can get a sense of how it works after a few days and the metro staff were able to give us some decent directions. The problem was the communication once you were on the train. Unlike the TTC, most of the trains didn’t have any sort of map displayed inside the vehicle to indicate where on the line you were and what stops were next. This,  in addition to an extremely muffled and inaudible announcer who said the stop names out loud, meant you had to rely on visual cues — difficult for a tourist unfamiliar with the area. I was constantly looking out the window to find the stop names to confirm my location, something that was incredibly difficult to do when the train was packed.

Finally, there was the emergency system — or rather the lack of emergency system! I won’t go into the story leading up to why it was necessary for someone to pull the emergency breaks on one of the subway cars, but the gist of the matter is that it DIDN’T WORK! A loud, annoying alarm went off, but the train didn’t stop. No one walked down the cars to see what was the matter, and no one showed up once the train arrived at the platform. It was completely useless technology! Luckily, this emergency wasn’t life-threatening.

Oh, and there was no emergency button or intercom either.

There were plenty of other things that bugged me, like basic public transportation etiquette. No one moved to the centre of the train, so it took forever to get on. Passengers sat in the middle of two seats and refused to move. People listened to music so loud everyone on the train could hear the lyrics. In Toronto, we complain about the slightest inconvenience, but in New York, commuters seemed to thrive on disrupting the people around them.

Like I said — I really missed the TTC.

Andy Byford appeared in Toronto exactly when the city needed him. It looks like he is going to New York at the right time as well. Best of luck to you sir; you’ll need it!

Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension opens this weekend

It’s finally here! The Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) will open on Sunday, connecting the City of Toronto to Vaughan.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attended the ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday for the $3.18 billion, 8.6 kilometre, subway extension.

“This opening is another example of all levels of government working together cooperatively to deliver billions of dollars in transit infrastructure and our ongoing commitment to getting Toronto moving,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said.

The TYSSE will be the first Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) route that crosses municipal boundaries, connecting Toronto and the Region of York. Each station has been specifically designed to integrate into each different neighbourhood. Pioneer Village’s station includes high columns with a green roof and a number of environmentally-friendly additions. Highway 407’s station has a beautiful stain-glass and the York University Campus station is sleek, modern, and pedestrian-friendly.

It is also the first subway route to be completed under the new “motherlode” transit network. The line has been highly anticipated by students who attend York University, as well as those who work near Vaughan Metropolitan Centre and Highway 407. Torontonians will also now be able to access more affordable housing options, as well as Canada’s Wonderland, without having to take a specialized VIA bus.

“The opening of the Toronto-York subway extension is the single greatest transit achievement for this region in my lifetime,” said Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, in a statement. “Thousands of Vaughan residents and York University students now have a world-class rapid transit option to get them where they need to go faster and more efficiently. Today’s celebration clearly indicates what we can achieve when all levels of government work towards one common goal — building more transit.”

It will be interesting to see how this extension will impact Line 1 without a relief line in place. With the completion of the TYSSE, and the hopeful completion of SmartTrack by 2024, the Yonge Line (Line 1) will be at capacity by 2031, unable to carry new riders. The relief line must be in place by the time SmartTrack is completed in order to accommodate the increase in commuters who are all connecting to Line 1 in order to get downtown.

Most subway cars should have updated their maps already, including the lights indicating when the car arrives at a station. Check them out the next time you jump on transit!

Will you be taking the TYSSE this weekend? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

NYC to phase out Metrocard by 2020 for contactless pay methods

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) , responsible for New York City’s transit system, announced this week that transit riders will soon be able to tap and pay for their fare with their phones.

The is the next step in transforming the transit system, according to Transit Authority chairman Joseph J Lhota.  The familiar way of travel for New Yorkers has long been the Metrocard,  a reloadable plastic card that can be swiped to pay your fare. The system was implemented in the 1990’s and was often criticized for not being reliable. It has been almost 30 years since the Metrocard replaced tokens and now, by 2020, the transit agency expects to install the ‘new pay by phone’ technology in over 500 subway turnstiles and over 600 buses.

“It’s the next step in bringing us into the 21st century, which we need to do. It’s going to be transformative,” Lhota said at the official announcement on Oct 23.

The new payment system will be run using field communication technology and short range wireless connectivity. This is the technology used by Apple Pay and Google Wallet. Similarly, you will be able to pay using these methods through Android Pay, Samsung Pay, or contactless debit and credit cards.

The implementation of this new technology is all about ensuring a smooth flow of people in and out of the transit stations. There will be no need for queues when people need to reload their Metrocard. There will, however, still be turnstiles for those who do not have a debit or credit card for payment.

The MTA is following in the footsteps of the London Transit Commission, which already uses contactless tap and ride Smart Cards and Oyster Cards. Apple Pay and other platforms are also available as acceptable payment for the bus, the tube, London Overground, river bus and other transit services under the Transport for London Authority. The same applies in Australia where the system was introduced in late 2015.

By 2023, the MTA hopes to phase out Metrocards as they did with tokens in 2003. The MTA is also hiring the same company that did the installations in London, Cubic Transportation Systems.

The contract will cost an estimated $573 million for the new fare payment system and is expected to be completed in late 2020.  As for now, temporary testing e-readers have already been spotted in the Lower Manhattan stations.

What do you think? Leave a comment below with your thoughts on this high-tech transit fare system.

Pearson International moving forward with mobility hub

Toronto Pearson International wants you to take public transit to the airport — and they want to make it really easy.

Three representatives from the Greater Toronto Airport Authorities (GTAA) gave a presentation to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) board on their desire to create a new mobility hub north of Airport Road, near terminal two. This transit hub will connect various areas of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area with the airport, making it easier for passengers to get to their final destination.

Only 10 per cent of passengers moving through Pearson International use public transportation. This is low compared to other international airports, with Heathrow at 36 per cent, Amsterdam at 40 per cent, and Shanghai at 60 per cent. Instead of having to wait in line to catch a cab or an expensive shuttle bus, passengers should be given the option to jump on a train, subway, or public bus to get to where they are staying.

Another reason to create a mobility hub is to acknowledge the growth potential of the airport. Pearson International employees 49,000 people and contributes 6.3 per cent of Ontario’s GDP. The airport is working towards becoming a mega-hub and increasing the economic opportunities already present.

The GTAA is working closely with regional and federal partners to make this happen. They have already procured an RFP and have pledged half a million dollars towards the project. The organization will be studying a number of different transit lines to determine which ones should connect to the hub. Possible connections include the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, Finch West LRT, Mississauga Bus Rapid Transit, GO Transit rail lines, and the UP Airport Express. The GTAA is seeking input from Metrolinx and the TTC in order to ensure the best transit options for passengers.

According to Metrolinx, a mobility hub is defined as a place of connectivity between regional rapid transit services and other modes of transportation, with a high level of employment, shopping, and areas of enjoyment. Pearson International hits all of these qualifications. All it needs is an access point.

What do you think of a mobility hub at Pearson International Airport? Would you use public transportation if given the option? Let us know in the comments below.

City council votes in favour of Scarborough subway

After an entire day of debate, Toronto City Council voted Tuesday to approve the alignment and procurement model for the Scarborough subway.

The 6.2 kilometre subway will extend from Kennedy Station on the Bloor Line to Scarborough Town Centre along McCowan, as recommended by city staff. Council also approved the building of a new bus terminal that is meant to help create a “dynamic hub” that will attract businesses and build communities.

This is one of the final steps towards the actual construction of the subway. Staff will report back once procurement is at 30 per cent completion. It is currently sitting at five per cent.

All of city council agreed that having a transit system that connects Scarborough with the rest of the GTHA was necessary. As Toronto Mayor John Tory said while presenting this item to the rest of council, “in my respectful opinion, we need to move on.”

“The time for debate is over. It’s time to actually start building transit in Scarborough.”

The motion passed 26-18.

Why did this decision take a whole day? It’s because of the price tag. Councillors were shocked to find out that at just 5 per cent procurement, the Scarborough Subway had a price tag of approximately $3.56 billion, much higher than originally expected. When asked about this balloon in cost, the CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission noted the time that had passed since council originally decided to go forward with a subway. The longer council waits, the more expensive it will get.

Council came close to passing another motion that would have required staff to submit another report showcasing a business-cost analysis between the Scarborough subway and the seven-stop LRT alternative. According to city manager Peter Wallace, council had never asked for a comparison like this before. The motion was rejected 27-17.

Tory said that asking for another study will simply lead to another study, and then another. He pressed the need to start designing and building transit in Scarborough.

“I know in 30 years no one will question this decision,” Tory said.

Tourism Toronto captures beauty and creativity in city

The perception of Toronto by outsiders and those actually living within the city are very different. As someone who moved year a little over a year ago, I can confidently say that Toronto is not the mean, green, and cold place many across Canada think it to be.

Toronto is hot, it is fresh, and it has an edge to it that offers people many creative outlets to express themselves. The new video “The Views are Different Here,” released by Tourism Toronto, truly manages to capture Toronto’s essence and shows a variety of different perspectives to living in the Big Smoke. The video is getting massive hits on social media because it shows the quintessential Toronto narrative of a multicultural city, where everyone is welcome. Tourism Toronto manages to capture the annual pride parade, the AGO, Caribana and a Drake concert in the video and it creates a narrative of what it is like to be a part of the multicultural fabric of this city.

When I moved to Toronto from Western Canada, I had certain assumptions of the city. I thought it would be big, mean, and greasy. It has the reputation of being the main hub of Canada where people go to work long hours and spend most of their time underground on the subway. I was completely surprised when I learned that Toronto isn’t just a chaotic and busy city, but actually exudes a vibe that is creative and beautiful; yet, authentic. Toronto is replete with people full of large ideas concerning art, the environment, music, and everything in between. Most of these folks manage to own their ideas, but are not pretentious or self-serving about it. In other words, they are real and genuine creators looking to collaborate and work with other like-minded people.

Though Toronto typically has a reputation of being one of the more ‘unfriendly’ Canadian cities, its actually just the opposite. The majority of city dwellers are non-judgmental and very kind to each other. I have met so many lovely people since moving here and am struck nearly every day by how kind the average person really is. There is a level of openness and progressive discussion in this city (perhaps due to deep ties leaning to the left politically) that opens doors for a variety of topics. Any daily conversation could range from an 80 year old man about attending a drag show to discussing the future of classical music with a 20 year old woman with green hair.

I will even admit that the man bun has grown on me. It isn’t just a sign of the dreaded hipster, but has become a fashion symbol for the Toronto urban style ([note the clip in the tourism video of the older gentleman with the man bun, doesn’t he look suave?). It is important to notice that the video also includes a special focus on graffiti art in the city. To see the beautiful street art that exists in the city showcased as a tourist grab is phenomenal. It is a form of art that deserves celebration and there is a turn happening in Toronto where art is become an important avenue of expression for the city. Lastly, the video also manages to put a creative spin on the TTC with ballet dancers on the subway. This gives a more positive outlook for the subway system, and dare I say it almost makes commuting on public transit look enjoyable.

It really is incredible to see Tourism Toronto for giving other outsiders such as myself a more realistic glimpse of what this beautiful city has to offer. I am proud to live in this dirty, artsy, and fascinatingly multicultural city. It is busy, it is loud, and it is in your face. I would ask for nothing else in the years of my youth and I am astounded nearly every day by something new and fresh in this city that I just hadn’t noticed before.

What did you think of “The Views are Different here”? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.

Transit: It’s all about politics

“Let them do their work,” pleaded Toronto Mayor John Tory early Tuesday morning when City Council first sat down to discuss budgets and transit.

And thankfully, most of those councillors listened.

At Wednesday’s meeting, city council voted to approve the transit network plan as proposed by staff — including the controversial single-stop express subway in Scarborough.

A few amendments were tacked on to the motion, including a promise to study alignments and associated costs of the corridor. Staff will also be looking at a Sheppard subway extension and the extension of the Bloor-Danforth line from Kipling Station to Sherway Gardens.

But even with these unexpected add-ons, the approval of the transit network plan is a win for both the mayor and the golden horseshoe area.

“Following this vote we must now put an end to years of inaction and delay and move ahead with a comprehensive plan to serve our city’s needs.” Mayor Tory said in a statement

And there’s the rub. Despite the positive results of the city council meeting, progress was nearly delayed because a handful of councillors were pretending to be transit experts in their attempt to garner media attention.

In every municipal government, there are elected officials — who often have a variety of skills, including some experience in management, customer service, and politics— and then there are city staff, who are hired based on their particular expertise.

This week’s city council transit kerfuffle is indicative of a lifelong politicians working the issue for media attention to gain recognition for the next election. A handful of councillors ignored recommendations provided by Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat (who has a Master’s in Environment and Planning), City Manager Peter Wallace (who served as the provincial Deputy Minister of Finance and Secretary to the Treasury Board), and Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford (with over 15 years of Transit operations), among others.

There are certain city councilors who have been pushing their own transit agendas, ignoring the sound advice from staff. Councilor’s like Josh Matlow have gone as far as recommending council revert to the original transit plan proposed before former Mayor Rob Ford was elected  — citing high costs and new polls that indicate residents want an LRT instead.

Matlow (whose extremely thin resume has school board trustee, and co-director of an environmental non-profit) put forward a motion to return to the 24-stop LRT plan, saying that someone needs to think about the taxpayers and how best to invest funds.

Other councillors used the opportunity to try and promote projects for their voters, like the Sheppard subway extension. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti even suggested diverting funds from the Finch LRT — which is already in its procurement stage — to fund the Scarborough subway.

The problem? Consistently changing plans costs tax payers a fortune and would have resulted in a two-year delay, leading up to another election in which a new council may have different ideas.  Essentially, Toronto would be forced to start from scratch. “It would be problematic to pull apart this optimized network,” Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat reminded council.

At the end of the day, the experts were able to argue their case and explain the high-costs and the severe consequences of changing the transit plan yet again.  If there is one thing that should be taken away from Wednesday’s exchange, it’s that there are a few councillors focused on only one thing: re-election. Councillors are pretending to be more knowledgeable than the experts because it makes them look good to their constituents.

City staff work year after year trying to hold together a broad transit plan they understand that Toronto needs to start building now or else it will take another 50 years before residents see any relief on the Yonge Line.

The experts did their job — now it’s time for council to just sit back and listen.

Mayor Tory creates a win for Scarborough transit

When it comes to transit in Toronto the Scarborough subway line has been the most contentious issue over the past decade. Ridership numbers barely supported the need for a four stop subway, and the lack of transit further west left a gap in the transit map that shamed many.

The plan brought forward today by Mayor Tory and Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat is one that will fill in the transit gap west of McCowan. Not only does it rely on well thought out research by transit experts in the form of the Eglinton LRT extension east to the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, but it also allows a high-speed subway extension from Kennedy to the Scarborough Town Centre.

Creating a one-stop subway line will free up funds (subway stations cost approximately $200 million) to allow the addition of a 17-stop extension of the Eglinton LRT east to connect five high-priority neighbourhoods in Scarborough.

The new plan will bring rail transit to 64,000 people in Scarborough who currently aren’t using it. And the plan unites those wanting subway with those wanting LRT on council. It is a transit plan founded on informed, good judgement from transit experts that was designed to build consensus rather than create division at city hall.
With this plan for Scarborough transit, Mayor Tory might accomplish what no other mayor in the past few decades has — unite the city around a transit plan that everyone can support. His plan is the right, reasonable, and responsible approach to building the transit Toronto so desperately needs.

LOOK: Toronto can learn a few things from the stunning design of Stockholm’s subway

Here is Toronto we are used to simple, utilitarian subway stations. Even our friends over in Montreal take a much more artistic approach to how their stations appear. Unfortunately the type of rock in which we are digging here in Toronto means that our stations are quite often as small as possible, but newer station designs like Museum show that a small space can still have a big visual impact.

All of that is nothing compared to Stockholm’s Metro system. Take a look at the images collected below by VisualNews that show the fantastic take the Swedes have in their subway stations.

1. Fantastic escalators through red stone.

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2. Looks like the escalator through Mordor.

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3. With a cool woodland scene on the walls.

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4. Even more epic escalators.

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5. Patterns, exposed stone, and sculpture all in one.

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6. Half buried pillars.

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7. This flower mosaic looks like a cross between Super Mario and Easter eggs.

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8. These awesome elevators look like Saul Bass designed a villain’s lair from a Bond movie.

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9. They’ve got ghosts in their tiles.

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10. Geometric shapes in an ice cavern design.

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11. Stunning view from the platform.

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12. View from inside of a train.

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13. Even the trains themselves look fantastic.

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14. Even more epic cavernous escalators.

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15. The simplest doors are designed to catch your eye.

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16. It is a wonder anyone makes it to work on time when these stations beg to be marveled at.

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17. Giant leaves overhead.

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18. Checkers and houndstooth overhead.

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19. a Cross between Alice in Wonderland and the Chamber of Secrets.

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20. These stations are so striking it wouldn’t surprise me if these statues came alive at night.

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21. Complete with ancient ruins to admire on your way to the train.

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Rob Ford the taxman

Toronto city council voted in favour (28-16) to replace the worn out RT line with a subway from Kennedy station east on Eglinton north on McCowan to Shepperd Avenue East. By approving the subway council has cancelled the $1.8 billion LRT it had approved last year, which was fully funded by the province. It is expected that the under ground subway option could cost close to $1.1 billion more than the LRT.

The subway expansion requires the Federal government contribute at least $418 million and that the province contribute $1.4 billion., and the city make up the additional funds with a 1.1 – 2.4% tax increase along with new development charges.   This places most of Toronto’s portion of the additional funds needed for the subway expansion onto homeowners as development charges get passed on to them as well.

Council approved a series of motions to try to limit the cities risk, and asked that the province and Ottawa commit to funding by September 30.

But perhaps the most momentous event of the past week was that Rob Ford has changed his tune from the “No Tax” man to calling for an increase in taxes to pay for transit in Scarborough.  Like many politicians before him his desire to get re-elected has caused him to change his most sacred position. Rob has spent over a decade raging against any and all tax increases, and yet for the past 3 years done very little hard work — while taking credit for the work of other councillors. Without bothering to do a line by line analysis of all city departments, without finding the efficiencies he promised, without stopping the “gravy train” Rob Ford has chosen to embrace taxes.

Some may accuse him of trying keep his promise of subways, while other might point out that he also promised not to raise taxes, to find efficiencies and stop the gravy train – but to whatever people say Rob Ford has grown into a true politician, authentic to the core he has shown that he is not only a lazy charlatan , but also a hypocrite willing to say whatever it takes to get re-elected.

Rob Ford is calling for higher taxes and I can hear Mayor Miller chuckling…