The TTC is currently going through some great changes - with the new vision, "A Transit System That Makes Toronto Proud". As American author Wilferd Peterson puts it, "Big thinking precedes great achievement”. Here are some of my ideas for the TTC.
1. Introduce smart traffic lights for streetcar routes that would automatically turn green when the streetcar is required to pass the intersection. It’s a frustration for many passengers when the streetcar stops to pick people up just as the light turns green. And then when it’s about to leave the stop, the light turns red. Some TTC operators make the dash for it just as the light hits yellow, but most don’t. This can easily be alleviated if the city invests in some smart traffic lights that time its lights with the movement of streetcars. Even better, give the streetcar operator the ability to operate the lights when he/she is ready to move across the intersection. It will speed up the travel time of the streetcar, greatly, and improve the overall quality of the system. Cost: Have the province / city fund this.
2. Make it mandatory to have at least one upward moving escalator per station, and have signs directing people to it. Sometimes I get off the subway and follow the signs to the escalator only to find that the escalator has been configured to go the wrong-way – going down. Sometimes, all escalators are configured to go down instead of up. This can be frustrating for passengers especially after a long day of commuting to find your-self walking up the stairs where there is a perfectly working escalator configured to go the wrong way. Getting the small things right can make a big difference – and having signs that point “escalator up” would make lives for the less mobile people much better! Cost: Free to configure the escalator.
3. Sell / license out the right to install cellphone repeaters in the subway system; install Wi-Fi for revenue generating. The TTC can earn an additional revenue stream by charging cellphone operators for the right to install cellphone transmitters in the system. Many underground subways around the world have cellphone reception capabilities, including the skytrain in Vancouver. People would tend to go onto the internet or check emails more than making a call in a noisy environment. Cost: Free; and in fact, is a revenue generator. Also, TTC should install wi-fi starting from the busiest stations so people with iPads, iTouch, tablets, or smartphones with no data plan can take advantage of reading the news and surfing the web for $5-$10 per month - great way for TTC to generate extra cash.
4. Introduce warning red lights or strobe lights on the back of the street cars to indicate to cars that the doors are opened. I can count many times where I’ve seen cars zooming past streetcars despite the doors being opened. But it’s not always the driver’s fault; sometimes they just don’t see the tiny side-doors being opened. Adding some sort of red flashing lights to the right back side of the streetcar can warn drivers that the door is open and that they need to stop for pedestrians. It’s just something simple to increase the safety of passengers disembarking from the streetcar. Cost: Less than $100 per streetcar.
5. Consider removing the computer voice on the new subways cars and reintroduce the human voice. The new subway cars are great and comfortable, but the announcements are not. The last thing passengers want to hear at the end of a long day of work is “Please-stand-clear-of-doors” repeated 12 times in a monotized, computerized and fake voice that sounds like the Siri iPhone feature that most people don’t really use. And I don’t even think that is spoken in a correct grammar either. In all, it’s will be good to bring back Susan Bigioni’s voice – passengers would rather listen to her than a computer anytime. Cost: Zero. Get Bombardier to do it out of goodwill (or just transfer the recordings to the new system; or make the message system say less if it is a technical limitation).
6. Introduce more benches or seating in subway stations. I don’t understand why at some stations there are only 1 or 2 benches in the DWA area. Introduce more seating throughout the station. If people sleeping on benches are a problem; consider having single seats scattered throughout or armrests to prevent people from lying down. In any case, the less abled commuter will be thankful for the 5 minute rest while they wait for the next subway. Cost: Less than $1,000 per station.
7. Improve lighting in the subway stations. And not just for safety; but for aesthetics. I can probably count 3 or 4 different shades of light used in the subway, some flickering, others not working. Small changes can improve the station environment as a whole – such as the blue lighting used in the Gautrain station in Sandton, South Africa to light up the track area (see example athttp://www.continentaloutdoor.com/typo3temp/pics/Gautrain_Pic_ac76630b64.jpg). It creates a better feeling for riders and would appreciate that! Cost: Less than $10,000 per station.
8. Remove the broken panel and ceiling strips in the subway stations. Aesthetically it is better to see bare concrete instead of ceiling strips that are blacked, darkened or falling apart, giving an impression that the subway station is falling apart – re: Bloor, Union, Dundas stations. And don’t consider replacing them; that may be too expensive to maintain (given how easily they fall apart). Consider the use of coloured lights (see previous point) to improve aesthetics in a cheap, economical manner. Or paint them in a neutral colour. Cost: less than replacing or attempting to fix the ceiling panels.
9. Introduce art to certain areas of the subway tracks. This is an idea to allow the community to get involved. A great example is the underground train at Denver International Airport where spinning fans are used to capture the peoples’ imagination. Seehttp://youtu.be/Oo7Au4qmSuoandhttp://youtu.be/fdrM1lnqIWEas examples. This would be great for tourists travelling from Dundas station (Eaton Centre) to Union Station (CN Tower), as an example. Cost: zero; assumed by the artists.
10. Improve signage for visitors, tourists and newcomers to the city in the subway system. Official signs pointing towards directions of landmarks (e.g. CN Tower, Casa Roma, ROM, University of Toronto, etc) to allow visitors to get to their landmark easier – just like how the subways in Paris point towards where the Eiffel Tower is. It’s can get very confusing for a newcomer to figure out where “Southbound” is going to. Cost: less than $500 per station.
11. Introduce short distance fares for commutes less than 5km (to go with electronic payment system). Many times people need to go buy groceries, run errands, or do basic tasks in the nearby area. But it costs $3 if they do not use a monthly pass, which hurts if one is buying $50 of groceries and having to pay $6 for both ways! When the electronic payment system is introduced, consider introducing short distance fares for travels that are less than 5km. You'll probably find more people leaving their cars at home do run errands, which is what the goal of public transit is at the end of the day.
12. Consider building the new proposed LRT lines on elevated tracks. Building the whole track underground may be too expensive (as the media has reported lately), and building it on the same level as the road would cause traffic problems and would slow down the system (assuming that the LRT needs to stop at red lights – I would hate to have a “streetcar” like system going along Eglinton – I agree with Rob Ford on this one). So as a compromise, consider building parts of the track above ground just like the Skytrain or transit systems in Taiwan, Thailand, etc. Also, definitely consider automating the system so there will be less labour costs. Cost: Cheaper than putting the whole line underground, but still providing the efficiency of not having the line interfering with traffic.
13. Introduce an electronic payment system. Whether it’s called an open payment system, Presto, Octopus, Oyster, Salmon, or the Loch Ness Monster – getting an electronic payment system is long overdue. And when the payment system is introduced, ensure that the units can take in all sorts of change – from pennies to dimes to quarters and loonies. This creates an avenue for people to use their change and store it electronically with the TTC payment system, which allows the TTC increase cash reserves, generate more cash flow and earn higher interest (and fund other programs and activities). Cost: Cost of implementation, offset by savings from removing the current token system and more interest on cash earned.
Update as at Spring 2012: The TTC aims to introduce Presto by 2015. Personally this is a bit long but something is better than nothing.
14. Introduce double-decker buses on busy bus routes. On many suburbia routes in North York or Scarborough, many times there would be no spaces on the bus left; forcing the bus to bypass the bus stop and adding an extra 5 to 10 minutes of wait time for the commuter. Hiring more bus drivers are a problem given the higher cost of wages, but why not start introducing double decker buses on busy routes? Not only does it make more economic sense (more passenger ratio to a driver), but it is more comfortable, less cramped, and gives a great view for children sitting on the upper deck front row (if anything, do it for the children!). Certain municipalities in Canada already make use of double decker busses; some GO busses are double deckers; let’s introduce that to Toronto. A conventional single-decker bus currently has a capacity of 50 passengers per bus. A double decker bus can carry up to 70-90 - it's a "no brainer". Cost: The incremental cost of a double decker, but offset by reduced labour costs.
Update August 14, 2012: The TTC has ordered $24.3M of articulated busses (27 busses to be delivered in 2013; option to buy up to 153 more) to be placed on busy routes.