Monday, November 19, 2007


Some things cannot be paraphrased, and must be repeated verbatim. Here is the recommendations summary of a report presented to Transit Committee and to City Council in the City of Ottawa on November 13, 2007:




1. That the Transit Committee recommend that Council approve Transit Services joining the Greater Toronto Area Fare System (GTAFS) project with a view to full implementation of the Presto smartcard system in Ottawa by 2010 subject to the following conditions having been met by April 1, 2008:

· Provincial Cabinet approval of the proposal presented to OC Transpo by Ministry of Transportation staff as described in this report;
· Successful negotiation of central system fees to enable OC Transpo to reduce overall commission to approximately one percent;
· The STO Commission reaching a funding agreement to proceed with a technology upgrade; and
· Signing of the GTAFS Procurement Governance Agreement, the GTAFS Operating Agreement and the GTA Funding Agreement.

2. That the Transit Committee recommend to Council the delegation of authority to the Director of Transit Services to act on behalf of the City to approve and execute the GTAFS partnership agreements.

3. That the Transit Committee recommend Council approval of these recommendations be contingent on approval in the 2008 Capital Budget of an increase in project authority from $15 million to $21.200 million, recognizing that the actual cost to the City will be $15 million (or less) as a result of Provincial funding and the potential for Federal funding, as a result of the ability to integrate STO operations.
Yes, you read it correctly:
City staff is recommending that OC Transpo, the city of Ottawa's transit system (which has an excellent system that I had the pleasure of riding this past summer), sign on to Presto, the GTA fare card. They are not simply suggesting that they develop their own fare card, they are recommending that OC Transpo implement the Greater Toronto Area Fare System.

The part of this story that takes it from being odd to being hilarious is that if all goes well, they will be able to fully implement the system by 2010 - a system which the Toronto Transit Commission doesn't expect to fully implement until 2015, according to reports this past fall.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sidewalks for Sidewalking

Back at the beginning of the month, Brampton's city council decided to direct staff to find a solution to the problem of cars parking illegally on the streets overnight - a noble cause. However, the devil is in the details. Council asked staff to look into allowing residents to park over the sidewalk, at recreation centres and potentially at area schools.

While council added that parking in these areas should only be allowed at certain times, it clearly displays council's philosophy on transportation. Regardless of when such parking is restricted to, this move sends a very clear message:

Cars are more important than pedestrians, and are more deserving of the sidewalk space.

Rather than attempting to find out why there are more cars than the area is designed for, attempting to reduce the amount of cars by improving transit services to neighbourhoods, or attempting to encourage walking and other forms of environmentally friendly transportation, Brampton's leaders have thrown their hands up in defeat. 

I have faith that the city planners will realize the folly of Council, but it pains me to think that those with the power to enact law can entertain such shortsighted, regressive thoughts.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Top Gear: Rush Hour Race

When the world's most watched motoring show raced a car, a bicycle, a boat and public transit across London in the morning rush hour, the results could not be denied. 

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

When it all works the way it should

Sometime this morning, an eastbound VIA Rail train struck a car at the level crossing at Old Weston Road. This crossing is one of the more dangerous crossings because you have two CN tracks, a large gap, a CP track that cuts diagonally across the road, then a second CP track. The temptation is for drivers to drive into the middle instead of waiting for the entire crossing to clear in times of congestion. I can't say that this caused the accident, but it wouldn't surprise me. Either way, it resulted in the 11:30 westbound and 12:15 eastbound GO trains on the Georgetown line to be cancelled.

I arrived at Bramalea station on the connecting bus from downtown Brampton, expecting to find a train waiting to take me the rest of the way downtown. Instead, we were instructed to take a shuttle bus to Union. I found myself on the second bus out with 56 other seated passengers and four standees. We left at 12:20 PM, and despite rubbernecking on the 427 as drivers gawked at an overturned transport truck, we arrived at Union station on time at 12:50.

It's wonderful when things work they way they should.

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News Roundup

Siemens Canada has been awarded the contract to upgrade the signaling system around Union Station - a system which remains largely unchanged since the station opened. The project itself, $281 million over 8 years, will install a sophisticated computer controlled signaling system which will allow for increased train frequency into the station, which is already due to receive new platforms and a new train-shed roof. Hopefully, when the City realizes that it best to hand over the rest of the station to GO, the building itself will receive the same treatment.

Meanwhile, new signals are causing grief in the east end. Leona Adam, a resident of the Danforth & Greenwood area is upset with the sound of trains and the location of a new signal bridge along the rail line passing near her home. Since the main line was completed in 1855, and since the overall frequency of trains has dropped since the golden age of railroading, I'm not sure she has a valid complaint. Living near a rail line means living with planes, just as living near an airport means living with planes.

The metal poles in the centre of the double-wide front doors of streetcars will be removed to increase passenger flow. Tests show that the change was well received without any problems, so it will be rolled out across the system.

You'll be able to buy metropasses online in the new year, which is a no brainer, but isn't the social interaction of standing in line worth anything anymore?

The TTC's new Mount Dennis bus garage is six weeks from completion, but do to the budget crisis this past summer (which, make no mistake, is far from being solved), likely won't open until summer 2008. According to the TTC chair, we can expect massive service improvements this February (the ones deferred from fall 2007), and more massive improvements in fall 2008.

Vossloh Kiepe Corp., a supplier of electrical equipment for transit vehicles has commented that the TTC's decision to go to a 100% low floor design for the next generation Light Rail Vehicle will cause unnecessary increases in cost. While a 100% low floor design will increase passenger flow through the car (no one likes to stand in the high-floor areas of Orion VII buses), it means that the 70% low floor, off-the-shelf designs that were initially proposed and displayed are no longer representative of what Toronto will get. It appears that a more expensive car will have to be designed, but it means that it will be perfectly suited to Toronto's network.

Last week, the concept plans for the redevelopment of Islington and Kipling Stations were presented. Mississauga Transit will move to a new regional terminal at Kipling, paving a way for a redevelopment that will eventually straddle Bloor and Dundas from Islington to the Mississauga border.

Finally, the TTC chair will hold a press conference today to detail the technological improvements due to be implemented in the coming months and years. Expected to be on the agenda are the automated station announcements on all vehicles, an online trip planner, service updates by email and better passenger information displays on subway platforms.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Planes, Trains & Snowmobiles

Winter is approaching, and delays due to frozen switches, ice and salt jammed in doors and various other cold weather woes will bring delays to GO Transit's railway network. It almost seems fitting that GO's board of directors is poised to approve Bombardier, the company that invented the snowmobile, as the new operator of trains running on the CN lines.

This past summer, GO announced that due to a rash of cancellations stemming from CN train crews calling in sick on fridays, they would be terminating their contract with the railroad and seeking a new operator. The new deal, at $23.9 million per year, is supposed to save millions, and a penalty clause for crew shortages should eliminate the cancellations that started this whole mess. Hopefully customer service won't be compromised, but that another was a problem with CN crews that was only recently solved. CP crews aren't affected by this change.

interestingly, CN did not bid on the new contract, confirming my suspicions that they haven't really been interested in passenger rail since April 1, 1978 - the day VIA Rail Canada was born.

All in all, this is a positive step. While it won't mean more frequent service, we should see fewer delays in the summer, when mechanical problems aren't as frequent. However, winter will continue to be winter, and people will continue to complain. Case in point, a lady named Diane, who was quoted by 680 News saying "I got home one time, I live in Brampton, at 8 o'clock. It stopped one stop away from my stop and we had to get a bus or find another form of transportation." It sounds like Diana rode the 1845 train, which runs to Bramalea Station. The bus connection arrives in Brampton at 7:45 PM - causing her to likely arrive at home at 8:00. 

Congratulations, Diane from Brampton, you've managed to find a way to complain about a service which was delivered as advertised.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Feds say Ontario will get $7.9B in infrastructure funding; enough for transit plan - Canadian Press

For once, there's good news in the paper!

According to a story by the Canadian Press, the federal government is set to announce $7.9 billion in infrastructure funding for Ontario, almost $2 billion more than their share of MoveOntario 2020. This announcement essentially assures that 52 projects to build over 900 kilometres of rapid transit in the GTA will go ahead sooner rather than later, and that there will be additional funding for other regional centres.

MoveOntario 2020 was not only unprecedented in magnitude, but the plan's key strength  is that it draws its ideas from projects already on the books - projects that had been proposed, vetted and were simply awaiting funding. While I don't necessarily agree with all of the particulars of all of the projects, MoveOntario 2020 is the best we've seen so far, and it's great to see that it has support from all levels of government.

The next 12 years will turn the GTA into one giant construction site, but the freedom from gridlock will be worth the wait.


From now on, I won't be pasting entire newspaper articles into my posts. It should improve the readability, but there is a strong possibility that links to the newspaper articles will become dead after a few weeks. Feedback on this change is appreciated.

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Gold coins are only impressive in pirate tales

Yesterday I used my last TTC ticket, necessitating a trip to the token machine at Union Station. Under the new fares, $20 will get you 8 tokens and $2.00 in change, which is much more convenient than receiving 9 tokens and a handful of random coins. However, this is not what I got.

For my $20, I received 8 tokens, $1 and a laundry token of "no cash value". Its rounded, as opposed to the 11-sided loonie, but is the same thickness and weighs about the same.

I'll be swinging by the station later today to get the machine's number in order to mount a effective customer concern, but the machine is on the west side of the union station concourse (the high traffic corridor between the GO station and the PATH network), and it is the southernmost machine out of a side-by-side pair.

I'm not going to say I don't want my money back, but in order to be given to me, it had to be in the machine in the first place. I suppose I don't have to verbalize what I'm saying here.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Google Transit

November 1st was the launch of the TransLink page at Google Transit, the online transit mapping service from everyone's favorite search engine. It uses the same interface as Google Maps, which provides driving directions between two addresses or landmarks, giving transit riders in Metro Vancouver an easy way to get transit directions - something the GTA needs desperately.

TransLink already has a trip planner, but it is extremely slow. It took me 1:20 to find directions from Vancouver International Airport to the University of British Columbia, leaving immediately. On Google Transit, the same search took me 9 seconds (in both cases, the search was for "YVR" to "UBC"). For people on the go, Google definitely has the edge. However, the winner isn't as clear once you look deeper.

Google's planner only has one option to customize your trip - you can select what day you travel and what time you plan to depart at or arrive by. TransLink's planner allows you to do that, and it can sort your options by travel time, number of transfers and walking distance. It also shows you the cost of the trip, critical for Vancouver's multiple fare zones. Finally, Google's planner ignored the SeaBus (the ferry across Burrard Inlet) and West Coast Express (the commuter rail line to Mission City), but it did offer you driving instructions when it couldn't find a transit route. Is that really a good thing? If you have special needs, such as a bicycle or accessibility accommodation, only TransLink's planner can filter out any trips which you can't use.

Google Transit Vancouver is still a beta (which is computer industry speak for "test version, expect bugs"), but in many cases, we don't get a second chance to convince someone to choose transit. Google's transit planner will help increase transit ridership in the city, as its done elsewhere, but there will be some who fall victim to its flaws and will never take a second look.

And seriously... offering driving instructions? The more I think about that flaw, the more upset I become.