Thursday, January 31, 2008

Oyster scheme to offer a watch - Sky News (UK)

Oyster scheme to offer a watch

Updated: Wednesday January 30 2008

Oyster scheme to offer a watch

The cashless payment scheme Oyster is to launch a new way to pay for London transport users, it is being reported.

As well as the Oyster cards, the Barclaycard-flavoured Oyster cards and a new Nokia/O2 phone trial, the scheme will extend the contactless payment to wristwatches.

The watch, which has built-in Oyster payment technology, has been trialled over the past 6 months by 500 members of Transport for London staff and is due to be rolled out later this year.

Oyster is apparently currently in discussions with several watch manufacturers, including Swatch, in order to decide who will be the official launch partner.

With the short range wireless technology used, wearers would just need to wave their watch near a contact point in order for the payment to be processed.
This could be the future of Presto here in the GTA. When we consider that transit is more than just getting from A to B, there is no limit to what innovations we can dream up.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Towards Sustainable Transportation

The door to discuss Metrolinx's first discussion paper, "Towards Sustainable Transportation" is quickly closing. This paper isn't about where lines on the maps should be drawn, and it's not about what density targets we should be building at (both of those will come later). This paper tries to outline the process that will be used to form the RTP and explains how everyone interested can get their voices heard. So here's one last kick at the can:
  • What do you think about the 5 step consultation process?
  • What fundamental goals should Metrolinx keep in mind while developing the RTP?
  • What measures of success should be used?
  • What best-practices from around the world should Metrolinx incorporate into the regional plan?
If you haven't registered to comment on this discussion paper, you'll find instructions at the link above. If you prefer, you can comment on this post and I'll take it to the committee meeting in the near future. The next discussion paper "Mobility Hubs" is set to be released, and I'll have a full breakdown soon.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

News Roundup

501 Follies

After being mysteriously omitted from the agenda, the TTC Staff report on the problems facing the 501 Queen streetcar has appeared on the commission's website. Aside from the various "no brainer" recommendations (such as enforcing turning and parking restrictions), three stand out. Staff is recommending that the current directive of keeping cars on time by short turning them be abandoned in favour of completing more full trips, that relief operators be stationed on the line so that staff can take breaks without taking cars out of service, and that the route be split up into several parts in order to make it more manageable.

I am a firm believer that people don't like to transfer, no matter how perfectly timed those transfers are. As a result, we need to find ways to make long routes work well. I think that we need to consider putting transit rights-of-ways on four lane roads - a concept which automatically precludes on-street parking.

TTC Operator Safety

A report published by The Toronto Star revealed what I suspected all along:

TTC operators, due to being assaulted and witnessing deaths on a much more regular basis than we would like to admit, are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders in numbers much higher than we would like to admit.

Not only do we have to protect the operators from being assaulted for a dispute over pocket change, we have to protect passengers from track level injury and even from becoming involved in fare disputes. TransLink in Vancouver has seen all transit vehicles declared fare paid zones, shifting the responsibility for fare collection from the operators to roving fare inspectors. In London, some tube stations are equipped with platform screens that only open when a train is at the platform. Here in Toronto, plastic shields to protect operators are expected to be installed in the coming years.

There are many best-practices around the world, but sadly, all are useless unless we admit that there is a problem.

The Kitchen Report

The Kitchen Report on financing public transit and transportation suggests that municipalities in the region should introduce tolls on major corridors in order to pay for transit improvements, as property taxes simply cannot pay for these improvements without massive increases. I do believe that people are generally supportive of taxes if they can clearly see where their money is being spent, but I think the report is best discussed in a full post.

Clothes Lines

The Province of Ontario is set to review land-use covenants - agreements between homeowners and developers - in order to allow the hanging of clothing outside. While the homebuilders may argue that these agreements are necessary to keep property values from tumbling (like in a dryer), using clotheslines are a great way to cut down on electricity use. However, the planning implications of this decision could reach far beyond the laundry room. It would be interesting to look at what is permitted in a particular neighbourhood, as I'm sure that most people are unaware that municipal by-laws are not the only restrictions placed upon their property.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

This jaw remains firmly shut

I was greeted this morning with a news stories with titles like:

"Rogers Comes out with REASONABLE Data Plans!"


"Rogers breaks out new data plans, Canadian jaws drop"

These stories praise Rogers' new data rates for PC cards, but the new tariffs represent nothing more than an increase from an failing grade to a redeemable failing grade. Now, $65 per month will earn you 1 GB of data, where in the past, 25 MB was all you would receive for a comparable price.

While this is a step in the right direction, one must consider that on AT&T in the United States, $60 per month will get you 450 daytime minutes, 5000 nighttime minutes, 200 text messages and UNLIMITED data on the coveted Apple iPhone. One must note that the above Rogers offer does not include voice calls.

Some argue that due to economies of scale, it is unreasonable to expect Rogers to match the AT&T offer. However, Canadian wireless data prices are consistently ranked as being more expensive than in Rwanda, which was ranked number 12 on a list of failed states in 2005.

We have to demand better.


Friday, January 18, 2008

20-minute countdown - Guelph Tribune

Remember when the City of Guelph reduced transit frequencies during the peak periods from every 30 to every 40 minutes?

Guelph Transit runs a timed-transfer or "pulse" system, where all routes meet at the downtown terminal then leave at the same time.  Peterborough and St. Catharines also run similar systems, but last spring, Guelph found that congestion was preventing some routes from making the rendezvous. In July, the city decreased peak-hour frequencies to give buses more time to complete their runs, and in the process, became the only city I can think of that offered more fequent service in the off-peak than in the peak period (unless you count homebound service on the Georgetown line, but that's another post).

According to an Guelph Tribune editorial, the council committee responsible for transit is recommending that the city move to 20-minute frequencies this summer, finally bringing an end to this fiasco. Perhaps it's also time to look at eliminating the pulse system. While it is very convenient for transfers, missed connections would cost 20 minutes under the proposed system, 40 minutes under the current system, and 30 minutes under the old system - however, that would depend on how well buses can keep on schedule when running at 20 minute frequencies.

I'm glad that this misadventure has come to an apparent end, and like the Springfield Monorail, I hope this is the last folly the people of Guelph ever embark upon.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Okay, so there wasn't a showdown...

It was 3:16 when the event began with Ryerson Student Union President Nora Loretto and Vice-President - Finances & Services (and fellow Planning student) Chris Drew making a presentation on  student pricing on the TTC. 

Ryerson currently participates in the Volume Incentive Plan (VIP), which offers discounted passes to organizations who commit to selling at least 50 passes to their members, and since the Ryerson Student Union began selling VIP passes, sales have gone up year after year.9000 passes were sold in November of last year for $96 a pass, but this isn't without cost. The TTC does not allow VIP members to add a surcharge, so the $25,000 in debit processing fees, the $70,000 in labour costs annually must come from the Student Union budget - money that could be used for programs to help students. Under the current system, students will pay $768.00 for 8 months of metropasses.

The U-Pass program would give students monthly passes for $60 per month, or $480.00 for those same 8 months. However, and this is the source of most of the controversy, students would not be able to opt-out of this program, as the guaranteed revenue is the only way the city can offer this discount. For this reason, and because of university bylaws concerning student fee increases (as the $480 would appear alongside tuition on the fee statement), a referendum is necessary for its approval. Also, while the pass would not be transferrable, it would grant its owner all the rights and privileges of all adult Metropass users.

After the details were laid out, Mayor David Miller took the microphone and commented about the need to make transit more affordable for students in the name of equity. He said that while the VIP plan is a simple concept, it is very complex to administer. In his view, the U-Pass is a leading program that offers significant savings, meets ridership goals, and can encourage transit ridership at a time when students are beginning to form lifelong habits.

TTC Chair Adam Giambrone spoke next, opening with the need to convince citizens to make sustainable travel choices from the start. He explained that the TTC plans to tie the U-Pass to a rate of 60% of the adult Metropass price, but that if the referendum passes in 2008, the current price of $60 a month will be frozen for at least the first year. Also, the chair explained that agreements-in-principle had been reached with GO Transit and York Region Transit to bring them into the U-Pass program - a comment that caught my attention and one that I will return to.

At this point in the event, the floor was opened to questions from the audience (which I will now attempt to paraphrase):

Concerns about students being unable to opt out

Once students have TTC passes, research suggests that they will use it. According to their studies, riders don't buy passes unless the plan to make 43 trips in a month, but that passholders tend to make 70 trips in a month. In addition, Mike Anders from the TTC revealed that 71% of Ryerson students could the TTC as their primary means of travelling to and from school. 5% use GO exclusively, and 6% take GO and the TTC (those who will benefit from the plan). The rest either drove, walked, cycled, were driven or answered "other", - a category which the mayor mocked.

Can it be a 12 month pass?

Summer demand indicated that it was not viable to offer a 12 month pass, but the VIP pass could continue to be sold on campus.

Since it is tied to the Metropass price, what will be the first price?

If passed this year, the first year will see the passes at $60 per month. The city is willing to take this hit, even in the face of improvements on 77 routes coming next month.

How soon would it be implemented following the referendum?

If the referendum passes, it would be implemented the following fall. However, if the referendum takes place in very early fall, the U-Pass could be implemented for January.

Could the price be lowered like in other cities?

All other cities of comparable size have provincial funding, or the school administration is contributing. Unless either of those change, the $60 price point is the best the TTC can offer. The mayor took this opportunity to praise the Premier for what he has done so far, and to condemn Harris for what he did.

At this point, the microphone passed to me, where despite my famous shaking when I'm nervous, I managed to hold the microphone and speak calmly.

Can you please clarify the agreement with GO and YRT?

Students would be able to choose 8 months of TTC passes, 8 months of YRT passes or 8 months of $60 vouchers for GO Transit.

Can we get a pass that is useable everywhere?

Giambrone spoke about the lack of equity in charging people more when they have longer rides (see this post), and without agreements with other agencies, that would be necessary. The mayor spoke about how densities allow for the TTC to offer a much higher level of service for a fair price than other agencies, and that it would be difficult to merge systems that are fundamentally different. Mike Anders spoke about how groundbreaking the agreements with GO and YRT were, while Mr. Miller pointed out that while they weren't politically approved, they didn't see any roadblocks.

Could corporate or other sponsors (as is done in Vancouver) allow for the price to be lowered?


What about school staff?

The VIP program would continue for the time being, but a Staff-Pass could be considered once full time students have approved it.

What about the exam period?

TTC staff took the lower travel figures into account in their calculations.

Would it be eligible for the federal tax credit?


What about Grad students?

Unlike other schools, Ryerson graduate students are represented by the same student union as undergraduate students, and will be included in the U-Pass.

Can students who get the U-Pass still purchase VIP passes for others?


Will there be exemptions for students who cannot use transit for accessibility reasons?

Yes, but only for students with disabilities which prevent them from using the TTC to get to campus.

At this point, Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy took the microphone and praised the U-Pass for the ways it complements Ryerson's Master Plan. He asked:

If there was an alternate source of funding, would the TTC be willing to reconsider the inability to opt-out?

If the university were able to guarantee the funding for students who opt-out, then the TTC would reconsider that facet of the proposal. However, the Mayor felt the point would be moot, as 97% of the respondents said that they would use it.

If Ryerson were the only school to ratify the proposal, would it still be implemented?


What would the pass look like? Could it be the Ryerson Student Card?

In order to allow TTC operators to easily recognize the U-Pass, they will take the form of a TTC issued card with existing photos from the University's file. It would be issued in September, and if the student drops out, they will be able to return it for a refund.

At this time, the closing remarks were made and the town hall meeting came to an end, where I mingled with the Mayor, the Chair and the Chris Drew - but that is a story for another day.

I have always believed that the U-Pass is a good idea, and while the pass won't benefit those who spend their entire educational careers within a block of campus, the agreement with GO Transit ensures that the pass will benefit more than 80% of Ryerson students. The agreement with York Region Transit ensures that this proposal will be very popular with York University students as well.

I hope that Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy was hinting at something when he asked if guaranteed funding could bring about a change in the opt-out policy, but even in the absence of that funding, I say bring on the referendum!

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U-Pass Showdown?

Based on the experience at U of T the other day, there might be fireworks at the U-Pass town hall on the Ryerson campus today (thursday). Even though I have a well-earned day off from my studies, I sense that this may be a defining moment in Toronto's transportation future. I will be there, possibly giving live-blogging a try.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Clock Ticking on Mandatory U-Pass - The Eyeopener

This week's edition of Ryerson's weekly independent newspaper brings news that the Ryerson Student Union has 7 months to act on the TTC's offer of a $60 U-Pass. The U-Pass program would see each student receive a TTC metropass every month, with the reduced rate of $60 a month included in their tuition. This would be a savings of almost $40 over the current student discount, and a savings of $20 over the average amount a Ryerson student spends on the TTC each month. However, the program isn't without its faults.

The entire student body would have to participate, as the non-users would subsidize those who use their passes. While this may not sit well with non-transit users, it is a sacrifice that should be made for the greater good. Making transit more accessible, especially for students, is not only a noble cause, but it serves to introduce them to transit at a time when they are forming lifelong habits. In addition, experiences in British Columbia have seen ridership increases of 10% or greater under similar programs. In my view, it is clear that the positive effects on transit ridership far outweigh the small financial inconvenience of the less than 30% who do not use the TTC as their main mode of transportation.

Also, the pass may not be transferable, and there is no indication how this program will change when Presto is fully implemented on the TTC (which I suspect will be much sooner than Presto literature indicates). While this is one detail that I would like to see ironed out, the U-Pass program is better than nothing in the interim.

TTC chair Adam Giambrone and Mayor David Miller will be on campus on January 17th in order to gauge student reactions to the proposal, but I am certain that they will find near-universal support.. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if most students question why the Ryerson Student Union hasn't already taken the deal.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

MoveVancouver 2020?

2020 seems to be a popular year for transit enhancement targets, as today saw the announcement of a $14 billion, 12 year transit plan for Metro Vancouver and the lower mainland of British Columbia. 

The plan will fund 9 new RapidBus bus rapid transit line, 2 SkyTrain extensions (which proves that the scarborough RT didn't have to end up the way it did), and the construction of a light rail line to replace a B-Line bus rapid transit route. Also, the plan will bring 1500 new buses across the province and will bring turnstiles (believe it or not, my fellow Torontonians, they didn't have turnstiles) and a smart card.

Paul Hillsdon has extensive coverage, and while he feels as if its a more balance approach to the highway-based Gateway project, "the devil is in the details, and it's the details that are lacking in the plan."


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Fare zones - or not

For a fairly long time I've been running a poll on this blog asking readers to consider two proposals to improve the fare system. If you have voted, I thank you for your opinion. If you have not voted, then please do so on the right-hand column. Either way, I think its time to revisit the issue.

Anyone who has tried to transfer from one of the suburban systems onto the TTC knows that their transfers are not valid and that a second fare is necessary. Simple economics dictate that the more one uses a service, the more one should pay. Based on this, it makes sense to charge two fares if your journey includes two systems - or does it?

I believe that the second fare necessary when crossing the borders of the City of Toronto is a needless barrier to transit ridership. I believe that there should be, at minimum, reduced, as the positive effects of improved ridership is well worth the increased strain on the public purse. GO Transit should continue to use a separate fare structure, as no one would argue that it is a premium experience, but all municipal systems should enter into a fare-integration deal with GO to allow riders to "ride to GO" for around 50 to 75 cents. Also I believe that all municipal systems should allow unlimited transfers for at least 90 minutes for a single fare, as this will make transit more attractive to those who must make several stops along the way.

Moving back to the local systems, one argument made by Steve Munro has stuck with me. He believes that a GO-style fare-by-distance system for local transit will dissuade distance riders from choosing transit. In essence, since not everyone can live close to where they work and because the last 50 years of development have not placed homes close to places of employment, it is not equitable reward only those who can afford to live a short-commute lifestyle. Based on these principles, I have come up with two proposals:

1) A rider pays a single fare, and can ride anywhere in the GTA for 2 hours. Transfers between all local transit agencies will be free.

2) A rider pays a single fare, and can ride anywhere within their fare zone for 2 hours (either the suburban zone or the city zone). They can transfer into the other fare for half of their original fare, but receive a fresh two hours for use in either zone.

I would love to hear the opinions of those who read this blog, as in absence of any other changes, manipulating the fare system can bring riders to or push them away from transit.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Parking Lot Blues

Today, due to difficulty arranging a ride home from the train station, I decided to give the Orangeville GO bus a try. This route is a branch of the Georgetown corridor, and connects the community in Dufferin County with trains at Brampton or Bramalea station (depending on the time of day). Luckily, I live just inside the Brampton fare zone boundary, allowing me to use my monthly pass.

From a running time of 15 minutes, the bus took just over 20 to reach the edge of my neighbourhood, followed by a 15 minute walk to my door. It was a refreshing change from sitting in traffic, and I can happily consider it an option in fair weather and include it in my long-term plan of purchasing a folding bicycle and ditching the car for routine trips downtown.

However, there is another side to this story. Though the bus left the terminal immediately, I arrived at home at around the same time as I normally would. This means that the 15 minute walk represents a quarter hour I would have spent driving. Assuming that I can complete the drive up Highway 10 just as fast as the bus can, I am left with a disturbing conclusion:

It takes 15 minutes just to get out of the parking lot!

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Tentative Agreement!

City TV is reporting that a tentative agreement has been reached between GO Transit and the Amalgamated Transit Union local representing GO bus drivers, maintenance workers and other staff. 

For now, the threat of a strike has eased. However, the agreement must still be ratified by union membership. The last agreement was rejected, so what happens next is anybody's guest. Stay tuned over the next week for more news on how this situation will play itself out.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

2008: a year of great challenges for public transit (Editorial) - Orangeville Citizen

Aside from recapping past, present and future expansion news from GO Transit, this editorial proposes to run commuter rail service on the Orangeville-Brampton Railway - something I've long advocated for. The writer claims that a service operated using refurbished Budd Rail Diesel Cars, the very same as those used by VIA Rail on Vancouver Island an on the Sudbury Junction - White River run, could reach downtown Brampton in 40 minutes - 20 minutes faster than the current bus service. With track upgrades (potentially expensive due to the tight curves between Cataract and Inglewood), service could be even faster.

Such a service, if implemented, could be extended north to Shelburne to serve other areas in rapidly growing Dufferin County. Several stops could be placed in Caledon, as the line passes through several settlements. It would also serve northwest and southwest Brampton (should it continue downtown via Streetsville), which has also seen explosive growth in recent times. The only problem I can anticipate is Milton corridor passengers overcrowding the trains should they run local between Streetsville and Union (or more likely, North Toronto).

In a recent article (two posts down), the Mayor of Caledon commented that if GO provided the service, people would use it. Since this line would serve the vast majority of the Town's settlements west of Highway 10, Caledon stands to benefit from this proposal as much as Orangeville would. I hope that Mayor Morrison's support for GO service didn't only apply to the Georgetown train.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Allen Road intensification

Highway and hydro corridors often have plenty of open land, allowing rapid transit to be built cheaply and easily. However, while these areas are usually close to densely populated areas, they rarely pass close enough to offer effective stop placement. The Mississauga busway, for example, has to divert off of the highway 403 corridor in order to serve the Square One terminal, which itself is still very far from the booming areas of Mississauga's City Centre. The Finch-Etobicoke transit city line could easily use the nearby hydro corridor, but doing so would miss key destinations along Finch Avenue. The highway 401 subway proposal of a few years ago is hindered by the fact that while people live and work close to the 401, fleets of buses would be needed to take people the few blocks to their final destinations.

The Spadina subway is an example of the final situation, where the stations are almost completely dependent on bus connections. Downsview has very little walk-in potential due to the vast undeveloped land surrounding the station. Wilson has very little in walking distance, and even if it did, it is in a pedestrian unfriendly environment. Yorkdale and Lawrence West both have malls nearby, but those malls are surrounded by low density developments. Glencairn is completely surrounded by low density housing. Without the high capacity bus routes serving many of those stations, there would be serious questions as to why some stations are kept open.

To boost ridership and ensure a sustainable future, we have to increase density at transit nodes around the region. To that effect, Zeidler Partnership Architects have developed a concept of what can be done to intensify the area around Glenciarn station using existing land owned by the TTC. The concept is not necessarily a development proposal, but shows how housing for 20,000 people could be built on the site of the station, with only two properties being expropriated. The concept features for mid-rise, mixed use buildings and townhouses, introduces open space to the area, and uses some of the best practices in modern urban design.

While Torontonians have often been opposed to intensification in low density areas, concepts like this take into account the existing neighbourhood and attempt to build a gradual transition between single family housing and apartment buildings. Most importantly, the concept is visually appealing, which, in my opinion, is the grounds that we should be opposing projects on. We shouldn't condemn a proposal because it is too tall or because it has too many units. We should oppose a proposal if it's visually unpleasant, or if it doesn't take steps to ease the transition between low density and high density.

I hope that projects like this are built in the near future, as they can help improve transit ridership, improve sustainability in the city, and set examples for other places in the suburbs to use in their plans to improve density and build good urban communities. And, most importantly, this concept is 10,500 housing units on a site in Toronto and not on the Oak Ridges Moraine.


GO buses apparently don't count

A Caledon Citizen article, dated January 2nd, 2008 (spooky, eh?), quotes Caledon Mayor Marolyn Morrison as saying that she had travelled to Toronto using GO Transit on the Georgetown line, but that she was unable to get back due to the lack of return service. She further suggested that if GO provided the service, then it would likely be full.

I wonder if the Mayor considered GO buses, which provide frequent homebound service across the entire line after the final train - service that is even more frequent than during the midday on the Georgetown line. It is inaccurate to say that one cannot get from Union Station to any of the outlying rail stations if you miss the last train. GO buses have more comfortable seats than the trains, offer more flexibility in where you can board and disembark, and have a travel time which is comparable to the trains. The only downside is the capacity of the bus and the stigma. In comparison to trains and other forms of rapid transit, buses are seen as antiquated and token transit efforts. However, they are an integral part of any transit network, especially in pedestrian unfriendly suburbs where the high-density transit nodes are few and far between.

The topic of public transportation in the Town of Caledon is a whole other topic which I could rant about for hours on end. In short, more GO connections are needed. The proposed MoveOntario 2020 line to Bolton will help, as will additional service on the Orangeville bus route (possibly with an upgrade to rail, which will more closely serve the populated areas in the town). However, the town must establish internal transit links between and within the different villages. Chasing away those who are willing to do it without subsidy doesn't help either.

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