Calling all transit enthusiasts …

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I am a self-proclaimed transit enthusiast. I am fascinated by urban transit; how it works, the vehicles used, how engaged the public is with their transit system. While I can’t speak for other cities, I know for certain that the Toronto Transit Commission has a huge cult following in the city. There are tons of great blogs and magazines about our system including Steve Munro’s tranist blog, Spacing Magazine, and Transit Toronto to name a few …

And then, a group of people got together and created something called Transit Camp. One of those people, Mark Kuzniki is a colleague of mine at the Centre for Social Innovation and just announced a project which arose out of the momentum of Transit Camp: Metronauts.

Metronauts.ca is an open community of people from across the sprawling greater Toronto region who care about the future of their cities. Metronauts are explorers of the future form of our cities and the role transportation has in our lives.
The first event for Metronauts is another, you guessed it, Transit Camp! It will take place on Saturday April 5, 2008 at the MaRS complex. Here’s a little description of the event:
What is a Transit Camp? It is a style of unconference, where participants create the content of the sessions throughout the day. The event structure is open and fueled by participation. Propose a session on a topic you’re passionate about and engage your fellow participants in conversation. Participation can also mean active listening, and recording of sessions, but there are no observers.
Participants are asked to sign the Metronauts Pledge as a commitment to help create a positive environment for everyone.
If you’re interested in registering for this Transit Camp, you can do so through their registration page.
Congratulations to Mark and all those involved. I think this will be the start of something very interesting in Toronto … and will probably spread to other cities very shortly!

An interesting twist on the Spadina Subway expansion …

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I just came across this article from Steve Munro’s site – very interesting how the City is dealing with the Province. I think it’s about time the City put its foot down and not pay for, as Steve says, “a Provincial pet project”.

Taking A Bite Out Of Spadina

The City of Toronto Budget Committee fired back at Queen’s Park in their ongoing battle over proper funding of provincial obligations under legislated shared-cost programs. Ontario’s underpayment for 2007 is $71-million.

Councillor Mihevc, who also sits on the TTC as vice-Chair, moved that the city withdraw $30-million of its contribution to the Spadina Subway Extension trust fund. The remaining $41-million shortfall will be taken from City reserve funds.

Councillor Rae moved that the City Solicitor be instructed to apply for a judicial interpretation of provincial cost sharing obligations for various social services.

Both motions carried unanimously. The motion regarding the Spadina funds will go to Council as part of the final budget debates, while the motion about the legal situation for shared cost programs can be approved at Executive Committee next week.

There is already budgetary pressure on the Spadina extension project because final approval has been delayed beyond the date originally anticipated by the TTC (there is a passing reference to this on next week’s TTC agenda without any specific numbers). Inflation will push up the final project cost if the line is not built on the planned schedule.

The Budget Chief, Councillor Carroll, as well as Councillors Mihevc and Rae, indicated that the Spadina Subway extension is a Provincial priority, not a City priority.

Queen’s Park wants Toronto to spend on a Provincial pet project, but won’t pay their share of social programs forcing Toronto to pick up the tab.

As of midday April 12, Queen’s Park has not responded to this situation.


New TTC Ads … someone’s listening!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

I don’t know if anyone’s noticed, but it looks as if the TTC might actually have hired a graphic designer – now, wait, hold your applause, cheering and jubilant exasperations! I can’t confirm this, but if you look at the ads that the TTC has produced lately in the subways (the big ones between the tracks), there’s a, gasp, uniformity to them! They have the same look, the same font, style etc … it’s shocking really. I couldn’t find any photo evidence online, but trust me, they’re there.

The ads that I’ve seen so far are one about safety (two actually), and one about finding information about the TTC.

So a tentative huzzah and yay to the TTC for be pro-active and figuring out that a good design standard … really is a good thing.

I would, however, like to point out that the one I saw today in the Spadina station, about where to find info about the TTC has a photo of a desk with a computer on it. For those geeks out there like me, you’ll notice that the computer on the desk is of the Apple Macintosh LC family – a computer that was introduced in the early 90’s – probably when the TTC’s website went live 😉 …

A minor point, but I kind of chuckled to myself … at least they’re trying, right?


Finally saw Lower Bay!

Saturday, March 3, 2007

I missed it last weekend, but today, I finally got to see Lower Bay Station! If this makes me a geek, then so be it, but I was acutally really excited about it. I was coming home from the bf’s place and had to make my way across the Bloor/Danforth line from Spadina to Castle Frank. Ergo, I had to transfer at Museum and take the Eastbound train from there. I decided I’d try and get a seat at the front of the train and watch the whole travelling through the tracks into the station and back out to Yonge Station.

I wasn’t the only one that had that thought.

There were a couple of parents with their kids, a few people with cameras at the ready and folk like me just really curious to see what it was going to be like. One mother narrated the trip for her son as we travelled through the “ghost tunnel” and into the “ghost station” etc. It was pretty cute.

We went through the station … and ended up at Yonge. It was all over in a matter of minutes but I did have a bit of a smile on my face the whole time. It’s a little piece of lost history in the city that has certainly been blown wide open in the past few months with all the talk going on about it. And soon we’ll all be able to walk through it as the TTC has announced that they’re opening up Lower Bay to the public for the first time in about 40 years during Doors Open Toronto sometime in the spring. That’ll be pretty exciting.

Here are some videos to look at:


Moving into the 21st Century …

Monday, January 8, 2007

This is just a quick note before the boyfriend and I watch Chicken Run (I love this movie) – but on my way over to his neck of the woods, I took the Wellseley bus and to my elated surprise, I was greeted each stop with the voice of the new TTC GPS Woman AND an LED sign indiciating the name of the upcoming stop!

Wow.

I heard about this idea being tested on the Bay bus about a year ago, and I’m very excited to see this initiative moving forward.

I know I’ve blogged about the TTC a lot lately, but I’ve got a lot to say (apparently) and there are a lot of changes happening to our beloved transit system right now … mostly good things thus far. Keep it up!

Now, if we could maybe make the TTC GPS woman just a bit happier when announcing the stops … one step at a time I suppose. 🙂


It’s a miracle …

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Okay, maybe not necessarily a miracle in the traditional sense of the word, but, it’s a small victory – how about that?

The TTC is listening!

Adam Giambrone, the TTC’s newly appointed chair, is turning to the online community and the many fans of Toronto’s tranist system to ask how the TTC can improve its website!
Hallelujah! This news broke the day after I posted my rant about the TTC’s lack of any design sense.

In the new year, Robert Ouellete of Reading Toronto, sent this challenge to Adam and the TTC:

We have a challenge and an offer for the TTC: Toronto bloggers are more than willing to offer their insights into how the TTC site might be designed (look at the reaction to a proposed route map). Why not give us a call and ask for our input. We’d be able to go to our readers for their ideas too. This makes sense to us and takes advantage of the “Wisdom of Crowds,” phenomenon the Internet provides.

And the TTC listened. Adam informed Robert that the TTC has already sent out an RFP for a site redesign, but that he likes the idea of public input. SO! Here’s your chance to have your say. The Torontoist, BlogTO, Spacing Wire and Reading Toronto are gathering your comments which they’ll cull together eventually and send off to the TTC. They’ll also be tracking the TTC’s progress to make sure they stay on target …

I have a feeling we’re entering a new era of TTC service … how exciting!


TTC’s New Years Resolution: Hire a Graphic Designer!

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Happy New Year Toronto! 2007 is here … where the hell did the time go?

As my first post in the new year, I wanted to blog about a topic that I find most fascinating (especially since my parents are both in the business): branding. Specifically, the Toronto Transit Commission and branding.

TTC logo

I, like most Torontonians, have a love/hate relationship with the TTC.

For the most part, I love our transit system because when you really think about it, it’s a pretty damn good system. It does get you where you want to go – albeit not always on time, but it is one of the better ways to get around the city. I, also like many Torontoians, see the potential for the system and just wish to God the provincial and federal governments would understand the importance this transit system plays in Canada’s largest city and how much the citizens want to have a reliable, organized and modern public transit alternative to the automobile.

There is, however, one part of the TTC I wish it would pick up it’s own slack on and do something proactive about, and that’s how it positions itself and brands itself to us, the riders.

I know a lot of people are sick and tired of hearing about branding these days. It seems like everything you see, touch, smell, hear … you name it, it has a brand attached to it. We live in a brand-recognizable world – no doubt about that. But the TTC doesn’t seem to understand that.

Complaint number 1
Their website has GOT to go. I’m sorry, but for the largest urban public transit system in Canada and one of the largest in North America … the TTC website is appaling. I think someone threw this site together at least 10 years ago and they kind of forgot about it – other than to post new banner images and update the construction information. I can only cross my fingers and hope that the TTC knows this and has put into the budget a major MAJOR website overhaul. There is nothing from this site that I would keep – best to start from scratch and we’ll just conveniently forget about the old site. Here are some thoughts on what could be improved:

  • RSS feeds: easier way and more convenient to find out about service disruption / construction projects
  • Google maps or equivalent: Ian Stevens at crazedmonkey.com has put together an amazing transit map of Toronto. How is it that one guy can put something like this together on his laptop, but a massive organization like the TTC can’t? And let’s add a trip planner while we’re at it, shall we? How nice would that be?
  • Consistency. Basically, the TTC website is a facade. The bulk of the information is held on the City of Toronto’s website. I can understand this as it’s a City service, but personally, I think the TTC should have it’s own site independent of the City of Toronto’s website. It can still be hosted on the City’s server, but let’s give the TTC some respect and give it a little home online? The Montréal Metro has it’s own website

Complaint number 2
TTC Poster 1Would the TTC please, please do something about their advertising design? It is horrible! It looks as if they had some high school intern (no offence to them) throw it together the day it had to go to print! Talk about lack of branding. Next time you’re on the bus, streetcar or subway, take a look at the advertising the TTC has. Sometimes they have ads next to one another – there is nothing consistent about them. The logo could be in the bottom left hand corner in one and right hand centred in the next. One might use the “Ride the Rocket” slogan, while the other would say “The Better Way” …

I just get so frustrated.

I’m sure most commuters are even aware that there is such inconsistencies in the advertising, and sure, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a small point to make. BUT, in the grand scheme of things, consistent branding and good advertising will give the every day rider a sense of unity within the organization, a sense that there isn’t a million different voices trying to tell them the same message in a variety of ways, but one consistent voice – one that they will eventually learn to trust.

A consistent brand goes a long way with customers. But the TTC has been all over the map when it comes to marketing and branding.

Complaint number 3
Ugly TTC shirtWhat is up with the Transit Stuff™ store at Union Station? What is up with the clothing and apparel offered? Who buys that stuff? It is the most unappealing merchandise ever. Why doesn’t anyone at the TTC get it? New York and London have been doing it for years – and doing it well. At Grand Central Station you can buy t-shirts (like I did!) with the F Train From Queens to Brooklyn printed on the front … it’s simple, recongizable, and well done. The London Underground is a huge success I would say because everyone knows the Underground. Coming up with t-shirts that say “Toronto’s Underground” – lame. There isn’t even a mention of the Transit Stuff™ (who came up with that name?!) store on their website.

TTC T-shirt design from Torontoist.comLet’s get something good going like the t-shirts that were designed over at the Torontoist. These t-shirts, designed by Marc Lostracco, are simply brilliant. So brilliant in fact that I bought one at the Canzine literary fest at the Gladstone back in November (I think – or was it October?). I bought the escalator design for those of you who are interested. The response to these designs proves to the TTC that there are those of us out there who would jump at the chance to buy TTC swag – provided that it was done well and in such a way that made it desireable to buy. Designs like these allow Torontonians, the TTC’s number 1 customer, to all share in a city-wide inside joke! Tourists may catch on and buy the shirts and take them back to their cities where they would certainly get noticed thus creating a word-of-mouth campaign where the TTC becomes internationally recongizable.

On the topic of swag – the Spacing buttons we all know and love would be a wonderful little money maker for them. They cost next to nothing to create and would have been such a wonderful way for the TTC to market to us riders.

Whether or not the TTC gets it, we riders do pride our system and want to be able to spread the word to others in the city, tourists, and the rest of the world. These ideas are most likely at the bottom of the TTC’s priority list, and I’m not the first to write about it – but something needs to be done. I’m even willing to lend my design skills to them to help create some brand strategies and develop a few ads that are consistent and, oh, here’s a thought, let’s market to those who don’t use the system! Most of the advertising you see in the city is in or on TTC property. Let’s market out of town a bit and get those 905-ers interested in using public transit. I really think that a little thought and a little planning will go a long way in helping with their Ridership Growth Strategy.

And that’s my two cents for tonight …