At a press conference late this morning at Spadina Station, the TTC rolled out the beginnings of their snappily named “next vehicle arrival notification pilot project” that will eventually see the new street furniture transit shelters outfitted with LED screens, new and old subway stations across the city outfitted with LCD and LED screens, still more stops updated with numbers that riders can text message to, and the TTC’s new and much-improved website updated with a smart trip planner—all to get riders real-time transit information on where their ride is and when it’s going to get to them.
Adam Giambrone, the TTC’s chair, gave his presentation in front of Spadina Station’s new pair of LCD screens. One screen shows times for when the streetcars along the 510 Spadina route, the first route to have the system fully set up on, will arrive in the station; the other half shows a real-time map of where on the route each individual streetcar is. Facing those LCD screens (above, top), above where commuters wait for the 510 to shuffle out of the dark, is an LED screen (above, bottom) that also shows riders how long they’ll have to wait for the next car. And in no time, six thousand transit shelters across the city will have LED displays like them, and those stops without shelters or not outfitted with screens will have a stop number on them that TTC riders can use SMS to get the same information from.
The whole system uses a “predictive algorithm,” that, said Giambrone, will factor in everything—from each vehicle’s location as measured by GPS, to traffic delays, to road closures, to weather—that will only improve and refine itself over time. (The 510 route is a “few seconds” off and getting better, said Giambrone.) A set-up like the one at Spadina—which was tested intermittently over the last week, how
one BlogTO reader caught a look at them Friday morning—is also now active at Union Station. The next train arrival system rolled out in subway stations in September will also be up at every subway station by the end of 2009. It’s all, Giambrone said, the “next step in our e-initiatives” that are creating a “web of information” for riders to make “intelligent choices” about how to best use the system. By fall next year, Giambrone promised, one way or another, “you will have access to real-time information for your stop.”
George Talusan, one of the developers of the Red Rocket iPhone application, told Torontoist that “we’re excited about the TTC’s planned GPS-based departure time system and we think it will be a valuable addition for the city’s ridership.” “Hopefully,” Talusan said, “the TTC will allow third parties to hook into their system. It’s not hard to see how this functionality would be of great benefit to Red Rocket users and we would jump at the chance to integrate it.” Kieran Huggins of MyTTC.ca—which provided Red Rocket with all its stop data—agrees. “We’d love to see the TTC open the data feed up to the public,” Huggins said, “and would definitely jump on any opportunity to integrate that with our schedule data. In fact, we’ve been hoping for something along these lines for quite some time!” Huggins is interested in seeing “how the live positions match up against both [the TTC’s] dataset and [MyTTC’s]—it would certainly be a great tool with which to refine the accuracy of our schedules. And of course, any improvements we can make are passed down the line to anyone who wants them.”
The project will cost the TTC $5.2 million, part of which will be provided by advertising on the system’s OneStop screens—which hopefully won’t mean a compromise in the quality of information for the sake of profit. Regardless, Giambrone is insistent that the system will not be a burden to its riders, claiming that “I don’t think our riders want to pay for this.” (If you send a text message to the system to find out when a vehicle is arriving at any given stop, the TTC will not, for instance, charge you a fee on top of the one your carrier does, for that sent or received message.) And while the spacing between the C and L above the Spadina Station LCD display will surely frustrate Joe Clark, and one bystander boomed out “fuck you!” on their way past the press conference, this moment, and this year, may be a defining one for the TTC, a year when the TTC finally launched itself head-on into the future. It’s about time.
All photos by Miles Storey/Torontoist.