Engineer George Irwin explains the solar-powered LED shelter screens behind him.
Like many things TTC, if you wait, you get what you need—it’s the waiting that’s painful.
In December 2008, at Spadina Station, TTC chair Adam Giambrone formally launched the pilot of the TTC’s “next vehicle arrival notification project”: basically, a system made up of integrated parts that together made it so that riders, wherever they were, knew exactly when the TTC bus or streetcar they relied on would be at any given stop. That would mean there’d be LCD screens showing next vehicle arrival times at stations, LED screens showing next vehicle arrival times at individual transit shelters, and a text messaging system and better-working website that’d let riders find out next vehicle arrival times from wherever they were. The thing that made it all possible would be GPS, installed on all streetcars and, at that point, still rolling out to all buses.
When, at Broadview Station this morning, Adam Giambrone announced with David Miller “the next level of customer service enhancements,” what he meant is that all of those things—not so much enhancements as requirements for a better-functioning transit system—were finally starting to arrive.
Here’s what’s coming and when, and what’s here now:
This is presumably what you and your friend will do while in the shelter. (It doesn’t flicker like this in person; that effect is the result of the camera that shot this.)
LED screens at individual transit shelters, which cycle through three displays: the current time, the time until the next vehicle arrives, and the time until the next next vehicle arrives. The screens are already at some higher-profile locations (like Queen and Spadina, and, from way back when, Spadina and Union Stations) and will be installed at fifty-two streetcar shelters and nine streetcar bays (the streetcar stops at TTC stations) by July this year. Three hundred and fifty shelters—298 bus and 52 streetcar—will have the screens by the first quarter of 2011.
Solar-powered LED screens at shelters are in the works. There are currently two installed, at the streetcar bays at Dundas West and Broadview Stations. The timeline of the roll-out isn’t set yet, and neither is a scope, both for good reason. George Irwin, an engineer responsible for the solar panel outfitting, explained to us that “ideally” all transit shelters will get the solar-powered LED displays, but the TTC doesn’t have “full autonomy” with Astral Media’s street furniture; besides, installing the solar panels on TTC property—at stations, as well as, say, Spadina’s streetcar stops—is cheaper anyway. According to Irwin, the cost to retrofit the two existing shelters at Broadview and Dundas West was a total of $15,000. (It’d be cheaper, he adds, the more the TTC did.) The panels hold a charge for five days, and maintenance is dirt-cheap: they run on two batteries, which last about five years each, and which cost $100 each to replace.
LCD screens, which display a longer list of live-updated times on two full-colour panels inside subway stations, are now at Broadview, Main Street, St. Clair, Bathurst, and Spadina Stations. (Dundas West is up next.) Joe Clark will be happy to see that the kerning has been fixed.
A text messaging system for all stops, ready by July 2010 for streetcar stops and “early” 2011 for bus stops. It works like this: each stop has its own phone number. You text it, and it sends you back a text with the arrival time of the next two vehicles coming to that stop. There are no charges save for what your service provider would otherwise charge you; David Miller joked that under his daughter’s massive text-messaging plan, it’d be free.
NextBus, which lets riders get real-time GPS-based data for streetcars’ and buses’ arrival times online, is now live, and should now be wholly accurate. (An earlier soft launch of NextBus’ TTC data a few months ago was a beta that the TTC asked to have taken down.) The TTC’s online trip planner doesn’t take into account GPS data—yet—and we’ve already proven it’s about as reliable as home-made MyTTC.ca.
All of this, David Miller told the press gathered, was part of making the TTC “modern, accessible, and easy-to-use.” That’s just what’s happening—slowly.
Photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist.