When I came up with the idea for this post last week, the situation was a great deal more stable. The announcement of potential fare increases since then have exposed what appears to be a very rich seam of discontent toward the Toronto Transit Commission and the way it's run. I can't say for sure if other major cities hate their transit systems the way Toronto seems to, but the negativity I've been picking up recently seems to have a distinctly Toronto tinge. Whatever that is.
It doesn't have to be this way.
There's a lot the TTC could do to recapture the goodwill of the people upon which it depends. For this, service just isn't enough; even increased service as we've had over the last few years isn't enough, as it's happened so gradually that it's not really visible to those who have their noses up against the glass every day. It needs to engage with the people, to shed the bureaucratic manner in which it deals with so much - to enter the 21st century. To connect. The semi-regular Rocket Talk column on Torontoist is a good start, but that's just it - a start.
I've recently been reading the website for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, preparing for a new Tunnel Visions post in the tradition of Chicago and Montreal that should appear here sometime in late December or early January. What I see on that site is a public transit operator that's doing its damnedest to engage with the public, because it has no alternative. The Los Angeles rail transit system is still in its infancy; light rail has been running there for only nineteen years, and heavy-rail subways for sixteen. It's still building itself from the ground up and dropping down foundations into the cityscape. One of the things that caught my eye was The Source, a LACMTA-run weblog billed as "daily transportation news & views." In Los Angeles, the transit system appears to be actively engaging with the people.
Toronto, on the other hand, has been a transit city for a long time. The TTC, originally as the Toronto Transportation Commission, has been around since 1921. That's a lot of time for it to establish itself in the urban fabric, but what's more, it's a lot of time for the organization to start taking its position for granted. I still believe that the TTC is the Better Way, but I know there are a lot of people disagreeing with me today.
The TTC needs to engage more with the people. How can it do that? That's the sort of answer that would best be generated, I think, by the people, and I've got one. Maybe you do too. The more we have, the more potential breakthroughs there are.
I've been a Metropass buyer since June 2007, and while I admire the ease with which it lets me get around the city, I generally don't admire the photographs that the TTC chooses for each month. For me this came to a head in February 2009, when the best photograph the TTC could come up with for that month's Metropass was three seats. In my opinion it was, really, a farce.
There are plenty of photographers in Toronto, amateur and otherwise. I should know; I am one. One thing the TTC could do to engage more with the populace is fling open the doors - announce a Metropass Design Contest. This could run the length of a year, or be a permanent thing, where the TTC solicits submissions for photographs to appear on a future Metropass - with the prize being at least a free Metropass, the same - albeit unanticipated - prize that Syrus Watson and Randal Medford got for their "I Get On (The TTC)" last year.
Toronto is a creative city, and I think that a little two-way interaction between its people and its transit system might go a long way to repairing goodwill and encouraging more people to ride the rocket.