Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rollsigning Comprehension

Despite the stereotype of the man who refuses to stop and ask for directions, it's generally best to know how to get where you plan to go - in much the same way as it's generally best to consume food to fuel your metabolic functions. The stereotypical man's problem isn't that he doesn't know where he's going. For some reason, that awareness seems to fall off for some people when you remove them from the driver's seat.

I commute to downtown every afternoon on the streetcar, typically the 504 King as it is, generally speaking, far less erratic and unreliable than the 501 Queen. For the last two months, King streetcars have been running along Queen Street west of Shaw owing to water main reconstruction around King and Jameson. I don't find it too bad, since it increases the frequency of cars along that corridor. Still, whenever the streetcar approaches Shaw and the operator announces that this is a King streetcar and will be turning south on Shaw and east on King, there are almost always people who are shocked or surprised and have to alight and wait for the next car to Neville Park.

Sure - maybe these are people who use the streetcar only infrequently, if at all. Maybe it's their first time waiting at the stop and climbing those stairs. Maybe they don't know about the diversion, and just assume that since the streetcar is currently on Queen, it will remain along Queen.

That's all well and good, except that in 99% of cases, the streetcar's rollsigns accurately explain where it's going - and riders have to walk right under one to board. The other 1% occurs when the operator doesn't switch the rollsign when they reach one end of the route, but in my experience that's an unusual circumstance.

Three guesses as to where this streetcar is going.

I suppose I just have difficulty understanding where these people are coming from. The way I see it, it behooves travellers to have at least a basic understanding of their surroundings and their route - it's one way to mitigate the "absolute dependency" issue some people seem to have with public transit, in that once you pay your fare you're on the rails.

Note that I'm not talking about people who know where they're going, but have to ask the operator if this particular streetcar will get them there; that's just good sense. I've had to do the same thing myself - last June in Vancouver, after conquering the Lions Gate Bridge on foot, I staggered onto the first bus I found and asked if it went to Lonsdale Quay. I think most of the North Shore buses do go there, but I hadn't studied that part of the network - and unlike Toronto streetcars and buses, TransLink buses only indicate what route they're running, not where they're heading.

Realistically, though, at its core I think this is just a symptom of a similar problem: many people just don't read, unless it's something they believe has direct applicability to them; at least that's how I envision it, because there's got to be some kind of reason. You'll encounter it time and again if you follow sites like Not Always Right. It's just... it doesn't take all that much effort to know that "501" means Queen Street and "504" means King Street. I mean, if you were trying to get up north to a buddy's cottage, would you just go along the first highway you found because a highway is a highway?

Awareness is a necessity. Without it, you might end up lost somewhere you've never seen before, with no idea how to get back to the familiar.

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