Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Repainting the Red Rocket

There's a photo I took on Saturday that I wanted to post but didn't, because I feared that there was some small chance of it becoming another anti-TTC lightning rod like the photograph of the sleeping collector in McCowan station. I've been riding the TTC for a while, and it seems like with each passing day the groundswell of anti-TTC rhetoric rumbles a little louder. The recent fare increase undoubtedly has something to do with it - though I have to wonder how much these people would be complaining if there hadn't been a fare freeze in 2009 - but otherwise, I'm not sure why this all seems to be coming to a head now. What is clear, though, is that the TTC has a serious, serious image problem.

I think the time may have come for the TTC to reinvent itself - to redesign itself for the 21st century, to win back riders who have become disenchanted with the state of the system, and to entice new riders who until now have stayed in their cars. No transit system can thrive by simply peddling to the base. Discretionary riders, people who choose whether or not to use transit depending on how convenient is at the time, are every bit as important to the health of a system as the core ridership. That's one reason why networks such as Transit City are so important - the greater the connections offered by a network, the more attractive it will become to new riders.

I'm not advocating the dismantling of the TTC. No one would profit by that - what it needs is decent marketing, an image overhaul. The Oakland, California-based weblog Living in the O recently wrote about this in the context of San Francisco Bay Area transit systems standing to learn something from what the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has done in recent years, but it's a lesson that the TTC needs as well. It needs to stop just calling itself "the Better Way" and do something to make it true in the minds of the people. Take this TTC commercial from 1984, for example - it makes the system look vibrant and exciting, a great way to get around. Can you see them springing for something like this today? Maybe that's the problem.

The problem, I think, may be that the TTC has so ingrained itself into Toronto's urban fabric - streetcars have been rumbling under the TTC aegis for ninety years, and the subway has been part of the way people get around for more than half a century. That can breed bureaucratic inertia and a sense of false security - the idea that the TTC has always been here, so it will always remain, and that people will continue to take it because they always have. That's a dangerous way to think, and I hope that the TTC does not actually think like that. It's instructive to compare it to LACMTA, though, which runs a system that is still building out, still integrating itself into the urban fabric. Fred Camino at The Source, the LACMTA's weblog, recently wrote that he's "met long-time Angelenos who weren't even aware that L.A. had a subway or an extensive light rail system." In contrast, you wouldn't easily find a Torontonian who was unaware of the existence of the subway system or streetcar network - but you wouldn't have much difficulty finding someone who had bad things to say about both of them.

Improving the system is an absolute necessity. For all that I disagree with him on other issues, Rocco Rossi had a point when he called the TTC "the world's best 1970s public transit system." After a burst of subway construction that ended in 1980, the TTC has pretty much rested on its laurels - though, admittedly, a lot of this has to do with the degree to which successive governments thought it would be a fun idea to defund the TTC to as great a degree as possible, because public transit is for nerds, right?

Considering recent events, though, an image overhaul may well be a necessary component of improving the system - rejuvenating it. I've written before that names are important - so perhaps a fresh name and image for the system would be a place to start. Whereas today we just ride the Toronto subway, perhaps in the future we should be riding the Toronto Metro.

1 comment:

  1. Well, when the TTC is the single most user-funded transit system in North America, I don't blame them for not spending money on better PR.

    While I'm happy that they've started transit city on Sheppard, I don't see how it will be useful to just have it stop at Meadowvale unless its actual terminus is the Zoo.

    I still think it was stupid for them to truncate the Sheppard subway line back in the late 90's/early 00s. That sucker should have just been extended to Scarborough Town Centre, and boom, you have an undisputed transit hub in Scarborough with decent subway access.