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  • Liam

Toronto’s Befuddling Transport Network

As described in a previous post, the fact that Toronto’s transport system doesn’t show that it serves the downtown airport appears to be a reflection of the isolated way that mapping and wayfinding is presented on the network – there is no standardisation.

To begin with, there are 3 maps used on the TTC subway.

Aside from the lack of consistent design, the information on these maps is limited to subway services with no mention of interchange to other rail modes. Passengers are not informed of streetcar, (light rail) connections or that VIA Rail, Go Trains, UP Express and the link to Billy Bishop airport are available at Union station.

This is not the only inconsistency, I’ve focussed on subway Line 1 and Line 2 – those that serve the downtown area: From the moment a passenger enters a station, the identification of station names, line numbers and interchanges vary through the journey. This is made all the more confusing in that most signs refer to line numbers but all announcements refer to old, convoluted line names (Yonge-University-Spadina Line or Bloor-Danforth Line). Unless you are familiar with these names, they are fairly meaningless. Furthermore, it was quite unusual to see a network map on a subway platform, in order to check your journey you have to either get on a train or go up and look at the map outside of the barriers.

At at platform level, there is a small diagram showing the appropriate part of the line that services from that platform will lead to; however, the way part of the line is greyed out makes it easy to mistake this for a closure. The example below is from Union station, at street level it is signed as the University Line whereas at platform level it is identified as the Yonge Line.

When interchanging between the two lines at Bloor/Yonge station another odd feature is that due to the way the way stations are named by intersecting streets, this station is called Bloor when travelling on Line 1 but called Yonge when travelling on Line 2, with station signage different on the two platforms even though they are stacked on top of each other.

Interchange to bus or streetcar (light rail) from the subway is not well explained either: To transfer to a bus at some stations you need to present an interchange voucher; however, this must be collected from your origin station, not interchange station, despite the fact that the only place it tells you this is hidden in small text on board the subway train.

Once you’re already on a train, you see the transfer rules.

These instructions are shown in the corner of line map on the new TR trains. Whereas the line map refers to the line number, the scrolling text screens refer to the old line numbers, though very few passengers seem to be able to see these displays.

I suspect that the lack of clear, consistent information leads to a lot of confusion, this problem is compounded by the need to approach the window at a station for information. Whilst talking to the member of staff, a big queue of passengers builds up behind as they are all waiting to pass by this window to drop their cash fare into a little pot on the counter. Only at one station (Union) did I see a separate place for information and coin dropping.

This queue formed as a result of 1 passenger asking for information.

At least passengers on the subway are actually able to navigate to a station with a name; when travelling on the Harbourfront light rail service from Union station there is absolutely no station naming at all so don’t bother looking out to see the stop signs!

Like all the segregated light rail stops in Toronto, this Harbourfront stop doesn’t have a name.

As the fastest growing city in North America it seems surprising that the transport system does not make the system more accessible for new residents and visitors. The system appears to assume that passengers know how to navigate whereas the number of passengers unfamiliar with the network will only grow in future – as the system is set to grow further with new light rail and subway lines it is essential to develop a clear wayfinding and journey planning toolkit. There is a clear choice here of improving signage and mapping or increasing the number of staff at stations to assist passengers – there is actually a combined map available on the TTC website but it is not displayed on the network.

From my experience in the city, the TTC appears to be operating 3 distinct rail modes: subway, segregated light rail and traditional streetcar. Each of these modes has its own advantages but they are not presented as such or indeed identified in a way that a passenger would expect. The segregated light rail lines (Spadina, Harbourfront, St Clair, Eglington) offer a higher customer benefit than traditional streetcars, yet are not integrated with the subway mapping so potential passengers are discouraged from using them.

After a lot of searching, it is possible to see a solid transport network in the central part of the city and, as a visitor, I was able to get about on the network – despite the TTC’s attempts to frustrate me.


Update – We have received the following response from TTC’s Manager of Design & Wayfinding, Ian Dickson:

“In Nov 2013, the TTC launched new wayfinding standards as part of our five year plan to modernize the system. We are currently a year and a half into the implementation of these standards.

Clearly it’s a big job and will not happen overnight. Transitional inconsistencies while we implement, like the examples you point out in your article, are unfortunate but I am encouraged by all the positive feedback we have received so far from our ridership. Again, I apologize that this is not happening as quickly as you’d like. However, we are doing our best to implement in a progressive and fiscally responsible manner.

Let’s hope that the TTC can navigate its way to providing a simpler passenger experience in future.


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