Archive for the ‘York Region’ Category

Yonge Subway Extension Plans Get Whittled Away

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

When I first proposed an LRT option for transit on Yonge Street north of Steeles, I compared it to a subway extension that would only go to Highway 7. I originally made the assumption that there would only be TWO stations north of Steeles: one near Centre or Clark streets, and one at Richmond Hill Centre at Yonge and Highway 7.

When public information sessions for the environmental assessment were held, the plan doubled that by presenting FOUR stations: Clark, Royal Orchard, Langstaff/Longbridge, and Richmond Hill Centre. The plan also called for a 25-bay underground bus terminal at Steeles.

This past week, according to this article, York Region’s rapid transit board received the final conceptual study for the project. Gone is the Royal Orchard station, based on projections that by 2031 it would have only two-thirds the number of users as Bessarion, the TTC’s currently least used subway station. There would also be a 3-bay bus loop (above ground) added at Clark, and the underground bus terminal at Steeles would be reduced to 16 bays from 25.

It is also mentioned that talks are ongoing with the owners of Centrepoint Mall (southwest corner of Steeles and Yonge) about using some of their land for a bus terminal, which would move it to the surface instead of an underground. The original plans would have three levels below ground: a concourse, the bus terminal, then the subway. This would put the buses at ground level and involve a greater vertical travel when transferring.

The report mentions that only half the subway service will initially go north of Steeles, but somewhat erroneously cites the frequency at 3.5 minutes, and more erroneously assumes this will not be forever. This is 210 seconds, and assumes that service south of Steeles would be 105 seconds, which would be pushing it a little. With a new signalling system, service could theoretically be as often as 90 seconds, but that requires that there be absolutely no delays, EVER. 110-120 is more practical to allow for the occasional loading delay. Having half the trains turn back at Steeles will also be mandatory on a permanent basis as it is not physically possible to turn a train around at a current terminal in less than 140 seconds. Perhaps the terminal at Richmond Hill Centre will be built differently, with 2 or 3 tail tracks, but don’t hold your breath.

This story is not over yet.

First Problem with Presto

Monday, January 16th, 2012

I have read of some problems that people have had with Presto and, for the most part, they mainly had to do with applying for and activating the card online. I am also aware of an issue when tapping onto a vehicle when another RFID card is near the Presto card, such as a credit card equipped with this technology. Until now, I have never run into a real problem.

All that changed last week when my daughter returned to school after the break. We didn’t think to check her Presto balance until the evening of Sunday January 8. At that time, it was $2.90 and I did a $20 I-POS transfer, knowing it would take about 24 hours to get to her card. With the continuing strike at YRT, she would be getting a ride to school in the morning and wouldn’t need to use the card until the afternoon. The new ticket price for student fare is $2.10, so there would be enough to cover her until the e-purse load occurs.

At the end of Monday January 9, her e-purse balance was $0.80, still awaiting the $20 load. She did not need to use transit until Wednesday afternoon and boarded as usual. The bus she boarded had a non-working Presto terminal, so there was no need to top on. Her next use of transit was not until Friday after school, when she again tapped on without her nor the operator noticing an error, though one of her friends indicated she thought she saw a red light on the terminal. She needed a second fare a few hours later on Friday and when she tapped on, the operator indicated that there were insufficient funds on the Presto card, so she had to pay the cash fare of $3.50.

Looking at her card online Friday evening, it only showed a balance of $0.80 and the transaction from the Monday that brought it down to that balance. I called Presto’s customer service line and they could see that the card went into a negative balance and could see the load but could offer no explanation as to why the load was not there by the Wednesday. They also could not do anything about bringing it “out of a negative balance” over the phone, and that I would have to either go to a GO station or a transit operator’s customer service office.

This will cost me $2.80 (plus my time), and since I have my daughter’s Presto card, she is using my wife’s card to get to school, which will charge us $0.70 more than necessary (adult ticket/Presto fare is $2.80 and student ticket/Presto fare is $2.10).

Will they be able to restore her Presto card balance and reimburse today’s costs plus the extra amount paid on Friday ($1.40 - $3.50 cash fare was paid instead of $2.10)?

Stay tuned…

Update at 10:45 am: I am reasonably happy with the results of this, but that may only be because my daughter received a “free” trip last week. I do have some new understanding into the workings of Presto.

When there is not enough balance on the card when it is tapped, one of two things will occur. If your card is not registered, it will be denied. If your card is registered, it will be allowed to enter into having a negative balance. I suspect this occurred with my daughter tapped on the first trip on Friday. The terminal probably did display a red light, but the operator likely did not receive a message that the fare was invalid.

When this occurs, the card is locked. At this point, nothing can be done with the card until the negative balance plus a 25 cent service charge is paid. This can only be done at a GO station or at a transit operator’s customer service centre. This wasn’t totally made clear by the Presto representative I spoke with on Friday. They did say that the card could only be unlocked, but mentioned nothing about what was needed. It doesn’t matter if there is a new balance to be loaded onto the card, because it can’t be loaded while the card is locked. Ergo, that balance cannot be used to pay what is needed to unlock the card. Oddly, in looking at the transactions on my daughter’s card, there is no transaction that deducted $2.10 from the balance of $0.80. There were two attempts to load the $20.00 when it was locked, so the balance remained at -$1.10. Why it wasn’t -$1.30 is a mystery.

I was hoping to leave YRT’s office with a $19.40 balance on my daughter’s card, which was $20 less the trips she took last week, plus the costs of all this mess. I had to pay $1.35 ($1.10 negative balance plus $0.25 service charge) to get the card unlocked, leaving it’s balance at zero. The load would not take place until a balance check was done on the card, though why they could not perform that operation at the YRT office is another mystery. If one goes there to pay and add a balance on the card, it is loaded immediately. I suspect there is a way the office can do a balance check, but lack of training prevents them from doing so. Since Richmond Hill Centre terminal is a five minute walk from the offices, I immediately went there to perform a balance check. The balance now showed $20. Given that I had to pay $1.35, the net effect is $18.65.

Should York Region Get Involved With the YRT/VIVA Strike?

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Much of YRT and all of VIVA are now in their fifth week of a strike and little is being done. The unions are asking for arbitration and for York Region to get involved. The Region is saying it is not their problem.

My opinion is that the Region has a duty to get involved and bring in binding arbitration between the contractors and their unions. My reason is simple: York Region created the mess, and it is their responsibility to fix it.

I would like to ignore the argument about transit being an “essential service”, but that always comes up, so let me explain my position on that to get it out of the way. I put it in quotes because I know that others will differ on what the word “essential” means. When the TTC was being made an essential service, someone argued that they should not because they are not necessary in a life and death situation. I don’t buy that definition of “essential”. I equate “essential” with whether or not one has the choice to pay for it. By my definition, everything the government does itself is “essential” because we don’t have the option to not pay a portion of our taxes because we don’t make use of certain services they provide.

Quite frankly, if is not “essential” then the government should NOT be doing it. The exception to this is where it may be necessary for the government to oversee and manage a service for the better good the community, but not actually implement it themselves. Garbage collection is a good example of this. I want the government to set the standards and schedules, but they don’t actually have to have their own employees do the work, so it can be contracted out.

As much as I believe that ALL government workers are “essential”, and therefore should NOT have the right to strike, I also believe that any workers for a private company SHOULD have the right to strike. Therefore, it must be realized that when a service is deemed necessary for the government to oversee, but not essential for them to implement, then by contracting it out, there is the possibility that the workers of the private contractor could go on strike. That is a fair trade off, and it is the responsibility of government to minimize the possibility.

This brings us back to transit operations. Should it be essential or not? That question can only be answered on an operator by operator basis. The TTC is a significant life force of Toronto. With about a 40% modal split for commuters, it is perhaps best if it were not only managed by, but operated by the city. As such, it is “essential”. In York Region, the modal split is closer to 5%. Not to suggest that those 5% of commuters are unimportant, but as we have seen, there are ways to get around. In addition, contracting creates a situation where part of the system continues to operate during a labour dispute. I does make me wonder how it is possible for three of the four contractors to have collective agreements that expired at the same time.

Now that I have given my position on “essential service” and contracting out, what do I mean by, “York Region created the mess, and it is their responsibility to fix it”?

Quite simple: while contracting out opens up the possibility of strike action, it is the government’s responsibility to minimize that. The clowns that run York Region somehow signed contracts that outlive the collective agreements that the contractors have with their unions. Just last year, the division that is currently still operating nearly had a strike, but managed to sign a new collective agreement. Just months after that, YRT signed a new FIVE YEAR deal with the contractor. How much do you want to bet that their collective agreement expires before the new contract does?

It is extremely important to NEVER give a contract that outlives a collective agreement currently in place. If the collective agreement expires in 20 months, then sign them for 19 months with a provision that they will be resigned without the need to tender once a new collective agreement is in place (barring any other condition of the contract that may result in the loss of the contract). One might suggest that this would deter potential contractors from bidding. If that is the case, then the alternative is to have a clause in the contract that allows the operator to use another contractor should they not be able to deliver service. Can’t be done? I did that when I built my own home. The contract that my subcontractors signed allowed me to CANCEL their contract if a labour dispute stopped their work for more than three days.

York Region must get involved to fix the current problem. Then, they must implement policy that forbids the signing of contracts that outlive contractors’ collective agreements. I am thinking of turning this second point into a campaign for the next municipal election. York Region councillors beware!

Presto Comes to YRT

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

August 13 update: There will be additional events to be held in the coming week. They will be at Richmond Hill Centre Terminal Tuesday August 16 and Wednesday August 17 from 1:00 pm to 6:30 pm. They will be at Finch GO Bus Terminal on Thursday August 18 from 1:00 pm to 6:30 pm, and again on Saturday August 20 from 11 am to 5:30 pm.

Correction to Autoload details: The threshold for triggering Autoload may be set between $20 and $60. The amount of the Autoload may be set between $20 and $1000. 

July 28 update: After a Presto card is registered, it may be used immediately. In order for it to be fully activated, one must either “tap in” or perform a balance query at a Presto terminal after 24 hours. This amount of time is necessary for the registration information to propagate to all terminals in the system in order for it to be delivered to your card. If you want to log into your card’s account online, you will need to wait another 24 hours from your first post-24-hour tap before that can take place.

YRT rolled out Presto on its buses and VIVA service on July 18. Over the past week, they have held events at Finch Station and Richmond Hill Centre to provide up to 5000 cards with the $6 issuance fee waived. For the price of $19 (cash only) you will get a card with a $19 balance on it and it will be registered on site. They are registering the cards  I had the opportunity to stop by Richmond Hill Centre to get a card and ask a few questions. Before getting into the technical details, let me say that the staff was very friendly and helpful, in particular Lori Bowers, YRT’s Public Relations Coordinator.

Currently on YRT, only the ticket fare is implemented. This means that when you “tap on” when boarding a bus or at a Vivastation, $2.60 will be deducted from your balance. They are working on implementing a monthly pass cap, but until that is in place they are recommending that people who are pass users continue with the pass. Despite this, if you use it for at least 32 fares in a single month from a single service provider, it is possible to get a receipt that may be used when filing your income tax return to get the transit tax credit.


YRT Wants Your Input: 2012 Annual Service Plan

Thursday, August 4th, 2011

YRT/Viva invites you to attend an upcoming Public Information Centre (PIC). Come to any of the following PICs and offer your input for the 2012 YRT/Viva Annual Service Plan. Your feedback helps shape public transit in York Region.

The following PICs will be available: 

  • Newmarket GO Bus Terminal
    When: Wednesday, August 10 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
    Where: 320 Eagle Street West, Newmarket
  • Hillcrest Mall
    When: Thursday, August 11 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
    Where: 9350 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill
    (Laura Court located near The Bay Home Store & Kids)
  • King Township Public Library
    When: Tuesday, August 16 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
    Where: 1970 King Road, King City
  • Mount Albert Community Centre
    When: Thursday, August 18 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
    Where: 53 Main Street, Mount Albert
  • Lebovic Community Centre
    When: Monday, August 22 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
    Where: 30 Burkholder Street, Stouffville
  • Al Palladini Community Centre
    When: Tuesday, August 23 from 5 p.m. to 7. p.m.
    Where: 9201 Islington Avenue, Woodbridge
    (upper floor, wheelchair accessible)
  • Markville Mall
    When: Wednesday, August 24 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
    Where: 5000 Highway 7 East, Markham
    (upper level between H&M and London Jewellers, inside entrance number one)
  • Aurora GO Train Station
    When: Tuesday, August 30 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
    Where: 121 Wellington Street East, Aurora
  • Georgina Public Library ( Keswick )
    When: Wednesday, August 31 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
    Where: 90 Wexford Drive, Keswick