Tag Archives: TTC

A tour of TTC Transit Control with CEO Andy Byford and Transit Control Centre manager Sean Fuller

17 Jul

TTC Transit Control2

Date of tour:
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tour background:
As a follow-up to my lunch with TTC CEO Andy Byford and my extreme transit nerdiness that was on full display in my post, Andy invited me for a tour of TTC Transit Control. And I obviously took him up on it. TTC Transit Control is located in the D.L Gunn building at the TTC Hillcrest Complex at Bathurst and Davenport. I used to live just south of Dupont on Bathurst and would hear the rumble of streetcars pass my house every night although we weren’t part of the streetcar route. I always assumed they were going to sleep for the night at Hillcrest.

The tour:
I met Andy at the gates where I was signed in and then we walked into the enormous Hillcrest Complex. The facility is much larger than it appears from the street. Andy pointed out the buildings that hold a variety of TTC departments. He then showed the garage that repairs the streetcars. Given that many of these streetcars are quite old, he said the stuff that is done in this facility in order to keep the streetcars on the road is quite amazing. It even has its own blacksmith who makes new parts.

And then we began our walk to the D.L. Gunn building, the home of TTC Transit Control. I was pretty excited. Andy told me about David L. Gunn. David used to hold the same position as Andy does today and is apparently quite a legend around the TTC. Andy says he never goes a day without hearing his name.

When we first entered the facility, you can see a remnant of the old Transit Control.

IMG_3243

This machine did nothing to prepare me for the craziness of the room I was about to walk into.

Have you ever seen Apollo 13? Houston, we have a problem? That room in Houston is a bit like TTC Transit Control Centre, except that TTC Transit Control Centre is 100 times more awesome. You may have seen the room before with CP24’s live transit updates as they broadcast from the room. Unfortunately, pictures are not permitted in the centre for security reasons but they did let me take the one I posted above from the spot where CP24 broadcasts.

Once we walked into the room, we were met by Sean Fuller, the manager of the Transit Control Centre. He is also a former bus, streetcar and subway driver.

At the front of the room, there is a series of large screens that wrap across an entire giant wall. It begins on the left with the Yonge-University-Spadina line, then the Bloor-Danforth line, then the Sheppard line and the Scarborough RT. Facing the wall are tiered rows of desks. Each row has a different responsibility and Sean was able to walk me through each role.

As a big-time commuter, I sometimes do get frustrated with the TTC but once you stand in Transit Control and see the team at work, you get a first-hand look at how massive the system is and become quite impressed with the efficiency.

Sean walked me through the teams that watch each of the subway lines, making sure trains are on time. You can watch each individual train on the subway line and this team knows at what time each of these trains and each of these drivers need to arrive at each station.

I then met the team that sits at the communications desk. This desk handles the @TTCNotices account, as well as all of the announcements on the system regarding delays, shuttle buses, etc. It was interesting to hear how social media has really changed this role. With riders tweeting about service issues and posting photos of accidents and other problems, the communications desk is able to better respond. Although I did not get into it, I can only imagine some of the tweets this team has to sift through.

Another interesting level of Transit Control is the emergency response team. Sean told me how the TTC is the largest referrer to 911, which makes total sense when you think about it. People run into subway stations when something is wrong and report issues to the booth operator, people flag down buses to report a crime or accident and beyond this, buses and streetcars are out on the road all day and often are the first to see accidents as they drive up to them. The operators call Transit Control and this emergency response team connects with 911 and communicates with the rest of the Transit Control team.

Sean also just told me some fun facts. Because it was so hot today, trains had to slow to 40 km/h when outdoors. Subways will go around 80 km/h on a normal day along the Allen Road route. Also on very cold winter days, the subways are all stored end to end underground in the subway system in order to stay warm and away from the elements. On streetcar routes like the one along Roncy where some streetcars turn and others go straight, drivers are able to control which way they head with a lever in front of them that connects with the wires above. Also if you ever notice that trains hold slightly longer at Eglinton Station, it’s because that is the break station. The drivers get out there for a break and there is a driver who all day simply drives from Eglinton to Finch and back and then switches back with the driver when their break is over.

As I was about to leave, there was a Passenger Assistance Alarm used on a southbound train at Wellesley Station. It was incredible to watch this team in action. The reaction was so fast. First the woman watching the YUS line saw the problem, then the communication desk put out the system announcement regarding the delay, then the emergency response team connected with the train and 911 to determine is an emergency response was necessary. I think all of those things happened in under one minute.

This room was built to expand and handle additional lines and staff and will likely grow as the new LRT lines are built. It was a very cool room and seemed like a really neat place to work. I will now totally over-analyze every TTC moment of my commuting life, wondering what is going on at Transit Control.

Advertisements

TTC CEO Andy Byford

5 Jun

Lunch with Mary 061

Date of lunch:
Monday, June 4, 2012

The company:
Andy Byford is the new (as of March 2012) CEO of the TTC, the Toronto Transit Commission. There was definitely a lot of news around Andy’s appointment as his predecessor, Gary Webster, was fired by a vote of the City of Toronto’s executive committee. Andy was already working as COO with Gary and positioned as his likely successor upon his retirement, so it was quite fitting to have Andy immediately take over once Gary was forced out. Now there are many opinions that can be written about how this all went down but that isn’t what this lunch was about. I am an avid transit user, a daily commuter and a big TTC fan (some would say transit nerd) most of the time. I wanted to hear from the CEO himself about what the future holds for the TTC. Prior to joining the TTC, Andy was the COO of Railcorp in Australia and before that he held many positions with the London Underground including line foreman, customer service manager of a station and general manager of customer services of several tube lines. He does not own a car and is very passionate about public transportation.

The food:
We ate at Grano on Yonge, a few blocks north of Davisville and the TTC head office. It’s a very cute Italian restaurant. Andy arrived earlier than me and spoke with the owner Roberto. On our way out, Andy was introduced to Roberto’s nephew who was on a break from his job as a subway driver. They all seemed to be very happy to meet each other and it was pretty cool to see the interaction. I had the fusilli chicken pasta with mushrooms and Andy had the risotto special. We shared a large bottle of sparkling water. My pasta was absolutely delicious and I ate every last bite. Andy said his risotto was very good but his eyes were bigger than his stomach as he was unable to finish. Total bill was $46 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Andy told me that he has always wanted to work for the TTC. He said he knew that if he ever got the call from Toronto, he would move. He said there are many amazing things about the TTC that Torontonians don’t realize. He was able to point one out to me that I had no idea was unique. Multi-module hubs. Allow me to explain. At stations like Dundas West, Bathurst, Spadina and St. Clair, you can get off the subway and get onto a bus or a streetcar or in Spadina’s case, a different subway line, all within a paid area. Andy let me know that in other cities, including London, you most often have to leave the subway station and walk a block or so to make the transfer. As someone who switches from subway to bus in a pay zone every single day, I had no idea that this was unique but I do love the convenience of it all. So all of you TTC complainers – here’s something to be happy about!

The lunch:
Andy is really excited about his new role and very excited about transforming the TTC. He has a five year plan and he hopes at the end of it, people really look at the TTC and really see the difference and understand and appreciate the improvements. It is a lofty goal.

Andy’s goal is both internal and external. He wants to improve the customers’ experience but he also wants to improve internal processes and employee morale. One of the first things he put together was a document for employees that includes “10 things to think about.” Number 5 on that list is “Delight customers with quick wins.” And you can see one of those quick wins already with the renovated washrooms across the subway line, including the once disgusting facilities at Bloor Station. Although I am still a bit scared to ever go back into those washrooms, I am happy they’ve been improved.

He’s also instituted a daily customer service report that includes objectives across all areas of the TTC that everyone within the TTC must strive to meet and he has identified key performance indicators, things like delivering a punctual subway service and providing easy access to customers with functional elevators and escalators. Every day the service is measured against the objectives. Seems like a good start.

And one day when service did not meet its objectives was Friday, June 1 when Union Station was flooded. Andy was actually travelling on the subway when it happened and his train bypassed Union and took him right to St. Andrews Station. He got off the train and ran over to Union to see what was happening. Incase anyone was wondering, he said the smell was absolutely awful. But he was pretty impressed that it was cleaned up so quickly. Now his focus is on determining why it happened and making sure it doesn’t happen again.

As mentioned above, Andy does not own a car so he rides everywhere on the TTC and he thinks it’s important that he uses the service. He does say it can be a bit uncomfortable when the subway stops underground between stops and all of the other passengers look at him. But otherwise, he said it has been a pretty positive experience.

Andy is very new to Toronto. His wife is a Canadian (from Ottawa like me) so he’s actually been to Toronto quite a few times but he’s just getting into all that the city has to offer, including sports. He’s a die-hard Plymouth Argyle football fan. It’s his hometown and he’s still a season ticket holder, he showed me his card. As such an avid Plymouth fan, he hasn’t yet quite embraced the Toronto FC but he’s very excited to check out a Jays game and is actually really looking forward to watching the Argos (you don’t hear that every day). His enthusiasm for Plymouth and English football has renewed my wish to get to the UK and watch a game, Andy was actually quite insistent that I do. And although he does play for Manchester United, Andy actually doesn’t mind my favourite player Paul Scholes.

There is a lot of exciting stuff happening with transit in this city, not only with the new LRT lines but also Presto passes that will be similar to the Oyster Card in the UK and the Metrolinx rail line to the airport that will connect with the TTC. I am pretty excited about all of it. And I was pretty happy to have a fellow transit nerd to chat with. Now if only we can get people to stop blocking the subway doors at St. George Station every morning.