Nov 28, 2009

Transit strike cost city government $5.9M, auditor finds

Ottawa's public transit strike wasn't just bad for the pocketbooks of the city's transit employees. It was also costly for the city administration, with $5.9 million in direct costs, according to an audit released Wednesday.

The audit report found that wage and fuel savings were more than offset by lost pass and ticket revenue. City council gave transit riders generous deals to entice them back to transit after the 58-day stoppage of service.

But the city also had increased costs, such as $558,000 for increased snow removal, $362,000 for increased security and $400,000 to compensate colleges and universities to operate shuttle services.

The city initially said it was saving about $3 million a week during the strike.

The auditor wasn't looking at the cost of the 53-day strike to citizens and businesses, which were estimated to be in the millions of dollars each day.

Transit strike cost city government $5.9M, auditor finds.

Nov 25, 2009

Token Hoarding & Smartcards

Ontario’s new smartcard fare card will eliminate the token hoarding that is currently besieging the TTC, councillors acknowledged yesterday, yet the region’s biggest transit network will be the last in the province to get it.

The province’s PRESTO card goes live next week for the first 500 customers at two Oakville GO Stations. Those passengers will also be able to initially swipe their way through two turnstiles at Toronto’s Union Station, with a bigger rollout in May.

But Toronto passengers will likely have to wait until at least 2012 or 2013 for pre-loaded smartcards because the Toronto Transit Commission only gave PRESTO conditional approval last week, joining GO Transit, Oakville, Mississauga, York Region, Durham Region Brampton, Hamilton, Burlington – even Ottawa.

“Everybody else made a decision to go ahead in 2006 and TTC is making a decision in 2009 and so clearly that’s the reason why they’re last,” said David Smith, director of program services at PRESTO, which is overseen by provincially mandated regional transportation authority Metrolinx. “We’re very pleased with that decision and we’ll work with them as hard as we can to get them rolled out so that both the people who live in the 905 who use the TTC and all the residents of Toronto can enjoy the benefits of the PRESTO card.”

Since it announced a 25-cent fare hike effective Jan. 3, the TTC has faced a run on tokens, forcing it to first limit the number of tokens available to each customer and finally spend $50,000 printing 10 million temporary tickets for December as its token stores were depleted.

The TTC estimates it could lose $5-million from token hoarding.

Councillor Peter Milczyn (Etobicoke Lakeshore) said the whole debacle would have been avoided if the TTC had a less archaic fare system.

“With a smartcard system you could literally, practically overnight, change the fares. The next day it would deduct a different amount from your fare card. So there’d be no issue of hoarding tokens or anything else for that matter,” he said. “We have a fare system that others back in the ‘70s started going to magnetic tickets and things like that and probably since the ‘70s we’ve been somewhat behind.”

It would also offer the ability to load the card online, to pay with a credit card, and to register the card in case of theft or loss.

But Mr. Milczyn defended the TTC’s hesitancy to jump on board PRESTO. A report to the commission last week outlined significant costs as a chief concern. The province has agreed to bankroll $140-million of the start-up costs, in addition to installing PRESTO readers at 12 subways stations what will be part of a pilot.

But the report warned the true costs of implementation for the TTC could be as high as $417-million.

Councillor Joe Mihevc (St. Paul’s), vice chair of the TTC, said the commission has to tread carefully.

“We cannot make this something where the TTC loses money and we need to be able to control certain pieces,” he said. “If we want to introduce fare by distance or a discount for students or seniors or to offer off-peak lower fares, we need to be able to set those rules. We can’t have a third party set them for us.”

Mr. Mihevc said the costs meant implementing smartcard technology was not a priority for the TTC until recently.

“We have an integrated system whereby many of the buses and the streetcars go right into subway stations, therefore not requiring transfers, and our turnstile technology is pretty good and works just fine, it wasn’t in need of replacement. It wasn’t something that was on the TTC’s horizon” he said. “We had enough state of good repair issues to deal with 10 years ago when public transit money was really tight. So we decided our public transit system was working very fine, thank you very much, we’ll consider this at a later date. Now it’s that later date.”

Transit improvements eyed for Uxbridge

Public transit use in north Durham has been an incredible success since its launch, and the buses connecting northern residents to the rest of the region are running at full capacity, Uxbridge councillors heard Monday evening.

While presenting an update on Durham Region Transit's long-term transit strategy, Phil Meagher told Uxbridge's civic leaders the current service is certainly being utilized by residents looking to travel across the region.

"It's at capacity, it's one of the most successful launches we've had and it's been very successful," said Mr. Meagher, Durham transit's deputy general manager of operations.

The 950 route has two buses daily which run at capacity, connecting Scugog and Uxbridge residents to Durham College and UOIT, he explained.

"We're running at capacity through the whole day," said Mr. Meagher. "It's pretty steady ... throughout the day, it's being used."

And, in about 20 years time, Uxbridge residents can look forward to further transit improvements, added Mr. Meagher.

According to the DRT deputy general manager, the regional transit provider is eyeing an extension of the Lincolnville GO Train route to Uxbridge, and more GO Bus service and increased connections to areas such as Port Perry and Stouffville.

Cycling facilities are also proposed in the transit strategy plan, which is looking to 2031 and beyond.

In the south end of Durham, transit officials are looking towards introducing rapid transit in the lakeshore communities.

"A lot of activity will take place in the south, but there will be a lot of improvements and changes for Brock, Uxbridge and Scugog," said Mr. Meagher.

When quizzed by councillors about the potential cost for all the upgrades, the deputy general manager replied the transit authority plans to seek funding from the Province and federal government once the study is complete.

He also noted there is no firm time frame to bring GO Train service to Uxbridge, stressing the plan is looking beyond 2031.

It's expected a draft copy of the transit study will be presented to Regional council in December, with a final report due on Feb. 15, said Mr. Meagher.

The document will be completed by March, he added. | Transit improvements eyed for Uxbridge.

Nov 21, 2009

Transit union leader blasts Metro News for insulting cartoon

TORONTO, Nov. 19 /CNW/ - An editorial cartoon on the front page of the November 18 Toronto edition of Metro, a widely distributed daily commuter news digest, has drawn the ire of the president of Toronto's transit workers union.

The cartoon depicts a streetcar operator leaning out of his window with his hand in the pocket of a startled pedestrian reading a newspaper with the headline "Rate increase."

"Fare increases are always accompanied by a large spike in verbal and physical assaults on vehicle Operators and Collectors," says Bob Kinnear, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113. "Passengers angered by having to pay more to ride the TTC take out their frustration on the front line workers, not on TTC management or the Commissioners.

"This insulting cartoon makes it seem that the workers are to blame for the fare increase. It will provoke active animosity in some unbalanced passengers and lead to more assaults. We've been down this road too many times before to let this pass."

Kinnear says it is grossly unfair to attribute the magnitude of fare increases over the past decade to TTC workers.

"With this latest increase, TTC cash fares since 1999 will have risen 64% faster than the wages paid to Operators and Collectors. Angry passengers should be incensed at the failure of governments to support Toronto public transit at the level enjoyed by other cities. They shouldn't be taking it out on our members, who provide a great service under often very stressful and demanding conditions."

TTC management's recent presentation to the Commissioners on the need for a fare increase revealed that the TTC is the least subsidized transit system in North America.

"If the TTC received proportionately as much public funding per rider as Montreal, Vancouver or Edmonton, our fares would be much, much lower. If we received as high a per-rider subsidy as they do in Los Angeles, the TTC would be free to riders," said Kinnear.

"The cartoon would have been more truthful if it had shown Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper picking the pockets of our passengers."

"We believe in freedom of the press," added Kinnear, "but we have the right to strenuously object to a 'McPaper' like Metro distorting the truth at the expense of our members' safety."

AMALGAMATED TRANSIT UNION, LOCAL 113 | Transit union leader blasts Metro News for insulting cartoon that will provoke assaults on TTC staff.

Nov 19, 2009

London transit strike underway

London's first transit strike in almost three decades didn't seem to affect the morning commute, police said.

London's bus drivers, members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 741, walked off the job at midnight.

Many expected those who usually take the bus to school or work in the morning – students, workers, business owners – to tie up traffic using vehicles.

There were no unusual backups during the morning rush-hour, said London Police Const. Amy Phillipo.

Those who usually take the bus were forced to walk, taxi, bike, carpool or work from home.

Taxi companies in the city said they were prepared for more calls but they didn't come.

"People are starting to realize now that no bus is coming to pick them up but this morning there weren't that many more," said a dispatcher with Aboutown Transportation.

Another dispatcher at U-Need-A taxi service also said there weren't that many more calls this morning.

"It's surprising," he said.

London Transit bus drivers were on the picket line as thousands of Londoners scrambled to find a way to work, school and appointments on the first day of the first transit strike in nearly 30 years.

Bus drivers and other workers were on the picket line at the LTC headquarters on Highbury Ave. this morning with strike signs, getting some support from passing motorists who honked their horns and waved.

City streets were heavy with rush-hour traffic and the lack of buses was noticeable as union leaders and company officials hit the radio talk shows to defend their positions.

At 7 a.m. there was no sign of hitchhikers at major intersections, although there were many young people – high school, college and university students – seen legging their way to school on sidewalks.

Last-ditch talks to avert a bus strike broke down yesterday morning and no new talks are scheduled.

Management and the union blamed each other for the strike.

At two hastily-called news conferences yesterday, a visibly frustrated Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best said the London Transit Commission (LTC) offer was "more than fair," at a time when London has Canada's second-highest jobless rate.

Later, the LTC released documents showing it had offered the union a 9% increase during three years, including an 8.3% wage hike and improved dental and disability benefits and working conditions.

The LTC said the union demanded 20% in wages and benefits during three years.

DeCicco-Best slammed the demands as irresponsible with the city still mired in a recession.

"These numbers are staggering, I have people who have trouble putting food on the table, who have trouble finding a place to live," she said.

But in an interview, Pat Hunniford, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 741, said it was the LTC management that refused to budge.

"We made some pretty big concessions from where we started," he said.

Hunniford said the 20% increase in wages and benefits demanded by the union was an "old" offer and the union made a verbal offer closer to 12% by the time talks broke off.

He said the union's wage demands were flexible and the two sides were only about 50 cents apart. But the talks broke down on benefit issues including short-term disability and the dental plan.

Hunniford said even with the union demands, the LTC workers are well behind their counterparts in other cities in wages and benefits.

In an echo of the bitter 2001 garbage strike, DeCicco-Best signalled the city is ready to wage a public-relations battle with the union.

She said the public should know the full cost to the LTC and taxpayers of meeting all the union demands.

"The community has a right to know what led to the strike and why they walked away from the deal on the table," said DeCicco-Best.

Hunniford said he would be making the rounds of radio talk shows tomorrow morning to make the union's case

"It comes down to how long the citizens will tolerate this and when city hall will step in stop this," he said.

About the only thing the two sides agree on is that the strike will cause hardship for thousands of students, seniors and working people who rely heavily on the transit system.

A transit strike in Ottawa last winter lasted two months.

"We have seen what this has done in other cities and we simply did not want to be there," said DeCicco-Best.

The last bus ran at midnight Sunday.

DeCicco-Best said the city will try to help residents cope by posting information on its website about carpooling and urging employers to be patient especially in the early days of the strike.

The LTC also is promoting carpooling, walking and cycling.

Both the University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College, whose students pay mandatory fees for LTC bus passes, are putting contingency plans into place.

Hunniford said only a handful of the 450 union members were around for the last strike in 1980 that lasted 10 days.

But Hunniford, whose father worked for the LTC for 37 years, remembers a nine-week strike in 1975.

"I remember being a kid here and that was the year without Christmas," he said.

The LTC normally handles about 75,000 to 80,000 passenger trips daily.

Specialized transit services, including para transit, will continue to operate despite the strike.

Ore. man wins APTA "Dump the Pump" video contest

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) announced the winners of its “Dump the Pump” transit rider-generated online video contest. Participants were asked to create a video that demonstrated why they were “dumping the pump” in favor of using public transportation.

Bob Richardson of Portland, Ore., the first place winner created a high-quality video, which depicts a familiar scene of a woman dumping a significant other. In this scene, however, she is leaving the gas pump behind for a more attractive suitor — her local public transit system.

“The purpose of this contest was to hear from the American public transit rider in a fun and entertaining way about how public transportation is taking us to a better future — economically, environmentally, and our overall quality of life,” said Rose Sheridan, APTA vice president, marketing and communications. “We were pleased and proud of the quality and creativity we saw in these videos, which made it hard to pick a winner. That’s a great problem to have.”

The winners of the contest were chosen by a panel of APTA officials. The top three prize-winners and their awards are as follows:
Winning videos and all entries will be featured at APTA’s Public Transportation Takes Us There campaign Website:

Durham Region's Smart Commute Employer of the Year

AJAX, ON, Nov. 18 /CNW/ - Veridian Connections Inc. was recognized as Durham Region's 'Smart Commute Employer of the Year' at a ceremony held in Toronto last night. The Smart Commute awards ceremony was hosted by Metrolinx and is held annually to recognize employers who are leaders in helping employees to reduce the environmental impacts of commuting to work.

The Smart Commute initiative began as a partnership of municipal governments in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), and the partnership was expanded to include Metrolinx early in 2008. Smart Commute's goal is to reduce traffic congestion and to take action on climate change through transportation efficiency. It helps and encourages local employers to explore and promote more environment friendly commuter options such as carpooling, teleworking, transit, cycling, walking and flexible working hours.

Veridian's award was accepted by Kyle Brown, the company's Manager of Retailer Relations and Smart Commute Coordinator. Brown credited Veridian's 190 employees for the award. "The staff at Veridian has really embraced our smart commute initiatives," she said. "Simple measures such as promotions to increase awareness, fun competitions and low cost incentives have led to significant changes in employee commuting practices."

Brown points out that Veridian's smart commute initiatives have been embraced and supported by the company. "Veridian offers flexible work options such as telecommuting and compressed work weeks to reduce the amount of travel required by staff, and has recently implemented a video conferencing system to reduce the need for travel between the company's work locations," she said. "These are just a few examples of how employers can help support the development of sustainable communities."

Recipients of the Smart Commute awards were selected by an independent panel of community members from various sectors across the GTHA. Evaluations were based on the employer's commitment to the program, leadership in their communities, innovation and results.

Veridian Connections Inc. safely and reliably delivers electricity to more than 111,000 customers in the Cities of Pickering and Belleville, the Towns of Ajax, Port Hope and Gravenhurst, and the communities of Uxbridge, Bowmanville, Newcastle, Orono, Port Perry, Beaverton, Sunderland and Cannington. Veridian Connections Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Veridian Corporation. The City of Pickering, the Town of Ajax, the Municipality of Clarington and the City of Belleville jointly own Veridian Corporation.

For further information: George Armstrong, Manager of Regulatory Affairs and Key Projects, Veridian Connections Inc., (905) 427-9870 extension 2202

Nov 17, 2009

Voice response system for partransit

York, Pa.-based public transportation operator, rabbittransit announced plans to implement an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system to assist paratransit riders in accessing their reservation information.

For riders who are registered for this free service, they will receive an automated phone call the day before their trip with their pick-up time information rather than having to call rabbittransit the evening before for the information.

The IVR system, supplied by Trapeze at a cost of $300,000, is phase one of a larger plan of technological system updates that rabbittransit received special funding to benefit its passengers. Other initiatives include Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) technology in which all rabbittransit vehicles are being outfitted with new equipment.

This will enable the transit authority to track important ridership statistics and vehicle data, which will be tied to providing real-time passenger information. One of the later phases will include the ability for online trip planning through the organization’s website.

“We’re very excited at the prospect of maximizing technology to enhance our customer’s experience and provide service information in real time,” comments rabbittransit Executive Director, Richard Farr. “This use of technology will allow us to provide a more efficient and productive service.”

Paratransit or “curb-to-curb” service accounts for more than 200,000 trips each year.

York, Pa. taps voice response system for partransit - News - METRO Magazine.