The past week brought surprising news to TTC riders.
It wasn’t the signal problems or the delays caused by snow; it was a new ranking of transit in Canadian cities that put Toronto in the top spot.
The rankings were done by the Seattle-based company, Walk Score, whose website helps people find places to live based on “walkability”. This includes what’s nearby in specific neighbourhoods as well as transportation choices in the area. March 11 was the first time transit scores were available for Canada, while some U.S. scores were released earlier this year.
Thirty-four Canadian cities were scored between 0 and 100 based on the frequency of routes, the number of stops and the variety of services (bus, light rail, and subway). Toronto just beat Montreal with a score of 78 (the Quebec city received 77) while Vancouver was only a bit behind with a score of 74.
Brad Ross, head of communications for the TTC, says they are quite pleased with the ranking and unsurprised because TTC is the only transit system in Canada that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the night bus routes. It is also the only one with streetcar service.
Toronto transit does have the third largest urban transit system in North America, after Mexico City and New York City. But since it is so large on an international scale, it should really be compared to other large North American centres instead of cities like Milton, which Walk Score deems car-dependent.
This is especially important if Toronto city officials and residents want to live in a “world class city.” There may be relatively good access to transit where you can walk to a transit stop quickly. But as Ratkim Mitra, an urban and regional planning professor at Ryerson points out, the rankings don’t take into account accessibility between locations such as the travel time from Scarborough to downtown Toronto.
If Toronto judges its transit against cities in the U.S. or even abroad, it will start to see where it can improve. For example, Mitra says Chicago, which has a very similar transit system to Toronto, has more high capacity, fast transit.
To be fair, Ross did acknowledge that there are still challenges with the TTC. The Yonge-University-Spadina Line, originally the Yonge Street Line, will be celebrating its 60th birthday on March 30. However, the TTC is not rejoicing in the fact that they are still using the same signal system created in 1954. Instead, they are working to overhaul the system by 2018.
Let’s hope the improved reliability and capacity this project promises to bring to Canada’s biggest subway system helps increase Toronto’s transit reputation first among its passengers and then with the rest of the world.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 19, 2014.