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Sick transit: TTC dirty, leaky, decaying

20080308-toronto-star.jpeg

JACK LAKEY/TORONTO STAR
A bucket placed inside the entrance to the Donlands subway station catches water leaking from the roof. Unresolved leaks are a common complaint.

BY THE NUMBERS

459,769,000
Total passengers in 2007

1,500,000
Number of passengers on a typical weekday

50
Cars replaced by a TTC bus in morning rush

910
Cars replaced by a 16-car subway train

69
Stations

1,545
Buses

11,235
TTC employees (as of Dec. 31)

1,619,000
Passengers counted on peak day for 2007: Sept. 28

197,700
Estimated passenger trips to and from trains per day at Bloor station (Bloor is the busiest, followed by Yonge, St. George (Bloor line), St. George (University-Spadina line), Finch.

10
Stations with washrooms (Finch, Downsview, Kipling, Kennedy, Bloor-Yonge, Don Mills, Sheppard, Eglinton, Wilson, Warden)

248
Streetcars

678
Subway cars

28
SRT cars

29
Commuter parking lots

13,718
Parking spaces

47,300
Weekday riders on busiest streetcar, 504 King

43,600
Weekday riders on busiest bus route, 29 Dufferin

‘War zone’ stations appall subway users

Mar 08, 2008 04:30 AM
Jack Lakey
Staff Reporter

Dingy, decaying, depressing, and definitely not The Better Way.

That’s the verdict of readers about the condition of TTC stations, and the reason we’re launching a full week of stories about it.

We recently asked for comments and examples of problems to do with cleanliness, maintenance and overall appearance of TTC stations, which touched a painful nerve with its customers.

About 200 calls and emails - the largest response we’ve ever had - poured in from riders appalled by grimy, litter-strewn floors, leaky roofs, stalled escalators, abominable washrooms, abandoned repairs and a dispiriting deterioration in the appearance of stations that conveys indifference and neglect.

Of the hundreds of thousands of people who use the system daily, most will end up in one of the 69 stations, often as their point of entry. The importance of a good first impression seems lost on the TTC, based on readers’ responses.

Many recall when the stations were spotless and set the standard for North American public transit. People took pride in that reputation. Their memories may have grown rosier over time, but it makes the current state of affairs even harder for them to fathom.

“Go to any station and you will see a thick black coating of grime on the platforms,” emailed Leo Gonzalez. “I still remember when those terrazzo floors used to shine, and I’m only in my 30s.”

“Shabby is an understatement,” wrote Jeff Harvey. “The bus depot (at Eglinton station) is dark, dingy and dirty - a dungeon. Donlands station appears out of a war zone, with a leaky roof and ripped-open ceiling that’s been like this for years. It is usually carpeted with litter.”

“The roof has leaked for a long time, but (lately) it has been an indoor rainstorm,” wrote Sara Lipson of Kipling station. “The problem is so widespread that the temporary fixes do little to stop raindrops from falling on our heads.”

“If I was a city health inspector, I would close down the washrooms,” wrote Andrew Murphy. “They are absolutely disgusting. At least I can stand up. I wouldn’t want to sit on any toilet seat.”

One reader complained the inside bus platforms at Kipling are cleaned, “but not the outside ones. Vomit from the weekend is still there Tuesday or Wednesday.”

Shawn McCabe, a TTC janitor, called to say “you’re taking a shot at us, as usual, and it’s a one-sided affair. But the public has to take some responsibility. Sometimes they sit on a bench next to a garbage can and just dump garbage on the floor. The public has to take pride in the stations.”

A reader who asked not to be named said he worked as a TTC janitor for two summers, and “there is a culture of apathy and laziness,” among cleaning staff.

“Sleeping, playing Frisbee across the tracks, two-hour-long smoke breaks, all of these are not uncommon. Heck, I’ve seen afternoon shift employees go watch movies at Cineplex in the middle of their shifts.”

Comments from readers were so vivid we totalled up some of the descriptions. “Filthy” came up 23 times and “disgusting” 15 times.

Dirt was the most frequently raised problem at 76 times, followed by 47 garbage complaints, 15 of which mentioned the need for more litter receptacles. There were 28 complaints about escalators, elevators and doors, 24 about station repairs, 25 about service and staff, 18 about leaky roofs and water, 14 about snow, 11 about free newspapers, eight about unfinished construction, eight about washrooms and seven about signage.

Councillor Adam Giambrone, who chairs the TTC, says the people who’ve complained about deteriorating conditions are wrong, and that the stations are cleaner than they were a couple of years ago, according to system audits.

“It takes a while to move people’s perceptions,” said Giambrone. “You can’t reverse the trend overnight. People do see cleaner stations (but) they don’t register it.

“People are coming in and saying they do see a difference because there used to be more paper on the tracks. Is it as clean as they’d like? No. But the fact is, things are getting better. It’s measurable.”

TTC managers are understandably touchy about the criticism.

“Sure, we know the washrooms are bad,” says Gary Shortt, the TTC’s superintendent of plant maintenance, stressing that a program to replace old plumbing fixtures with automated ones in the system’s 10 washrooms is nearing completion. Customer complaints about washrooms have since dropped by 36 per cent, he said.

Janitorial staff is stretched thin, with a total of 248 cleaners to cover the entire system. The total number of dayshift cleaners during the week is just 38. To make matters worse, 2008 TTC budget documents show a daily absentee rate of 12 per cent among cleaners.

There’s a lot more to cleaning a subway station than it might seem, said Shortt. For example, the black grime coating so many surfaces is a fine dust created when the brakes on trains are applied as they slow while pulling into stations.

Over time, brake dust builds up on everything and special equipment is needed to remove it in some areas, he said.

“People notice that the tiles on the wall across from the platform are covered with it, but we can’t just send a janitor over there,” with a brush and a bucket of soapy water said Shortt.

Cleaning staff are not allowed to work at track level due to the electrified third rail in the tracks, which means a flatbed rail car is needed, which can only be used late at night, when the subway has stopped running.

When a flatbed car is available, the cleaning must be done by maintenance workers instead of janitorial staff, which further complicates the job because the first priority for maintenance staff is usually track repairs, which must also be done when the subway isn’t running, he said.

Despite the cash squeeze, the TTC has substantial plans for improvements, which will be the subject of a feature article next Saturday.

We’re not doing this just to dump on the TTC or proffer outrageous quotes. We’re hoping it will compel the TTC and the city councillors who oversee it to take the problem more seriously and move it much higher up on the list of priorities.

And we’ll be asking each commissioner what they personally intend to do to fix the problem.




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