TTC says it has money at last for Mr. Clean rescue of dirty, dreary stops on subway map
Mar 15, 2008 04:30 AM
Jack Lakey Staff Reporter
It’s been a dark and dirty ride, but the Toronto Transit Commission says there’s light - in the form of tidier and better-looking stations - at the end of the subway tunnel.
For the past week, we’ve focused exclusively on problems with cleanliness, maintenance and upkeep at the TTC’s 69 stations, based on more than 200 emails and calls from readers fed up with grime, garbage, abandoned repairs and an air of indifference and decay at many stations.
Transit managers admit appearance issues were neglected from the early 1990s on, because scarce resources were directed to maintaining route service and keeping aging equipment rolling.
But with new subways, trains, buses and streetcars on the way, and service improvements such as the buses recently added to the Dufferin route, more dollars are becoming available again for upkeep of stations. A substantial plan to make things better has been mapped out over the past 18 months or so.
Some initiatives are big, like the complete rebuilds of the Victoria Park and Pape stations that will begin soon, along with major refurbishing at Kipling and Islington.
There’s also money in the 2008 budget to hire an extra 13 station janitors and a second crew of painters, which means stations will be painted far more often.
Other budget outlays are small but flexible, like the $500,000 earmarked annually for cosmetic repairs such as stains on terrazzo floors, or grouting station walls with a dark material that doesn’t show dirt.
And city councillors who sit on the transit commission have pledged to push for the resources needed to keep stations clean.
“Fewer studies, more hands-on work,” summed up Councillor Anthony Perruzza, one of the nine commissioners.
“There is a plan, and exciting things are happening,” said Gary Webster, the TTC’s chief general manager.
One glaring problem in recent years - the sight of trash piling up on subway platforms - stems from a post-9/11 decision to remove garbage bins for fear they could be used to hide bombs.
The TTC had hoped riders would carry their discards up to bins at the mezzanine level, but it hasn’t worked, said Webster, who added the removal of platform bins is now under review.
Councillor Adam Giambrone, who chairs the TTC, is ebullient about the coming improvements, though he insists stations are cleaner and better-kept than most riders realize.
“I’m concerned most about the service,” said Giambrone (Ward 18, Davenport). “We still set standards internationally. There have been comments made in international transit circles that Toronto is back.
“We have this great video of the president of the American Public Transit Association from about five years ago saying, `What happened, Toronto? You’ve fallen down.’”
When things improve after a prolonged decline, “It takes three times as much work to turn someone’s opinion once they’ve said, `Look, the system is dirty, I’m sick and tired of this,’” as to shift the attitude the other way, he said.
One problem of perception is that Toronto stations were so well-kept for so long that it set an impossibly high standard when the system began to age and money for upkeep dwindled, Webster said.
“If you go back to the ’80s, when the system was 20 years newer, we had many less appearance problems,” he explained. “The system was in what I would call a state of good repair … and we were able to maintain it at a level of good appearance and cleanliness.”
In the early to mid-1990s, the general economy faltered, jobs were lost and TTC ridership plummeted, which tightened the money available for station upkeep. Relatively new buses were falling apart, other equipment was wearing out and fare-box revenue was down.
“We had very little capital and operating money, and the system was really in trouble in terms of basic, fundamental things - so the majority of our efforts were focused on state of good (equipment) repair,” said Webster. “Appearance issues were starting to catch up with us.”
When the Progressive Conservatives were elected to Queen’s Park in 1995, they slashed TTC operating subsidies, which further squeezed its ability to maintain the appearance of stations built back in the 1950s and early 1960s, he said.
Thanks to the more recent infusion of capital to pay for new rolling stock, however, the TTC can finally start to focus on station cleanliness.
Gary Shortt, the TTC’s superintendent of physical plant, says cleaning the dark soot that coats many station surfaces is harder than it would seem. It’s caused by the fine dust that comes off the brakes of trains as they pull in.
When aluminum ceiling slats are removed to make repairs or renovations above them, the black soot can’t be scrubbed off with water and is still there when they go back up. The soot on the top side of the slats is so thick that it oozes back down over the face of the slats for days after it becomes wet, which only makes the problem worse.
A company that uses a special wax material has been hired to clean the slats. Shortt said the wax is not only a cleaning agent, it applies a coating that inhibits buildup of brake dust.
Hiring more painters will also improve station appearances, said Shortt, noting “It’s amazing what a paint job will do.”
Previously, a paint crew was on the job from April to June and from September through November, and needed seven years to cover all 69 stations, he said. Now, two crews will work from April through November, and each station should get a new coat every three years.
“It’s not capital-intensive work, it’s labour. And it costs money to do it, but you get a good bang for your buck,” Webster said.
Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s), TTC vice-chair
Wants: More cleaning staff hired, and better deployment of them; a public education campaign; trash bins back on subway platforms.
“When people are farting around and wrecking things, it’s just not acceptable any more. That’s a big PR campaign I think we need to engage in. It’s a mammoth undertaking to keep all the stations clean.
“(We need to) hold management’s feet to the fire through quarterly reports.”
Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre)
Wants: cleaning staff who are proactive and more flexible to go where they’re needed; p.a. announcements to get co-operation from riders.
“There’s too much paper and debris on tracks. Who cares about the (management) plan? Let’s just clean the bloody thing up. We have a system that’s not kept up to an appropriate standard. If people see an environment that’s clean, they are more apt to use the bin.”
Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8, York West)
Wants: Cleaners targeted to grotty, high-traffic stations and a public education program.
“I told (TTC managers) that if the stations are dirty, we need to put more resources into them, hire a few more janitors. We need to better educate our users, because it’s really their system. I would prefer to put money into a public education campaign than an audit. I can read (The Fixer) and get the same thing for free.”
Glenn DeBaeremaker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre)
Wants: He’s willing to fight “like a Tasmanian devil” for more funds to rebuild stations and hire janitors.
For 10 years “the TTC was so starved of money and focused on safety that customer service and cleanliness were way down on the priority list … we were in crisis mode for a lot of that time.”
He says, “People need to be more courteous, stop leaving newspapers or a half-eaten box of KFC on a bench.”
Peter Milczyn (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore)
Wants: More money spent on stations, possibly even by easing off on service improvements.
He says riders must be made more aware of their own role. “Garbage doesn’t fall from the sky. We could use public education and a cleanup campaign.
“Maybe we should have signs with a red circle with a pig in it and a red diagonal line across it that says, `We’re not Hogtown any more.’”
Suzan Hall (Ward 1, Etobicoke North)
Wants: More cleaners and public education. Would add to the $500,000 annual fund for small repairs.
“In this snowy weather the floors are a mess and can’t be mopped up as readily as you might like.
“I think there’s a need to spend more money on the small repairs that really affect the way things look, and I think it’s important to educate people that this is their system.”
Sandra Bussin (Ward 32, Beaches-East York)
Wants: She said she has an office policy to forward every suggestion received from the public for the TTC’s attention.
“I find the TTC to be very responsive to rider input, and response time is based on the degree of work required. Only in very recent years has the TTC received federal and/or provincial funding, which provides relief to the city.”