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TTC wants you to tell it what to clean

Vice-chair Joe Mihevc leads reporters through a mini-audit
at Christie station

By Adrian Morrow

In the latest prong of the TTC’s all-out charm offensive, vice-chair Joe Mihevc is inviting the public to tell Toronto’s beleaguered public transit operator how to take better care of its subway stations.

But TTC officials weren’t all singing from the same songbook, as chair Adam Giambrone dismissed the audit as unnecessary.

“The TTC knows where all these problems are, but it doesn’t have the tradespeople to fix this,” he said. “I’m worried about setting a bunch of unrealistic expectations about what can be fixed.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Mihevc led a pack of reporters around Christie station, one of the cleaner locales in the system and itemized all the things he would like to fix.

“We need to build more bike apparatuses here,” he said, gesturing to an overcrowded bike rack outside the front doors. Then, turning to a nearby patch of grass, he added, “what I notice here is a wonderful space that’s underused.”

The idea behind Mr. Mihevc’s project, dubbed the TTC Passenger Audit, is to get riders to visit the station they know best, fill out a checklist of the things that need fixing and send it back to the city councillor’s office. The checklist is available online - - and covers everything from lighting to graffiti to leaks and cracks in station walls.

On July 17, Mr. Mihevc will lead a public audit of Eglinton West station and he hopes that, on the same day, citizens will organize audits of the other stations. After that, his office will compile the results and present them to the TTC.

After the bike racks, Mr. Mihevc pointed to a line of old newspaper boxes at the other side of the station doors that he’d like to see replaced with nicer, more modern ones.

“Of course, that’s not really a TTC issue,” he said, acknowledging that the transit operator has no control over newspaper boxes (or bike racks). “But we can liaise with [the city’s] Street Furniture [department.]”

Inside the station, he noted a conspicuous white space on the wall where a map of the station’s surrounding neighbourhood was supposed to be, as well as a lack of sitting space in the foyer and on the platforms.

“Something I notice: Look at every single bench, there are people sitting. So maybe we need to put in more benches,” he said.

Also on hand for the tour was Steven Del Duca, a concerned citizen and aspiring politician from Vaughan who first suggested the idea of the audit to Mr. Mihevc after noticing the dirty state of some of Toronto subway stations.

“As a 905er, I can tell you we’re very excited about the TTC coming north to Vaughan, but if you really want it to grow in leaps and bounds in Markham and Vaughan and Mississauga, you need it to be at its best,” he said. “The more you’re used to seeing something in a state of disrepair, the more you accept that it’s the status quo.”

Mr. Mihevc also looked to the Downtown Yonge Business Improvement area, which already carries out a bi-monthly cleanliness evaluations on five stations on the Yonge line, as a prototype for the audit.

The evaluations, which are presented to the TTC, have had mixed success in getting the stations cleaned up.

“Some of the items we identified last year haven’t been repaired,” said Joe McDonald, a B.I.A. spokesman. The most recent evaluation, conducted in April, found 12 problems, ranging from burnt-out lights at Dundas station to a missing piece of ceiling at College, that hadn’t been fixed since last May.

Mr. McDonald doesn’t completely blame the TTC, pointing the finger at successive provincial governments.

“This is a huge system and without funding, it can’t meet even the standards for basic repair. The funding has just dropped so much over the last 25 years,” he said.

Mr. Mihevc agreed, noting the Herculean task of cleaning and fixing the subway was made harder because of the system’s budget.

“We’re always short of money at the TTC, and we’re always making that choice: Do you hire more janitors or do you put more buses on the road?” he said. “If people start to say with a unified voice ‘we want a better quality of ride,’ that will help us make the case both to the province and to the city that we need more funding.”

Mr. Giambrone echoed that message, saying that the reason for the poor state of some subway stations was a lack of money leading to a repair backlog that can last as long as five years for some tasks, such as tile replacement.

The TTC does its own station audits three or four times a year, which Mr. Mihevc acknowledged but said that passengers should have a say, as they have “grassroots knowledge” of the system.

Mr. Giambrone said that he didn’t know about Mr. Mihevc’s media tour until earlier Thursday.

“The staff wasn’t engaged,” he said, explaining that the passenger audit is Mr. Mihevc’s project, without TTC staff involvement.

On Thursday afternoon, Christie station showed little disrepair. Every florescent light on the platforms was burning brightly and the tiles were virtually spotless.

So did that factor into Mr. Mihevc’s choice of location for his photo-op?

“Absolutely not, honest to God. I didn’t know the condition of the station,” he said. “It’s down the street from where I live and it was one that’s not so busy, you can hear yourself speak and it would be a good image.”