Thursday, March 31, 2011

YRT/VIVA Still waiting for the Bus


VIVA Bus Map at Golf Links Drive stop in March 2009
York Region Transit (YRT) has made a habit of launching ideas to improve the system or make current operations more efficient.  Unfortunately, there is a whole history of the Region of York's public transportation agency promising things at certain time points and then not launching these ideas in the time period promised.  What's even more frustrating to the ridership and the taxpayers that support the system through their fares and property taxes is that YRT fails to communicate the delays, the issues and the new timelines in an effective manner.   YRT is now celebrating it's tenth anniversary in existance and it's customers and taxpayers are waiting for updates on a number of items.

The earliest promised item came in 2007 from then YRT General Manager, Don Gordon.  Yorkregion.com reported in June 2007 that YRT was working on getting VIVA buses outfitted with wireless internet.  Gordon said then:

We are in the process of negotiating with our advertising firm,” Mr. Gordon said. “Part of our contract with them includes the implementation of SMS text messaging throughout the network and Wi-Fi on the Viva buses.” - Yorkregion.com Article.

Fast forward to 2011, and there is still no wireless internet on the VIVA buses across the system and no indication it is coming soon. The advertising firm that operates electronic screens on the VIVA buses was forced to turn off the screens for much of late 2009 and 2010 due to technical issues.  My sources tell me the rumour is that these screens may have had issues with the wiring that may cause a fire hazard. As well many of the screens, before they were turned off, showed incorrect information in terms of current weather conditions and old stale news.  Even now many of these screens have had issues with error messages popping up within Windows XP environment. This may have slowed down the wireless roll out, but again, YRT has refused to provide an update on this announcement.

Back in early 2010 as the January snow was blowing around new maps went up at all the VIVA stops with the usual fake photography (that ironically is duplicated at many McDonald's) that showed a map with a future routing of the VIVA Orange from York University to Downsview Station.  The routing supposedly uses the new TTC busway from York University to Downsview Station.  The map also was labelled the prospective route as coming in 2010.  Those maps quietly dissappeared as the seasons changed and the fake photography was changed from winter pictures to more spring/summer pictures. With the change the "coming in 2010" quietly disappeared but the future routing remained.  The VIVA Orange still operates from York University to Downsview Station along the same routing since it's inception (from York down Keele Street and around the backroads in the industrial area to Sheppard Avenue and onto to Downsview Station). 

Yorkregion.com reported back in January 2011 that the VIVA Orange routing was delayed because YRT needed to negotiate subleases with Imperial Oil, York University and the Province of Ontario to use the busway.  Meanwhile the TTC has the leases and has been operating their buses along the busway for at least a year.  Of course there was nothing said as to why YRT didn't inquire with the TTC to negotiate a shared sublease with each company or government agency so both services could operate along the busway.  This cost VIVA services precious time by being stuck in traffic on Keele Street while the TTC buses breezed by on their own dedicated lanes and saving seven minutes travel time one way.

What is even more infurirating is that, according to the Yorkregion.com article, in 2007 the Region of York put aside $100,000 to go towards the busway and constructing the newly required VIVA Stations.  The main question now is where is that money and how much of that money has already been spent, and how much longer until the VIVA Orange is using the full extent of the promised busway?

According to the same article, the VIVA Orange should be able to use the new busway this spring. Well the first day of spring has come and gone yet the VIVA Orange is still operating by it's own routing.  As well there has not been an announcement yet of the new routing or any indication that the new VIVA Stations along the busway have been constructed.  Again York Region taxpayers and YRT customers are left scratching their heads as to when this promised improvement to service will arrive.

In the Winter edition of the YRT My Transit Newsletter, YRT promises a new website coming in early 2011 along with "a new look, improved functionality and a few cutting-edge surprises..." yet here we are at the end of March 2011 and the old website is still up and being updated.  So where is the "new look, improved functionality and a few cutting-edge surprises"?  There was no update in the February 2011 newsletter either.  What's humourus is most of the VIVA buses have yet to change over the newsletter from the Winter to the February edition and thus, the message of "website coming soon in early 2011" is still staring at customers right from the front page.  You would think that YRT would quietly make the whole idea of a new website quietly dissappear like the maps for the VIVA Orange routing and the promise of wireless internet.  But, then again, there may be hope as the old YRT.ca website is still showing "New Website Coming soon check back for details.  At least that graffic hides the fact the gurus at YRT missed yet another promised self imposed deadline of early 2011 as there is mention of that.  Yet, taxpayers and riders are still wondering when the promise of a new website will come to fruition.

Recently York Region Transit (YRT) has delayed the launch of the Presto Card on it's system from Monday March 28th to some unknown date.  Yorkregion.com reports that the Region of York's Transportation Department, which YRT is under, refuses to comment on why the delay.  This is despite a report to the Region's Transportation comittee's March 2nd meeting from the transportation department making no mention of a delay and that March 28th was the target date. As well there was no mention of the Presto delay in the Region of York's council minutes for March 24, 2011.  One would think that an update to government officials on why delayed roll out would be required as there is signicant amount of the regional and provincial money being invested.  But politicians, YRT Customers and taxpayers are left without answers even after a news reporter asked questions.

This week, none of the VIVA Stations that I passed by in Richmond Hill had the Presto machines activated and operational.  YRT's website, http://www.yrt.ca/, only says that "Presto is Coming Soon" with no reference as to when.  The February 2011 edition of YRT's My Transit newsletter gives some details on how the Presto Card will work but no details as to when Presto will be rolled out in York Region.  YRT and the Region of York seem to be keeping the new timelines of the roll out of the Presto card under raps.  There is probably a good reason why the roll out is "HUSH! HUSH!" as there probably is some bugs in the system that still need to be worked out or YRT is running behind on rolling out the machines to the stations.  Nonetheless clear communication on the timelines of Presto being rolled out to YRT needs to be done soon.

YRT has a great reputation for unveiling new and innovative products.  The VIVA rapid transit system has finally worked out most of its startup issues and YRT/VIVA bus arrival times are easily accessible via the web, phoning in ,VIVA stations and all terminals.  But there have been some promises that seem to have been wished quietly away by YRT.  It seems the riders and taxpayers of YRT services that are waiting for the above promises are going to be "waiting for the bus" on these issues for quite sometime.

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