I don’t want to have to put a lot of work into this, because fundamentally it isn’t really my “issue,” but: The OneStop video panels in the subway, which are mere vehicles for blinking, flickering, distracting advertising, are supposedly overridable during an emergency. The panels would then tell you all about the emergency in nice big comprehensible letters. (Unless you’re blind, of course; if this were really about information, the panels wouldn’t have been installed without audio transmitters. The panels aren’t about information.)

Anyway, I took lots of photographs proving that, in the most recent TTC emergencies (derailment at Kennedy; Queen West fire diverts numerous streetcars), the OneStop ad panels told you nothing, or, later, barely anything.

Banner at bottom of busy screen reads Working fire at Queen and Bathurst. ...

At no time did they go fullscreen or widescreen to tell you not to bother going to Kennedy station, for example. But they do go widescreen for a MasterCard ad, I saw on another day.

During this fishy deal, we were promised there’d be tons of screen real estate for TTC emergencies. This turned out to be false, as I have shown. OneStop is in apparent breach of contract.

I filed correspondence with the TTC complaining about it, which was summarily “received” by the Commission. Here, “received” means “acknowledged but otherwise ignored.”

However, without notice and very much too late to submit “correspondence,” the TTC proposed (PDF) to hand the junior admen a new contract to run next-bus-arrival displays in subway stations. After the manner of Astral, OneStop calculated it would cost the TTC $16 million to buy and run the screens on the open market. OneStop will sell a tiny ad on their screen and pay TTC up to $8.7 million.

(Do those numbers sound right to you? Then you must be one of the kids from OneStop. Keep reaching for that rainbow, lads! You could grow up to be Don Draper.)

Goldsbie, at my prodding, managed to get Joe Mihevc to put forward some motions on panel size, type size, advertising size, and a few other things I didn’t jot down. Then Glenn De Baeremaeker, finally a voice of reason and now much higher in my esteem, actually pointed to my correspondence and imagined a different emergency. He said it might just be helpful if the entire screen told you KENNEDY STATION IS ON FIRE. He asked that the Commission be mindful of the correspondence and work on improving such emergency notifications.

But he didn’t make a motion to that effect and, ten seconds later, Mihevc’s motion sailed through. That’s a plus, but it means TTC staff can continue to ignore the whole problem. I went right up and told De Baeremaeker that, which took him by surprise. He called over Chief General Manager Gary Webster, whom passed me by as I quickly got the fuck out of there. I think he wanted to talk. (Webster goes around the room pre-meeting saying hello and shaking hands. He smiled at me once, and that was at a photo-op.)

There was also some to-and-fro about how these panels would be put forward for public consultation, especially from “seniors.” That won’t do; their opinion counts as much as mine, and “I don’t like it” doesn’t help. We need full user testing. But nothing’s gonna happen till fall or winter, giving the Spacers™ enough time to insist on meetings and concessions. I kind of have enough to do.

I left the meeting dissatisfied. It was running straight out of there that made me dissatisfied. You’d think the rest of the meeting would be the cause. But like everyone else, I have become inured to disappointment at the TTC.

Here’s what I said in my correspondence (pictures removed):

Failure of OneStop advertising panels to inform of emergencies

Subway-station video panels (unwanted by everyone but their backers, OneStop) are capable, we have been assured, of displaying emergency information. We were assured that the true purpose of these panels – to display flickering, distracting advertisements – can be overridden for emergencies.

This assurance has turned out to be false. Two recent transit emergencies prove that the entire OneStop system is, as forewarned, designed and equipped solely for advertising. OneStop ad panels are incapable of informing passengers of serious delays and disruptions.

Kennedy train derailment

On February 4, a subway car derailed at Kennedy. Service was disrupted between Kennedy and Warden for some days. OneStop advertising panels blinked and flashed as usual, with only the puny single line at the bottom of the screen giving any indication that two entire stations were unusable.

On that topic…
…that line of text is handled with the…
…TTC’s usual aplomb, chunking important…
…information into unreadable blocks at…
…ungrammatical division points in too-…
…long sentences.

The single ghettoized line of TTC text is essentially incomprehensible.

Queen St. fire

On February 20, a fire consumed most of an entire block of Queen St. West. Streetcars on at least four routes (501, 504, 509, 510, and 511) were affected, and the ever-troublesome Queen line was diverted altogether. This massive disruption was virtually unreported on OneStop advertising panels. In fact, the CP24 news quadrant, itself an advertorial, gave more informa­tion than the rest of the screen did. Nor was the information updated meaningfully as the day progressed.

In neither case did OneStop ad panels go full-screen or even wide-screen to inform a captive audience of these severe disruptions. Days later, however, OneStop ad panels did go wide-screen for a MasterCard advertisement. We know where their priorities lie.

Advocates gave Commissioners full warning of the ill-advisedness of entering into a contract with OneStop, a sophomore enterprise whose function is selling ads, not providing information to TTC passengers. Commissioners were warned that the contract was inadequate in many ways, not least of which was its failure to guarantee a minimum amount of screen real estate dedicated to information instead of advertising.

OneStop is too new and undercapitalized even to have rolled out its ad panels in enough stations to make them a reliable information source. Nor does TTC have the apparent ability to communicate emergencies to the public via any medium that didn’t already exist when the subway opened in 1954. (It remains unclear how TTC communicates emergency information to OneStop – by faxing over a Microsoft Word document printed on letterhead?)

What happens in the event of another Russell Hill crash, or another Donlands fire, or the al-Qaeda attack the TTC is excessively concerned about? How will TTC notify passengers then? Via AM radio?

Remedies sought

The Commission is requested to take the following actions:

  • Issue a report on the handling of these two emergencies on the OneStop system.
  • Report also on any OneStop noncompliance with its existing contract (there’s clear noncompliance).
  • Enact financial or other penalties for noncompliance. (This is the wrong time to forgive an apparently negligent contractor.)
  • Arrive at a guarantee that OneStop ad panels will go wide-screen or full-screen at all times during the entire duration of a service disruption or other emergency.
  • Develop an actually viable 21st-century method of communicating service disruptions and emergencies to OneStop and the public.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2008.02.27 17:29. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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