Search ThisCrazyTrain.com

Friday, November 16, 2018

Hey - it's time for an update - right?

Apologies everyone, as I know it's been pretty quiet as I continue to choose Twitter over Blogger but it's where I tend to live. I know some of you aren't on Twitter but you don't need an account to review what I've been discussing. I provide a feed on this blog and it's to the right.

Anything investigative or worthy of words longer than what tweets can handle will be posted here.

I appreciate that many continue to check the blog everyday. I'm restricted at work. It makes it difficult to post and blogging on a phone is still crappy!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Sit round the fire kids, it's time for another Presto card story kindly contributed by a reader of the blog

There’s a special feeling you get in your gut when you try to deal with anything Presto. It’s knotty and hollow and saps all of your energy. Like when you call the Bell helpdesk or ask Rogers about those pesky extra charges…
But wait - that’s just being mean to Mama Bell and Ted.
I honestly believe there is no other entity on the planet that can rival Presto for sheer inanity.
My hate-affair with the crappy piece of plastic goes back two years, to when I first signed up. And, I’m pleased to say, that after wrapping up yet another head shaking chit-chat chat with a Presto Apologist Operator just 5 minutes ago, my hate is as strong as ever.
Why do I hate you Presto? Let me count a few ways:
You use two tap machines for UP Express
For a system that is supposed to be built on ease of use and consistency, it’s a sticky business hopping the train to the airport. Last week I ran to the Union platform and tapped on. I got a friendly green arrow punched the air and went on my merry way. It was only when I tried to tap on again the next day when green turned to red…
What have I done?
The nice lady at the desk explained that I had ‘tapped the wrong machine’ the day before and now my account was in arrears.
What?
She explained that they’ve put two machines at Union, one for Bloor and Weston commuters and one for Pearson travelers.
‘If you tap the wrong one it gets confused’
‘It’s not the only one.’
As we watched my train chug away, she turned her head to yell at another errant customer about to tap into the abyss.
‘Are you going to the airport?’
‘Er, yes?’
‘Wrong machine!’
She showed me the error on her screen and gave me a number to call to fix it.
‘Can’t you fix it?’ I asked
‘No’
‘Why not?’
‘The system doesn’t let me’
‘Oh’
I called the number and a nice bloke told me he’d put the request through to Customer Service.
‘They’ll call you back in 5-7 business days’
‘Can’t you fix it?’ I asked him
‘No’
‘Why not’
‘The system won’t let me’
‘Oh’
Everything takes 24 hours
When I bought my new card I explained to the nice lady at the counter that I needed to transfer funds from a lost card and could she please give me very simple, super specific instructions because this happened once before and I ended up with three new cards because I went and registered the account and, you know, you can’t transfer $ to a registered card…And then I found my lost card but I couldn’t ‘un-lose’ it because somebody at Presto had marked it as lost and when it’s lost, well – it’s gone forever.

She looked at me sideways and gave me a little business card with very simple, super specific instructions.
I went home, signed on and followed the instructions...

Ah crap.

It didn’t work.

The nice man on the phone told me that I’d have to wait 24 hours before I can transfer the funds.
‘Why?’
‘Because we don’t get the newly purchased card numbers until the end of each day’
‘Why not?’
‘I don’t know’
Regular Presto users are all too familiar with the 24 hour rule.
 - Want to register your card? Wait 24 hours
 - Autoload? 24 hours.
  - Transfer funds? Sure! In 24 hours…
For a transit system that prides itself on its on-time performance the payment system is pretty tardy.
You can’t tap on the train

I picked my wife up from the station the other day and she told me how she’d watched a whole slew of passengers getting fined for non-payment. They all had Presto cards. And they all complained that they couldn’t tap on because they were running for the train.
Were they lying?
Well, let’s see…1. Do people run for trains? Yup. 2. Are the Presto machines plentiful, and stationed at regular intervals along the platform? Er, nope. 3. Do these customers have a history of skipping the fare? Well, we’ll never know because the TSOs didn’t check. This was a zero tolerance kind of a day.
The GO fare payment model is unique and inane. In Europe gate-only access is the predominant mode. Either that or blind trust (Danke Wiener Stra├čenbahn!). Metrolinx is neither of both and nothing of anything.
Metrolinx needs to understand that their transit system is supposed to serve its customers - not the other way around. They need to remember what people are like: People don’t want to line up, people make mistakes, people are always in a rush and people are usually trustworthy.
Metrolinx, if you want a fool proof spoof-proof system then put gates in. If you want a trust-based system then put readers everywhere and give your customers the benefit of the doubt. Don’t punish people for the mess you made.
I could add a dozen more how-do-I-hate-you reasons for this heart breaking piece of crappy plastic.   I could bemoan the:
  • Alpha-numeric-online-usernames? Ouch.
  • Replace-lost-card-doesn’t-give-me-the-option-to-change-the-card-type? Ah!
  • Pre-boarding-ticket-inspection-at-Pearson-but-nowhere-else? Why??!
But, I can’t dwell on our differences. I need to pull myself away.  After all, it’s not me, Presto – it’s you.

It's Fall and I have a new phone with a fancy triple camera with a Leica lens, so here's my "Sunday morning in Courtice" album







Monday, October 1, 2018

This Crazy Train's Presto Chronicles, Chapter 35: — Lost revenue



Special to This Crazy Train
By Bea N. Counter

Classes are back in session at TCT Academy.  I teach accounting, and I like to share with my students real life financial situations, like the following two brought to light by Ben Spurr of the Toronto Star:







In this article, I won’t dwell on what Mr. Spurr documented.  Rather, I’ll look at how it is possible for PRESTO technology (and some mismanagement) to shortchange GO Transit Bus Ops revenue.

TCT highlighted previously the fragility of PRESTO cards.  What happens when a GO Transit bus driver’s card becomes inoperable (or is lost)?  Quite simply, the bus point of sale device cannot be activated.  No one can tap on; no one can load funds to their card; no tickets can be issued — everyone rides for free with that driver.  It’s a case of lost fare revenue until the driver has a new card.  In one case, it took the driver’s supervisor(s) one and a half weeks to issue a replacement card.

Consider a different scenario.  The PRESTO device on a GO Transit bus synchronizes with the system via WiFi only when the bus is at a garage.  What happens when the WiFi doesn’t work?  A passenger’s card cannot be updated with online fund loads executed after the WiFi failed.  The bus trip(s) made by a passenger won’t appear in their transaction history.  And what happens when the WiFi outage is for an extended period of time, say ten days?  Well, the on board PRESTO device disables itself, and we’re in a period of revenue loss, because everyone rides for free, again.  If you think this is a purely academic hypothetical scenario, it isn’t.  Recently, four buses assigned to Route 12 were in service for over three days in this state of revenue loss.

You are no doubt wondering how GO Transit management could knowingly let the garage’s WiFi sit in a state of disrepair for so long.  And why couldn’t the supervisor(s) change-off the affected buses with ones from Hamilton, or Streetsville, or Steeprock garages?  GO Transit management can authorize chauffeuring one passenger from Union Station to Niagara Falls, but they won’t follow operational process and swap equipment at Burlington GO or P+R — why?  Why did the escalation procedure(s) fail?

In the scenarios cited, will GO Transit’s finance department execute an inquisition to identify the individual(s) responsible for lost revenue and garnishee their wages?  I SURE HOPE NOT.  However, it would behoove Phil Verster, President and CEO at Metrolinx, to have “career discussions” with the GO Transit managers who allow these debacles to play out.  The cost of continued non-compliance outweighs the cost of compliance.

No lesson at TCT Academy is complete without some homework to do.  Seeing as the topic at hand is lost revenue, your assignment is as follows:

The last Niagara Falls seasonal trains of the year will operate on Thanksgiving weekend.  Discuss how you would use your PRESTO card legitimately to travel to The Falls for said weekend and pay less than the discounted PRESTO fare.

Class dismissed!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Ontario PC government takes credit for 15-minute GO train service on Lakeshore East and West lines. Service set to begin September 24

As the Toronto Star pointed out, Metrolinx has been adjusting its operations for months in order to add service to the Lakeshore corridors; these initiative predates the Conservatives’ election victory in June.

We all knew this. The Liberals promised us all day GO train service years ago.

The PC MPPs touting this announcement as a "Promises Made, Promises Kept" on Twitter is eye-rolling. Albeit, at least it wasn't cancelled.

So there is that.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Apple picking in Durham. You can do it by GO train and GO bus


When I posted this photo on Instagram, I had to make sure I pointed out that it was staged. I did *not* throw an apple. Problem is, I was a real trouble-maker as a kid and hands down, my mom and dad, when shown the picture, would have called me, tsking, "Some things never change". It's a legacy I can't live down.

I've become a huge supporter of local area farms within a cycling or GO bus distance to my house in Courtice. The photo above was taken at Archibald Orchard on North Liberty Street in Bowmanville, a 35km round-trip bicycle ride from my house. Because I can't ride back with a 1/2 bushel of apples, hubby met me there with the car. Recently I was asked by a follower on Twitter if he were to gather the family and travel from their downtown condo to apple pick without renting a car, how would this be done, on a Saturday?

And surprisingly, it can be. GO train to Oshawa, catch the Newcastle 90 and exit the bus at Maple Grove Road on Highway 2 in Bowmanville. Watson Farms is just west of the bus stop. You can't miss it as the bus travels right past it. There's all kinds of "pick your own" produce and a play area for kids. Bring a suitcase for easier transport of your fruits and vegetables!

I have no idea how one would use GO Transit to apple pick anywhere else in the GTA but this farm is right on a route, and if you're also a downtown Toronto dweller that randomly reads my site, please try the Paula Reds, they are delicious at this time of year!

Yep, the video circulating on instagram of a dude riding on top of a GO train is legit

Mr. Rogers could teach a thing or two to Metrolinx about being a good neighbour

Back in December I published a report from a resident who lives next to the east rail corridor that feeds Go trains into Union Station. Here is an update of how things are progressing:

You're gonna need more than peashooters when Metrolinx brings out a weapon like TPAP
Submitted by Anonymous
Exclusive to ThisCrazyTrain.com

Metrolinx has a secret weapon. It’s called a ‘TPAP’. It is big and heavy and if you get in its line of fire - prepare to be eviscerated!

TPAP stands for ‘Transit Project Assessment Process’. It’s the process Metrolinx uses to evaluate the impact of RER (Metrolinx Regional Express Rail) on surrounding neighbourhoods.

Our neighbourhood recently stared down both barrels of this bazooka and wow – did we ever get burned.

The TPAP was locked and loaded to assess the impacts of electrification along the GTA rail corridors. My neighbours and I live close to the tracks – something we’ve done for years with no major problems. But - just as any other resident would worry when their neighbour talks about moving the fence, chopping down a tree or, ‘running some power to the shed so I can rock out to Death Metal’ - we were keen to know what 3 new tracks, lots of big electricity poles, and trains every 15 minutes would mean to our everyday lives.

So we called Metrolinx.

Metrolinx sent us their TPAP report and then held a series of public meetings to talk to us about their plans.

The meetings did not go well.

The main problem Metrolinx has with its community relations is that they cannot seem to answer very basic questions. TCT readers know this all too well. During one particularly memorable exchange, when a resident asked why Metrolinx was allowed to circumvent its own guidelines which stipulate no new construction within 100 metres of a track, the response was:

‘Well this isn’t new construction and you’re already within 50 metres so…’ 

Cue the shouting and the swearing.

One resident was actually standing on a sofa, shaking his fist...

In the meeting we learned that one of the new tracks, 'Track E-Zero', will run 13 feet north of the existing northernmost track, between Parliament and Sherbourne (that's right after the Distillery if you're heading in from the east).

TCT readers may be familiar with the already intimate experience of riding along the northerly tracks as you approach Union from the east. Perhaps you saw one of us bending over while doing our laundry, eating our cornflakes or getting our kids ready for school.

Well cuddle up folks - we're about to get a lot closer!

Building E-Zero will not only bring us closer together, it will also decimate our beloved tree canopy. As the pictures below show, this canopy helps to transform our sleepy back laneway (named after the First Nations Marathon runner, Tom Longboat) into a virtual back-yard.




E-Zero will be used for the Richmond Hill line which operates diesel trains. We're all familiar with the noise and vibration of diesel engines - there's a reason we're happy to stand back of that yellow line at the station. It's a shame for us all that, despite being closer and more visible, we won't be able to stop and chat.

After the public meeting debacle we asked for a copy of the TPAP report.

And that's when the barrage began:

-    Kalop! The weight of the report knocked us back. It was massive - too big for one person to absorb. As we flailed around under the 1000+ pages, we realized that we needed help. So we formed a neighbourhood association to divvy up the work and spread the pain.

  - Ker-huh? The TPAP is technical. Holy crap. It is supposedly scripted for a general audience but the subject matter involves egg-headed engineering principles, mind-numbing electrification specifications and oddball environmental jargon I doubt even David Suzuki would comprehend.

How is an ‘ordinary’ person supposed to review this...?

 - Be-oing! The metrics in the TPAP are backwards. For example - if you live close to the tracks and the noise levels are already above federal guidelines – like ours are – the TPAP doesn’t care! It only flags increases in current levels above 5 decibels. So, if your already loud noise is going to get just 4 louder - tough luck!

- Wooosh! Just as with the public meetings, most of our typed out TPAP questions flew over Metrolinx’s heads.

Metrolinx does not listen too well. The Q&A process with the Metrolinx Community Relations Department reminded me of that scene in Seinfeld where Jerry tries to pick up his hire car.

'Sure you can take a question, but if it's not here when I come to pick it up...'

It's not just Metrolinx that has trouble shooting straight. When the TPAP got approved last December, more than 30 of our questions were greeted by garbled answers. But when our group complained to the MoE, they ignored us for several weeks, approved the report, and then sent us an answer to someone else’s question.

After plucking out the TPAP shrapnel and licking our wounds, we decided to seek out another form of defense. Surely the law will defend us? We have rights - right?

Hmm...not really. We've got useless ammunition!

It turns out that when it comes to railways - there are no laws. Not for us anyway. Municipal bylaws are powder-less. Federal laws are blanks (because they are actually only guidelines). The only legislation with any penetration is the Railway Act, which is built to protect railways from people and not the other way around.

No wonder Metrolinx treats us like cannon fodder...Fire at will!

Knowing we were effectively defenseless, we re-grouped and tried to fire back with our little pea-shooters:

'Why do you not have to meet federal guidelines on noise and vibration levels?' we squeaked.

‘Well, we do our best,' boomed Metrolinx

'Er, h-how do you do your best?' we stuttered, 'Because you are not doing too good right now.'

'They aren't laws, they’re guidelines’, they blasted.

Battling with Metrolinx is exhausting. They have bigger guns, better equipment and more manpower.

We are battle-worn, bloodied and weary. The TPAP weapon alone is wearing us down never mind all the other little skirmishes.

But the white flags are not going up just yet. The sirens have sounded again - another TPAP has landed and we are hoping this one doesn't blow up in our faces.

We're not asking for a war with Metrolinx. We support rail expansion. But when it comes to preserving our environment, our safety and our neighbourhood - we just want a fighting chance.