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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

An artist’s rendition: TTC makeover ideas

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If you mixed these two together, what would Toronto get?

Anyone who knows me well knows that my biggest pet peeves are bad public transit and bad design.

Unfortunately for me (and you), the TTC represents both in abundance. More unfortunate is the fact that the importance of an improved TTC, along with its wide ranging economic, environmental and cultural benefits, is lost on the majority of people in power.

Even in its dilapidated state, the TTC is a tremendous source of civic pride — just imagine what it would be like if the powers that be actually took pride in delivering service that was not only reliable, fast and efficient, but also designed to be as comfortable, exciting, easy to use and fun as possible? After all, the intangibles of riding public transit are just as important as the service itself.

The TTC needs an injection of youth, enthusiasm, money, ideas and love. It needs a dramatic makeover, both in the physical and imaginary sense.

So, where do we start?


– Significantly purchase more modern buses and streetcars which are environmentally friendly, accessible and have a higher capacity than current models. A larger and more effective surface transit fleet is essential

– Create an LRT and BRT network throughout the city, particularly in Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke

– Vastly improve Wheel-Trans service. It’s currently operating at the bare minimum

– Scrap the Spadina subway extension and construct a downtown relief subway line, and/or give downtown streetcar routes the right of way


– Re-design the interior of our subway stations. Refresh or add new and vibrant colour combinations for every station (except perhaps Downsview and Dupont), which incorporate both the ceiling and floor into the overall colour scheme. My God, have you seen Chester station? What a depressing place to be…

– Use the original Toronto subway font for all significant station signs

– Significantly incorporate art into every station (and turn on those lights at Yorkdale!)

– Re-design our bus stations. The majority of our bus stations are dull, cold, lifeless, grey slabs of concrete and steel. They’re in dire need of some fresh colour. Have you ever spent time at Scarborough Town Centre station? Where is the City Beautification Ensemble when you need them?

– Re-design the TTC website. This has been well documented of late with some great ideas. Hopefully the TTC will incorporate a history section, have different language options and have downloadable bus/streetcar schedules for phones and PDA’s.

– Design iconographic transit shelters, street entrances to the subway and entrances from buildings. A “Red Rocket” red would be an ideal iconographic colour.

– Re-design the bus and streetcar route maps. When on display, make them oversized and incorporate the route within the real street grid.

– Overview information and wayfinding signage to ensure clarity and accuracy. Different languages should also be incorporated and cease the usage of hand written information signs

– Change the colour of the subway cars back to the classic Gloucester Red (!)

– Create and display maps detailing businesses, interesting facts and places surrounding subway stations

– Create a more efficient method for paid entrance into stations. Anyone who’s ever seen a massive line-up at the collector booth because 1 person is buying bus tickets, knows what I’m talking about. Tickets should be dispensed from machines and there should also be a separate window at the booth used specifically for people seeking TTC information


– Add elevators to every station

– Add modern washrooms and water fountains to every station

– Add baby change stations to every washroom

– Strict adherence to cleaning schedule for washrooms and stations (has anyone used the washrooms at Kennedy station? I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.)

– Purchase more power washers

– Convert all high traffic doors to sliding doors

– Add two computer stations (one inside and one outside the collector booth) to allow riders to access TTC information (route planners, schedules, etc)

– Create more seating in all stations

– Add video screens to all stations displaying TTC info, the time, news, the weather and waiting times for specific routes

– Add GPS technology to all vehicles and transit shelters

– Reintroduce individual transit shelter phone numbers

– Increase the number of garbage and recycling receptacles in every station


– Re-design the TTC uniform. When was the last time this was done? Any aspiring fashion designers want to take this one on?

– Create better break areas. When you’re entering Spadina station on the streetcar, you can occasionally see TTC staff reading the newspaper, in what looks like an old storage closet. Is it any wonder why some of them look and act miserably?


– Whoever comes up with the TTC’s ad campaigns… fire ’em… the whole lot… and then go hire Taxi or DDB

– Viva has colourful banners lining the streets in York Region, creatively selling their services. The TTC should take a page out of their book

– The state of the TTC’s current merchandise is an embarrassment of epic proportions. Toronto has a plethora of talented designers and artists creating t-shirts, buttons and other labours of love just because. Why not hire or license their ideas? Why not sell full-size subway maps?


– Maintain one universal fare because a zone system harms those living in the inner suburbs

– Allow Metropasses to be purchased at

– Incorporate the cost of the U-Pass into school tuition fees

I’m sure there are a couple of hundred better ideas out there… please share… the TTC needs them

Photograph of Stockholm’s T-Centralen station (Blue Line) via
Photograph of Lower Bay station by Liz Clayton via



  1. There are a number of *functional* reasons why converting wholesale to the so-called TTC font is not a good idea. And if you want multilingual signs, fine, but in what languages, and where are we going to put them?

  2. Brilliant. Please see my streetcar/cycling comments at: .

    First thing to do is get more than the 20% funding from government. The city can’t handle more, so it is up to the other two. I get the feeling that the political parties in the other two levels of government have written off projects for the city, because they know that voting patterns are stable enough here that nothing they do, or don’t do, is going to change that.

    It’s time for the city to get belligerent, if for no other reason that no other relationship has achieved anything. Since the late eighties, we’ve all seen a steady decline in the quality of public services in the city. Within the the letter of the law, the city should work-to-rule on any responsibilities it has for services to provincial or national public properties, including to the CBC – their journalist staff may get on board, as city residents. City hall should also create a consistent and relentless campaign against the status quo: explaining what the city was like before cut backs, how much both levels of government take from the city and how little they return, and the practical effects to the quality of life, commuting and the environment.

    They shouldn’t bother trying to convince non-residents about what Toronto gives to the country, because they simply find that arrogant. Their opinions won’t matter, so why antagonize?

  3. Ah love at first sight. So who’s the billionaire that’s financing this for you?

    Your ideas are the right way to go (I say make Steve Munro grand dictator of the TTC myself) but until someone out there picks up the cheque—without forcing the TTC to build useless subway extensions—this is all kinds of pointless.

    Section 5 could be done right now for very little money/positive cash flow depending on how the merchandise does. The rest of it? Not so much beyond a new website and new maps. We could, however, just eliminate tickets entirely in favour of tokens. Save the environment and all that.

    Who’d kill for Bill Davis to be the Premier again? We’d have the Downtown Relief Line, the full Sheppard line both west and east, maybe the extended DRL into East York and Parkdale… Sigh. Instead we got who? Peterson, Rae, Harris, Eves, and McGuinty. None of who did anything truly positive for the TTC.


  4. I love good ideas as much as the next person — and surely there are a number of them in your instruction manuel to better transit — but you make it sound as if the only thing stopping the TTC is ideas and will.

    Maybe you’ve got a list of ideas for funding your ideas? How about strategies to get buy-in from other orders of government?

    I really don’t mean to be flippant but without at least trying to generate ideas around funding and provincial/federal buy-in then all we’ve got is group masterbation.

  5. I aqree with Adam C-F – there is no shortage of ideas. Never has been.

    And as for the TTC needing an injection of youth – come on. Youth is not a quality, it’s a state. Nothing and nobody ever needs an injection of youth. There are young people with good ideas, there are young people with energy, and there are young people with iconoclastic or otherwise unconventional ideas – but they have none of these things as a function of being young. Suggesting something needs an injection of youth is exactly the sort of thoughtless marketing-consultant sloganeering the TTC, and everything else, needs very little of.

  6. There were a number of things I disagreed with. By the time you said we needed to maintain one fair zone, I had just stopped reading. Which is a shame, because some of them were decent.

  7. Public transit now gets a percentage of the Federal gas tax which is a help but we (and other cities) need more. The price of gas varies every day, why not add a “public transit tax’ to the price starting at, say, 5 cents when gas is 75 cents a litre or less and falling to maybe 2 cents when it goes over $1. Yes, drivers would complain at first but the price already fluctuates I bet most would not even notice after a few weeks! There are lots of good ideas about what is needed but far fewer about where the $$$ are to come from. Waiting for the Conservatives to provide more $$ is NOT the answer.

  8. Shame about those neon lights at Yorkdale, they were truly incredible, and anyone who has arrived here in the past decade or so has never seen them in action.

    When I first saw the lights had been turned off, I assumed it was for maintenance, but eventually it turned out they never would be turned on again.

    Apparently the TTC closed the neon lights because it had not bothered to maintain the transformers, and did not want to replace them.

    The artist who designed the system was pissed, and vowed never to accept another commission unless the client was able to guarantee a proper maintenance budget along with installation.

  9. I agree with the one fare zone. Not that I ever really leave downtown Toronto, but it is really just another level of confusion for riders.

    Otherwise I totally dig the ideas. I haven’t heard much support for the red of the subway cars and it is a pretty neat proposal.

    I also agree with the scrapping of the York subway, even though with the level of ridership the university itself sees (have you ever seen 9 buses line up in a row and leave at the same time? Go to York) I think downtown is more deserving of a subway and building rapid transit further out just makes sprawl easier.

    Forgive my bias, but I think transit should be more downtown-oriented in order to create more density. The city growth plan should aim to populate downtown Toronto with another 150,000, which is its current population.

  10. Hello everyone,

    I just got in from the Toronto Transit Camp and it was a great experience. If any of you get an opportunity to attend one please do. It was basically a better and interactive version of this post.

    Here is the link:

    I wrote this post as a way to get my ideas out and organized before the transit camp. To implement even a few of these ideas would obviously take serious coin, and that is a fact that is not lost on me.

    I’m saving the funding discussion for another post!

  11. Hi Mr. Haddad, thanks for commenting.

    The reason why I’m advocating for one fare zone is because I live in Malvern, which is about as far northeast in Toronto as you can get.

    To implement a zoned fare system harms people like me who travel frequently downtown or across the city.

    You must also take into account the fact the a large majority of the inner suburbs (Scarborough and Etobicoke) are where many of the poorest communities in Toronto are located.

    Why would you make people who are already struggling financially, struggle even more?

    I understand that living Downtown means that your paying as much for a small trip down Queen St. as I do for a trip from Scarborough to Etobicoke, but it seems that some of the solutions are worse then the problem.

    Obviously, the fare situation needs to be examined more thoroughly. Another post perhaps?

  12. Matt B. informed me that the tiles of the TTC were laid out by combining a number of background colours with four trim colours.

    According to this website about the tiles history:

    “The colours were chosen to discourage rowdy behaviour and loitering rather than for aesthetic reasons.”

    What if we chose colours that inspired or made you feel better? Calmer? Happier?

    I’m all for maintaining our historical and classical designs. Originally I wanted to see completely new and random colour combos for each station, but learning about the method behind the madness has changed my mind.

    Now, I’m all for keeping the blue and green of Chester station… but making it a much richer and vibrant blue and green and extending the colour scheme to the ceiling, the floors and the bus platforms… oh, a strict visitation schedule from the power washer machines might help as well…

  13. B Vaughan brings up a very important point. It appears the TTC has repeatedly failed to factor in an adequate maintenance budget for many of their great endeavors. I remember an article in Spacing bringing this up before. For many of these great ideas, it is important to factor in the foresight of adequate maintenance.

  14. I think they should start with basic maintenance and a shake up of the administration.

    One example:

    At Kipling subway station, at the east end of the bus platform is a cement planter. There are no plants here any longer. Instead the TTC employees have been throwing their trash there. For weeks now there have been bags of garbage and old, discarded air filters combined with scrap metal which has been there for months.

    How is that AT ALL acceptable? It shows a serious lack of proper management. They are obviously too comfortable with their job if they don’t enforce simply policy and COMMON SENSE.

  15. Smart cards are coming, so, as much as I love tokens, I can see a distance-based fare system being possible. Hard-edged fare zones don’t sound fair to people who’re just barely on the wrong side of one, but having people who’re crossing the city pay a small premium (15%?) over the price of a short trip doesn’t seem completely unreasonable.

    Maybe, as part of a pro-environment policy, an additional subsidy could be paid to the TTC based on passenger travel distances. That’d recognize transit’s role in keeping commuters out of their cars.

    Even if the only people paying more under a new scheme were the riders, what if the fare increase were offset by a more generous transfer policy? In Ottawa, for instance, a transfer is really a 90-minute bus pass. Perhaps your transfer would become more valuable as you racked up distance charges?

  16. Yup, no shortage of ideas, but it’s a cash crunch. I know I’m obsessed, but as one way of expanding both transit and the transit pie, it’s the deflecting of the Front St. Extension road project/folly into a full set of transit options, not including the Waterfront West LRT because it’s based upon the FSE existing. But if we take the two budgets of the FSE and the WWLRT – that’s $600 million but let’s be realistic and say we have $400 million for improving transit in this busy transport corridor south of Queen St. What would you do? Should we not demand of our NDPers running the core and the TTC that we want effective transit and no road project? That this effective transit includes GO? We can’t just demand more bucks from senior levels and think that they’ll cough up just because – we’ve had a batch of money from the province already for transit but we got a fare hike or two instead, though that’s all of the Council, not just NDPers. Some persistent stridency may be needed, and with more names please.
    And I find a good site for hard info and good perspectives. Thanks to both spacing and steve for the contents, opportunities and caring.

  17. kevin bracken wrote:

    “I also agree with the scrapping of the York subway, even though with the level of ridership the university itself sees (have you ever seen 9 buses line up in a row and leave at the same time? Go to York) I think downtown is more deserving of a subway and building rapid transit further out just makes sprawl easier.”

    Yep, the York U buses see a ton of riders every day. And most people who take those buses HEAD STRAIGHT FOR THE SUBWAY. I know of few places in the city that is in a greater need of a subway station than York.

    “Forgive my bias, but I think transit should be more downtown-oriented in order to create more density. The city growth plan should aim to populate downtown Toronto with another 150,000, which is its current population.”

    I am completely with you on discouraging sprawl, but quite frankly looking at how far the GTA suburbia extends, York U is practically midtown. 🙂 As are most of the boroughs generally. They aren’t a result of a sprawl anyway. They were established a long time ago and just grew until they met with growing Toronto. It was a natural process

    Anyway, we already have the University line that just stops in the most illogical place. It just makes sense to complete it.

    Downtown, on the other hand, already has great public transit. I live, work and play downtown and I never found public transportation lacking. It’s there, it’s convenient, it’s fast. And since downtown is so compact, a lot of the time one doesn’t even need public transit if one has a working pair of legs or a set of two wheels on a bike frame. 😉 Sure, downtown subways and streetcars get crowded during rush hour, but downtown is crowded, that’s the whole density thing you’re advocating for. More transit downtown would be nice, but I don’t think that’s where the TTC should concentrate its efforts.