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Breakfix Wayfinding

At the November 24th, 2011 TTC Town Hall meeting, it was noted that:

The TTC has attempted to make incremental improvements as we provide new entrances / exits or elevators for step-free access. One of the recommendations made by the Customer Service Advisory Panel in 2010 focuses on improving signs and other customer information. We are working on a plan to do this but re-signing a station is an expensive proposition both in terms of the planning required, the material cost and implementation. We need better understanding of what priority customers give to improved way finding when balanced against things like an increase in service levels.

Having said that, we must get much better at not degrading the look and feel of our stations and trains with visual clutter such as handwritten signs. Such improvements should have little cost impact but can be difficult to ensure consistency. We are experimenting with a new “wrap” on the Davisville collector booth that we hope will balance our operational and customer needs and control some of the clutter on and in our booths.

Line Up

I took this a few weeks ago at Spadina Station during rush hour. It’s classic TTC signage: hastily assembled by TTC employees using all the resources they have at their disposal, which is usually the side of a cardboard box and a sharpie.

Noted accessibility author Joe Clark has written extensively on the subject, though as of early 2008 he has understandably abandoned that project. When an organization doesn’t even want to admit there’s a problem, what do you do?

A sign

I’ve said this a lot recently. When something is a priority for an organization, it has three things: a budget, a calendar and exactly one person responsible for it. Missing any one of those is a guarantee that whatever that organization says, its real priorities are elsewhere. So whatever the TTC’s management says about wayfinding and signage the budget they’ve actually allocated for all that is a pizza box, a broom handle and a sharpie. The person responsible for it is whoever happens to be there that day.

All the evidence suggests that there’s nobody at the TTC that anyone, inside or out, can call to say that signs are broken or missing or need to be printed. There’s no budget, no standards and nobody to ask about any of that and if there is, then boy howdy they’re not answering the phone.

That town hall comment above, as misguided as it is in many respects does get one thing exactly right: it can be inexpensive, but has to be consistent.

It’s impossible for me to blame the boots-on-the-ground TTC employees for this. Hand-scribbled signs like that are adorable; they make it look like the third-busiest transit system in North America is managed by some kids the TTC headhunted away from a lemonade stand, an image I love. And I’m not sure what else to expect, given that we’re looking at the best effort from well-meaning people without expertise, management support, goals, oversight or any guidelines at all, and a time and money budget of zero.

2 Comments | Skip to comment form

  1. Darcy

    Hmm. I don’t agree with “exactly one person responsible for it”. Someone has to be responsible, but it is much better if it is a whole series of someones, in a chain of command, with a person at the top who actually gets it and thinks the issue is important enough to ask his subordinates whether they are doing anything about it.

    Based on my personal experience of getting things done in a bureaucracy, if there is one person, only, responsible for a project, then there is no money and nothing happens. And the refrain from everyone else is, “Signage? Oh no, that’s Charlie’s responsibility.”

  2. Ted Mielczarek

    I believe what he means is exactly what you said in your first paragraph. “There is exactly one person responsible at the end of the day, but they have a well-staffed organization underneath them to make shit happen.” If you have a bunch of people responsible with no clear person at the top, then everyone will just defer to someone else.