Saturday, November 26, 2005

Random Thoughts & Musings #2

Well I had so much fun with the last installment of "Random Thoughts & Musings" that I thought I might make it a weekly thing. For those new to this here feature (which even I admit I am considering that this is only the second edition of this type of column). Here is where I provide a wrap up of things that I have thought about (hence the title) both serious and humourous. So enough with the Jib Jab and on with the show!

1. In the column of why Canadian banks suck: Why do Canadian bank machines still give out $50.00 bills when no store will take them anymore?

2. What would happen if you mixed Photoshop with Jean Chretien? Canadian Comedian Rick Mercer found out.

3. Need good reasons to get rid of the federal Liberals? Read this James Travers' column to find out. On a side note, with an award winning columnist like this, who says the Toronto Star is a Liberal rag?

4. So I checked out the new VIVA transit game that provides game players with a chance to win free bus tickets and other prizes for merely playing their new online video game. The game isn't worth much to play as I got bored with it after one level and merely killed myself off at the begining of the second level. But I did win 10 free two zone tickets to ride on either VIVA or York Region Transit. If transit fares go up in the near future, paying for the both the game and its prizes might be just two reasons why!

5. One final thought on the new VIVA system, who designed the new shelters at Richmond Hill Centre and other stops along the way? These "shelters" allow the wind to whistle right through them because the glass doesn't go all the way up to the roof or down to the ground. Even funnier was at my local stop the dry area during a mild rain storm is aproximately only two feet squared. Finally, who wants to sit on a stainless steel bench in January? One question to the designer of these shelters: "Have you experienced a Canadian winter?"

6. From CHUM FM's Roger, Rick & Marilyn archives comes this hillarious piece of entertainment.

7. To my American friends, readers and enemies, Happy Thanksgiving you lucky people! Only you guys would be able to squeeze a four day weekend just before Christmas. Even better, Americans have figured out that Thanksgiving is a great weekend to provide sales for hungry shoppers eager to save a buck on their Christmas shopping. Canadians have it in the retailers hands: have the store sales the day after the big gift exchanges in order to two things: a) prevent the mass return of items that either didn't fit or create this question: "What were they thinking?" or b) clear out all the crap that didn't sell over the busiest retailing time all year.

8. Not looking forward to Thanksgiving because of PETA or because of boredom? This guy has the answers to all the commonThanksgiving questions!

8. Ever wondered if blog posts were really written by a dead person? This guy has, in a weird and creepy way.....

9. The Gemini's were on this week. Did anybody care? Apparently these commenters, who commented on Antonia "try and spell my last name" Zerbisias blog didn't watch:

---------------------------------------

The Geminis are so lame. They're no better than the Armpit Village Homebuilder of the Year Awards or the Bug Village Manitoba Carpet Cleaner of the Week Prize. Every industry in the world has a set of lame awards that it hands out to itself -- think of the Teddies from the Mary Tyler Moore Show or the SeeBees from Frasier. The National Newspaper Awards are the Canadian press's lame equivalent. Basically, if it's not a Pulitzer, Nobel or Booker it ain't worth jack and we shouldn't waste time talking about it.
Posted by:
November 21, 2005 at 08:30 PM

When you tune into a crappy Canadian station and see a promo saying "XYZ Network: Nominated for 587 Gemini Awards" that's when you realise how stupid and pointless the Geminis really are.
Posted by:
November 21, 2005 at 08:40 PM

See what I mean?
When a conversation about awards turns on references to popular American television programs that themselves are now seen only in syndication you know you're through the looking glass.
Posted by:
Dana November 22, 2005 at 10:02 AM

-----------------------------------------

Anybody gain count of how many nominations did the CBC's The National with Peter Mansbridge get? Anybody finished counting those nominations?

10. Finally, on a serious yet quirky note. I called the American bank I deal with to close my account for good in New York City. I had withdrawn all the funds over the past week, as instructed by the telephone banking representative I talked to last Saturday. She also noted there would not be any service charges on closing the account so I could have the entire balance.

I called this morning to close the account. I was put on hold in order to talk to an "account specialist". Um...lets stop there, wouldn't a telephone banking representative be an account specialist? Isn't that what bank representatives do? Just a thought. Anyway, on with the story....

I talked to the "account specialist" who wanted my day time phone number. I gave him my home phone and said I could be best contacted at night. He wouldn't have it. I was not about to give him my office phone number because this was supposed to be a simple process.

I told him the story what the telephone banking representative told me last week. I said there is no money in the account and was now wondering why there was a big fuss on closing an account with no money in it? He asked for my address in Canada, I said it is the same one you have been sending statements to for the past three months, then gave it to him again. He, the account specialist, said that there would be a letter sent to me in five to seven days. I said the letter had to say that the account had been closed. He said that he had put in the request for the account to be closed. I am now wondering why there is an "account specialist" if the specialist cannot close an account? Just wondering..... I am now starting to lose faith in Citibank's services on this issue.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Why do the slow ones always work on Sundays?

A wonderful adventure today to Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket. But first I had my birthday on Tuesday and received a gift card to Chapters in Newmarket. Along with that card I had a 20% off coupon valid only for November 20th. So I set off in the afternoon to go book shopping and then for a little lunch. I browsed the new book section and then the history section to see what was worth looking at.

I hesitated at first on one book, considering it was worth $40.00 Canadian. But in the end, after the 20% off and the gift card I ended up getting The Google Story. The book, after the discount and card value cost me only six dollars. Pretty sweet! Something to read on the bus on the way into work! A book review of this book may appear later on my website.

After Chapters, I walked north to Upper Canada Mall in hopes of having a Whopper Combo from Burger King. However, I gave up on that. I gave up on that considering there was one person working the front and one at the grill. It took the two of them forever to serve a simple combo to second person in front of me. The person in front of me paid by Interac (debit card to my American readers) and had to rip her own receipt and put it on the counter like Burger King usually does. The guy had to be reminded what she ordered. The person in front of me even had to bag her own order. At that point I rolled my eyes and left. I headed to the food court and New York Fries where there was some line, but they were properly staffed to move us along at a reasonable speed. By the way, how come there is no New York Fries in New York City? Kinda weird eh?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Random Thoughts & Musings

This is a random thoughts entry (idea stolen from Jack) about things I have pondered over the past week that I have gathered either from personal observation or through reading various newspapers. I do have a long time to read newspapers as I take mass transit in Toronto (which can be quite painful sometimes as you will soon see). Now on with the random thoughts:

1. Why do drivers slow down in the rain? It took me an hour and half to take the bus from Downsview Subway station to York University and then onto Richmond Hill Centre. I ended up missing another bus and was forced to wait a half hour in northern Richmond Hill before I got home to my birthday dinner. ARGH!

2. Gary Dunford on his blog brings up a very big problem of a friend of his. Apparently, his friend was laid off a year ago due to downsizing at his former company. However, apparently the reason the company downsized was not for financial reasons as Dunf's friend is still receiving his regular pay cheque! Even better is the cheque is not electronically generated as there are two executives sign the cheque. Apparently even the executives don't knmow what is going on!

3. All is not well in the New York City Department of Education. (For regular readers of my blog, you already know that considering my recent past). There are actually two horrifying stories of the Department of Education screwing up that have been in the media (I am sure there are probably thousands more not seeing the light of day because there isn't a newspaper big enough or enough reporters to tell all the horror stories of mispent money and mistreatment of people at the Department of Education). However, this story caught my attention while I was wandering the internet this past week. The city pours a lot of money into the education system in the belief that things will improve, yet maintenance seems to be the bottom of the list. I have been in many New York City schools to see air conditioners not working, dust galore around the door frames, spit balls on the ceiling and much more.

Then a true "New York Irony." In other words, cruel irony, when this story appeared. Apparently, the New York City Department of Education didn't have the money to properly outfit their teachers up to health department standards and one teacher has possibly gotten infected on top of it. On top of that the Department of Education is now paying fines on a monthly basis because it is in contradiction of a health code. But, in true NYC Department of Education fashion, there is complete denial on the Department of Ed's fault in this case. In my experience, the Department of Education barely knows how to co-operate with its teachers (2 years without a contract between the Department and the teachers union would prove that), so how would it know what the health code is in this case? An even more in depth look at the problems of the New York City Department of Education teacher can also be found here. Perhaps an investigation by the State of New York Department of Education needs to be done on the City's Department of Education, because for too long has the City's education system smelled so badly from cronyism and corruption. And we Canadians thought the federal Liberals were bad enough!

4. On a lighter note, Antonia "I hope you spelled my last name right" Zerbisias provides us with an example of what Canadians are truly thinking during this time of ponderance over who we might vote for in a possible upcoming election. I believe this post can stand on its own with out any comment to be effective? Non?

5. From York University's newspaper, The Excalibur, the univerisities are complaining again about the MacLean's magazine yearly survey of univerisities. It seems that any time any university does well in the MacLean's rankings, the university administrations pat themsleves on their backs. However, when the university does poorly, the administrations and student unions blame the methodology of the survey. What the universities should be doing in response to each publication's survey is to look at the area of deficiencies noted and work to fix them. Each media outlet, just like the university's student body, looks at the insititution from various angles. It is the succesful universities that look good from various angles of analysis. Universities in Ontario seem to have forgotten that. Perhaps it is the "ivory tower" concept that some university administrations have fallen prey too.

6. To finish with a laugh....

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Elvis Stojko in Kung Fu?

Elvis Stojko showing off his Kung Fu
Photo: Courtesy of the Toronto Star
Apparently Elvis Stojko has picked up another sport quite easily. Stojko, former Olympic medal winner in Men's figure skating, has placed 2nd in a world Kung Fu event.
Who would have thunk it? Placing well in two sports? Anybody else besides Stojko and Deon Sanders ever do it? Deon was that great in baseball (never made the All-Star Team) if I can remember.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Deerly Beloved...My Life Flashed before my Eyes

I was travelling to work on VIVA this morning and got off at Richmond Hill Centre Station to transfer from VIVA Blue to VIVA Purple. A VIVA Purple bus was pulling out as I was getting off VIVA Blue. "Rats," I thought. I thought I would have to go wait to take another one. However, the driver pulled over after going around the island to pick us up from a different "bus slip". Things started to look up.

Then the VIVA Purple bus started up the on ramp from Yonge Street onto Highway 7 to go westbound. However, no cars would yield, as is the law in Ontario to any bus. So the bus ran out of lane and merged with the traffic. Well the "forced merge" caused the car in the right hand lane to swerve to the left into the middle lane and the car in the middle lane also swerved causing the two to possibly briefly collide with each other. However, I could not see if the cars in fact "touched" as there was a blind spot created by the wall behind the driver. The VIVA Purple bus was forced to wait for York Regional Police officers to show up.

While waiting for the police to arrive, another VIVA Purple bus pulled up, the driver of that bus talked to our driver and then pulled off without offloading our bus. Apparently Transit control had not given permission to offload us and we had to wait for clearance from the police. The police had to take the information down from the two drivers of the cars and then proceeded to the bus to take the liscence information from the driver. After this was all done our bus was at least ten minutes late and the second bus after hours had caught up to us near the end of the route. Apparently, I should have taken the second bus.

Not content on merely pointing fun at me, something or someone thought it would be funny to add a little irony to my life on this same VIVA Purple bus trip that the above mentioned occurred. Before I finish, lets back track to Tuesday of this week. That night on the way home from work there was a York Regional Police cruiser at the side of the road on Centre Street just past the bridge which Highway 407 uses to cross Centre Street. Next to the cruiser and the big burly police officer, was your typical white tailed deer in the ditch eating grass as if nothing happenned.

Fast forward to this morning and I think that same deer decided to run accross the road in front of the same VIVA Purple vehicle that almost got in an accident. Apparently I needed to be scared to death a couple of times.

Monday, November 07, 2005

VIVA la Review

I have now taken York Region's new VIVA service for slightly more than a week now. The service provides rapid transit services along designated corridors using buses that only stop at designated interesections. Overall, there are both benefits and some problems that York Region Transit (YRT) and its private consortium need to work on. The private consortium, working with the region on the VIVA system, includes such corporations as: AECOM, IBI, Delcan, Kiewit, and Ellis Don. The dream of VIVA is actually a pretty good one on paper and, eventually will be once fully implemented on the roads. You will find the complete plan here . Phase one, as mentioned in the article, is now almost fully launched. However, along with this dream, there are current problems that will can either be solved right away or in the future once all three phases of the VIVA plan have been implemented.

The first issue I had occurred on the VIVA Purple route while testing it out for my new job I was going to start on the following Monday. On Friday October 28th, the VIVA Purple bus arrived at Promenade Terminal to do a regular pick-up. However, another driver came over and said to the driver of the VIVA vehicle that it was time for her break. It took the driver, who was not expecting her break, a little while to collect her items and switch spots with the new driver. I still question this decision to switch drivers right in the middle of the Purple route instead of waiting until the bus reached its terminus (York University) where the bus normally waits five minutes or slightly longer before turning itself around and heading back in the other direction. These five minutes or more would have provided the perfect opportunity to change drivers. Besides, York University has both a food court, public washrooms and plenty of space to have lunch inside and outside.

Another issue is when VIVA drivers have to answer the call of nature. I have had two occasions where VIVA drivers have disrupted service in order to visit the washroom. The first was on VIVA Orange on Wednesday while returning home from work. I was on VIVA Orange heading northbound to York University when, just before making the normal right hand turn onto Keele Street, from St. Regis Crescent, the driver pulled over the vehicle. She then got out of the bus and headed to the Baker's Dozen location on the south-east corner. The vehicle waited five minutes with five people on board. This same situation apparently occurs quite frequently as a driver on Friday heading westbound to York University of VIVA Purple had to do the same thing at the Richmond Hill Centre Station while a full bus of passengers had to stop their lives on their way to work in the morning. Apparently VIVA/York Region Transit didn't think about the call of nature. This situation has to be fixed soon with apropriately timed breaks for drivers. Couldn't the supervisors, or whoever sits in the idling cars at York University and Richmond Hill Centre, take over the route for a while so these poor drivers can go to the washroom? Apparently not. I am stunned this situation continues to occur. I have asked several times to both VIVA supervisors and drivers themselves. Both the drivers and supervisors indicate there really is no alternative but to stop a full vehicle of passengers in order to answer the bathroom call. I beg to differ.

The off board fare machines have become a major problem in terms of fare inspectors. Here is an example that I thought might happen and actually did on Thursday morning at the Bernard Terminal heading southbound on VIVA Blue. The Bernard Terminal fare machine was not operational. In other words the touch screen was not operative. I pointed out the machine was not operational to the transit inspector on board the bus and he said he had already called it in. I wonder how can York Region Transit fare enforcement officers enforce the VIVA fare system properly if the fare machines are down so often? This past week I have also noticed that the Dufferin Stop at Centre Street Westbound (on VIVA Purple) touch screen was not operating and the ticket validator at the southbound Elgin Mills (on VIVA Blue) was down as well. I have seen, since starting to ride VIVA, that the Bernard Terminal seems to be down off and on ever since the VIVA service started. So, again, how are tickets supposed to be issued by YRT fare enforcement officers if fare collection is such a problem?

However, I do agree with the fare structure. York Region Transit has really thought this out by providing a substantial savings over what GO Transit used to rip us off with in Northern York Region. To compare, York Region Transit charges those of us in Aurora to travel to Finch Subway Station $3.25 cash fare while GO Transit charges $4.75. Add tickets and the savings is even more. No wonder GO Transit saw the Yonge Street corridor as a large moneymaker.

By looking at the operation of the electronic schedules at each stop, I wonder if YRT bought a bunch of lemons? I mean the electronic schedule (e.g. orange-York University 4 minutes) at the Northbound 16th-Carville Station (on Viva Blue) was down for maybe two weeks. Also, every trip I seem to take I spot at least one or two malfunctioning touchscreen fare purchasers or the electronic schedule shows "consult schedule" or something to that effect. If these off board fare vending machines are new now and malfunction, what will happen five years down the road?

York Region Transit seems to want to keep riders from actually making sure its riders arrive on time, or really wants its riders to ride its buses for long periods of time instead of getting their riders there as quickly as possible. This is because quite a few of its local routes (e.g. Route 98, etc.) seem to be frequently late. It is a wonder how these local routes make connections with others at all.

Also, the VIVA schedules, which were on the York Region Transit Website when the VIVA service was first launched, have since been removed. The schedules were replaced with very basic information saying that the services run every aproximately every 10 minutes during rush hour and every 15 minutes in non-peak periods. This causes an issue if you are travelling off peak as waiting 15 minutes for a bus seems a little questionable. Try riding figuring out a 8:00 P.M. trip from Bernard terminal to connect with Route 85 (Rutherford/16th Avenue route) in order to head westbound to Vaughan Mills. It is almost impossible and you must budget the 15 minutes extra because VIVA might have just left before you even arrive at Bernard. Sure GO does this on the Newmarket "B" route, but at least GO Transit provides a schedule to their service. Perhaps York Region Transit would provide schedules to their off peak service and leave the peak service as is arriving every ten minutes. This minor variation would keep riders informed of when the next bus is coming and allow for easier travel planning. Without this basic information, prospective customers are more likely to give up with the hastle of figuring out off peak scheduling and routing in off peak times in favour of the car. Besides, isn't getting cars off the road what VIVA was supposed to be all about? Therefore, figure out a better way to provide a basic schedule for your customers back up on your website!

Scheduling becomes an issue when you short turn some VIVA vehicles. This happenned to me while waiting for a southbound VIVA Orange to Downsview Station from York University. One bus which clearly said "VIVA Orange" then changed to "To Downsview Station" drove right past me. I was literally hugging the VIVA stop sign at York and still the vehicle kept moving. I caught up to the vehicle because it was caught in traffic. I asked the driver what was going on, she said she had been short turned in order to head back North-West back to Martin Grove. Therefore, why does the VIVA vehicle still say "To Downsview Station"? Nevermind, there was another VIVA Orange due in three minutes. But at least the short turning vehicles should be taken offline from the electronic schedules at the VIVA stops as well as changing the vehicles sign board before arriving at the last stop on the route. This will indicate to any prospective riders that the vehicle is either out of service or reversing its route.

Garbage and Recycling with York Region Transit and VIVA is a complete joke. At most VIVA stations there is either a waste and/or recycling receptacle available or nothing at all. The only thumbs up I give is to the York University station. But that is because the university provides the recycling (both paper and beverage containers) bins. Otherwise, VIVA and YRT need a lot of work in this area.

Bernard Terminal (on VIVA Blue) only has garbage receptacles and these are easily filled to overflowing due to the high traffic in and out of this terminal and the fact that there are several fast food locations (e.g McDonald's, Burger King, Swiss Chalet, Tim Hortons, etc.) in this area that passengers frequent before and after boarding YRT and VIVA services. There isn't even a recycling receptacle even though there are free newspapers (e.g. Metro, 24 Hours, etc.) being distributed on YRT vehicles.

Richmond Hill Centre Station (on VIVA Blue & Purple) has some promise. There are receptacles for both trash and recycling. However, the recycling receptacles aren't labeled for what items can be put in. For example in Toronto the curbside boxes indicate what goes into what slot of the bin (e.g. newspapers, cans, #1 & #2 plastics, etc.). The receptacles at Richmond Hill Centre just say "Recycle." Recycle what exactly? Orange peels, the McDonald's Big Mac Package, my YRT transfer, Coke can,....where does each one of thes go?

York Region gave the contract to Belgian based VanHool for the production of the VIVA vehicles. I admit, I have been politically incorrect to start, the VIVA vehicles are not "buses" they are "RTVs" according to VIVA. Besides that there are several questions in terms of operation of these vehicles. How will these vehicles deal with a Canadian winter? I ask this in terms of how can Van Hool have any experience with designing vehicles to handle poor road conditions that are sure to occur in York Region during the winter. I noted in the 1990s that sometimes the older OCTranspo articulated buses (Ottawa's transit agency) are forced off the road when a heavy snowstorm sets in. Is this going to happen on the "backbone" of the VIVA system when a snowstorm moves in on the mainly articulated bus dominated VIVA Blue route?

Another issue is the fact that all doors are opened on the VIVA vehicles when boarding. This obviously lets either all the heat out (winter) or all the air conditioned air out (summer). Does this mean passengers must either freeze their buts off or roast in the respective seasons in order to ride VIVA? That may drive more people to take to the comfort of their cars. Perhaps the use of the "door open" push buttons on the inside and outside the vehicles might be useful instead of having the driver automatically open the doors. This would solve this problem.

The vehicles themselves are currently in mixed traffic. This causes issues in some areas as VIVA operates through some of York Region's most heavily congested areas. VIVA Blue seems to struggle somedays to travel down Yonge Street south of Major Mackenzie Drive past Sixteenth/Carville down to the Highway 7/407 area. Why because of the severe traffic congestion caused by non-synchronized traffic lights. In 2003 I have taken a GO Bus through this area at six A.M. when there was very little traffic on the road and it still had to stop at at least two traffic lights. Add a few more cars and this area is chaos! Even worse is Highway 7 and Keele Street. VIVA purple, heading west and then south, makes a left turn at Highway 7 & Keele Street. In the morning peak period VIVA Purple waits two to three sets of lights in order to make the left turn onto Keele Street. Then this same route heads south to York University on Keele which is also heavily congested. It is no wonder that VIVA Purple is slow and often behind schedule according to some drivers.

Dedicated transit lanes are what is required here. I am not indicating merely adding another lane to existing traffic flow that car drivers can abuse. These lanes are currently not working in Toronto as these lanes are simply not enforced. A Transitway that mirrors Yonge Street is what is required. YRT and VIVA should investigate Ottawa's Transitway system that OCTranspo vehicles currently use. OCTranspo has seen significant increases in ridership and awards for. The OCTranspo rapid transit vehicles run on their own road system. In some cases it is faster to take OCTranspo vehicles than it is to drive. Quick and Convenient the Ottawa Transitway is to riders just like the dedicated streetcar lanes are on Spadina to the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). If VIVA and YRT buses were to use these types of lanes, the problems of congestion on Yonge Street and Highway 7/Keele Street would not be an issue for YRT/VIVA customers. These lanes are set for stage 2 of VIVA after the current service is fully operational (see January 2006 and beyond).

The VIVA stop shelters are a little to be desired. Sure they look futuristically cool, but the open concept will not help when the Canadian winter winds start whistling. Will passengers be willing to deal with these stations or will they return to their cars?

VIVA services, once a few things are straightend out, has promise for the future. Some problems can be easily fixed by examining the issues I have highlighted above. Others will require some long term planning and construction costs which are already planned for. VIVA is on the right track, however, there are bumps that need to be ironed out (e.g. driver breaks, wast receptacles, etc.) that can be done right away at little to no cost. Yet, in some cases like the station shelters and VIVA door operation, there is a sense of "what were they thinking?" But, hopefully VIVA will be a success in the future. York Region Commuters can only hope and pray that VIVA does, otherwise the current congestion will only get worse.

Update:
Transit Toronto has posted an outline of VIVA service complete with pictures of one of the articulated vehicles.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Who Knew?


My blog is worth $1,129.08.
How much is your blog worth?

Great Week!

Sure it takes me a heck of a long time to get to work. But I am working with some great people at SPAR. I am currently providing administrative assistance to the account managers during the busy holiday season. Will this job last? I hope so as I enjoy the company of everyone who seems to be so friendly. I am willing to move closer to the job if I get it full time, but that will have to wait for now.

The funny thing of the week:

I had someone call in French. The only person who is bilingual in the office happenned to be on another line. So I put the person on hold and ran to the account managers. The account managers said to send him to voice mail of the, now I know, the only person who is bilingual. Apparently, though the caller didn't understand what I was trying to do as I came back to my desk he had hung up. Rookie mistake. But now I know!

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