Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My FIVE Buddies.....

People constantly question what the meaning of life is on a constant basis. Author Mitch Albom has attempted to answer this by trying to investigate this question not from earth, but the other side. Albom's book, The Five People you Meet in Heaven, has one central character named Eddie who meets five people who were affected by him. Within this book there are a couple of types of people Eddie meets along with a few interesting lessons that a reader can draw from each type of person.

The first type Eddie comes accross is someone who Eddie didn't even know he affected the life of. An example of this is Blue Man who Eddie killed. Eddie, in his younger years, was chasing after the ball that had drifted into the road. Blue Man, who was driving his car, slammed ont he breaks barely missing Eddie. Eventually Blue Man dies of a heart attack due to being stressed over nearly hitting Eddie with his car. Eddie, of course, never knows about Blue Man's death until after he dies himself. The main lesson for this type of person is to remember each person you run into on a daily basis, no matter how long of contact, has an effect on them either positive or negative.

The second type of person Eddie meets is a person Eddie wishes to express regret to, but refuses to do so for so long that he never gets to. Eddie's father was an abusive parent. Eventually the Eddie and his father are no longer on speaking terms. This occurs right up to after Eddie's father dies. Eddie really only gets to apologize to his fater for his actions when me meets his father in the afterlife. The main lesson in this type of person is never hold off on apologizing to another because if you refuse to do so or believe you will eventually get around to it sometime, it may never happen.

Overall Albom loves to write books that make the reader think deeply about their own lives. Throughout this book I found myself thinking about both how Eddie tragically died, how Eddie comes to reflect on his own life by meeting five others in the afterlife and how my own life compares with each of Eddie's own reflections on his life. This book is easy to do that because the author vividly describes the settings and characters while advancing the plot in a fairly consistant fashion without dragging. By the end of the book, I'm not only glad I've learnedthe answer to Eddie's question of "did I save that little girl's life?", but am also reflecting on who my five buddies I will meet once I head to heaven.

Monday, August 11, 2008

VIVA Transit Improvements for York Region

Recently I received a flyer in the mail from the York Consortium explaining there is an upcoming open house for transit on Monday August 11th at the Newmarket Municipal Offices. The open house is to unveil the future transit initiatives for York Region's VIVA Rapid Transit service.

Currently, VIVA runs buses along the Yonge Street and Highway 7 corridors that stop at major intersections only approximately every one kilometre or so. These buses opperate in "mixed traffic" (i.e. along with the average joe's cars and trucks) with some signal priority.

The current signal priority is if the bus is late by three minutes or more from it's schedule, the light will hold green for up to an extra ten seconds. But this is only the case if the particular intersection's light hasn't been affected by the same process within the last five or so minutes. What this "signal priority" actually means in practicality for VIVA transit riders is the VIVA buses travel. This is in contrast to the VIVA's initial claim in their initial video advertising campaign: "what do you call traffic signals that change green just for you?" As any current VIVA rider or driver will note..."Not VIVA".

There are many other issues with the current VIVA service that were initially promised in that video which any regular VIVA rider or driver can contend are complete fabrications: "what do you say about a ride every five minutes?" (If your lucky they arrive every 15 minutes and barely on time). "what do you say about never being late for work?" (I've been late for work once...but that was because I give VIVA an extra 30 minutes to screw up) and "a bit of fun on your lunch break?" (I used to work at Downsview Station...I wouldn't trust VIVA to get me to and from York University in a fifteen minute trip due to issues with the VIVA Orange even running on time!) and, my all time favourite: "what do you say to making it home in time for dinner every day?" (Not VIVA: Leaving Downsview Station at 5:00 P.M. on VIVA Orange to York University, transfer to VIVA Purple to Richmond Hill Centre at 5:25 P.M. after a MISSED connection with the VIVA Purple at 5:15 P.M. and north to Aurora on VIVA Blue to arrive at 7:00 P.M. means I've missed dinner...right and I report the missed connection to VIVA Customer service multiple times and nothing changes while VIVA claims they have resolved the problem...yet problem still persists...).

Now there is a look at the future which, if VIVA for once delivers on ALL it's promises, will significantly improve transit in York Region to where it should already be today. VIVA promises to cut existing travel time down by 40% with the implementation of VIVA only transit lanes up the middle of Yonge Street and other routes. These lanes would be similar to the dedicated streetcar tracks on Spadina Avenue in Downtown Toronto but with VIVA bus vehicles.

These lanes, as promised in the literature and website, will greatly improve the reliability of the VIVA transit service. However, this will only happen if the VIVA plans and executes these lanes correctly. Thus, don't get two excited if things don't turn out as advertised as VIVA has promised the world before and, like the above examples, have failed to deliver.

But hopefully, the above examples will dissappear as these lanes are introduced. In order for these lanes to successful the following aspects MUST be concentrated on:

1. VIVA vehicles in the transit lanes must have signal priority over all other traffic except emergency vehicles. This means no matter where in the sequence the traffic control system is at, if a VIVA vehicle approaches an intersection, it needs to have the green light to pull through. Failure to do this will mean VIVA vehicles will their own transit lanes but very little other advantages.

2. VIVA fare machines need to be either brought onboard vehicles or drivers need to keep moving. Quite often drivers wait for people to purchase tickets or get off the vehicle to assist in purchasing a ticket for a passenger. This costs valuable time that could be spent getting the fifty other people on the bus to their destination. Helping people get tickets also means the VIVA vehicle is unable to make connections due to lost time required playing around to get one person a ticket. It seems VIVA is only interested in getting the fares paid instead of getting people there on time. These priorities need to be reversed as fast and frequent transit service will only attract more fare paying riders.

3. On all VIVA routes the first concentration from now to until after the lanes are implented should be getting the frequency of the buses corrected. Quite often VIVA promises buses every fifteen minutes in off peak team and deliver a bus 20 to 25 minutes. The same goes in rush hour when VIVA promises a bus at least every 10 minutes and delivers one in fifteen to twenty if your lucky. Failure to deliver a bus on time in the frequency promised means VIVA's overall on time performance is suffering. A passenger trying to call Customer Service to report the frequency based on the schedule posted on their website is told VIVA doesn't operate on a schedule. This situation must change in order to provide the frequent and reliable service the VIVA concept has promised since it's launch.

4. Clean stations. Currently some of the stations look like they haven't seen a power washing or broom in a while. I will admit the glass on the shelters is cleaned regularly. However, at Golf Links southbound station in Aurora on the VIVA Blue line there has been garbage and vomit inside the shelter that still has to be removed even two weeks after I first noticed it. Stations need to be cleaned and garbage removed on a regular basis. One of the cleanest stations, that VIVA needs to model their services after, is York University. This station sees a large number of people coming and going on the VIVA Orange and Purple lines yet looks pretty good. This is because York University sanitation looks after the cleaning of this station.

Fast, frequent, reliable and clean transit is what VIVA needs to aspire to. The introduction of the VIVA only lanes will only increase the propsects of VIVA delivering on these words. If VIVA is able to deliver these concepts, VIVA will finally be able to deliver what was advertised since day one.

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