If you imply it, they will come.
That's not to say that organizers of Sunday's (February 4) Transit Camp at the Gladstone Hotel were seeking official sanction to convene an Intel-powered orgy of TTC geekery.
At a time when cold and fiscal crisis conspire to add extra aggravation to the daily routine of token-droppers, it's inevitable that people come together to ask, what to do?
Yet by explicitly stating that the event was "not a complaints department" but "a platform for... transit users and fans," organizers took a Torontoically optimistic outlook.
It's easy to see this somewhat anarchistic think tank in the context of City Hall's recent rhetoric of openness, though it's more likely organizers didn't see their event as a response to any official direction.
"To me this is a 'Trojan pony," says consultant Mark Kuznicki in the opening welcome circle. "There's a bigger idea than just transit here."
In gathering a hundred souls from the worlds of tech, visual art, planning, unbridled enthusiasm and the creative class's miscellaneous bin (cultural creators) to brainstorm TTC improvements, organizers from open-source org TorCamp have created a petri dish for civic visioning.
Topics for the day's workshops include suggestions from the whole group; if there's enough interest in a session, it happens. If not, folks drift to other circles spread throughout the hotel's main floor or mill about and network, all under the "rule of two feet" enunciated by Queen West impresario Misha Glouberman: "If you're in a conversation and you're not learning or contributing, you have to leave. Not just 'can' - 'have to. '"
Oh, if only one thing filters up to city council, please let it be that.
Aside from TTC staffers scattered about unassumingly, new TTC chair Adam Giambrone is in attendance, and vice-chair Joe Mihevc pops in as well. Having planned a short visit, Giambrone will end up smiling and conversing through the whole event.
I ask him if this could represent a new way for the TTC to do its planning. He says the commission already has multiple ways it solicits input: focus groups, design charettes, deputations. They get 50 to 60 e-mails a day. "And staff process each one," he tells me proudly. "Write the TTC; we will write back."
Surely, though, there's no feedback quite like this. I ask him his feelings on the day's frequent wish: that the TTC open up its data - route information, vehicle specs, etc. - to allow everything from enthusiasts' scholarship to open-source transit maps and other community-created supplements.
"It's like coming to my place and asking to borrow a novel," he responds. "Sure, you could, if I knew where it was, if I'd organized my books." From his tone, it seems he's considered that it might be time to start a filing system.
The TTC is doubling its I.T. budget and could do worse than look here for inspiration. Web developer Kieran Huggins shows off a stunning proposal for a TTC wiki (a website based on open editability) that combines the ease of use, aesthetic beauty and potential interconnectivity that has thus far evaded all TTC information projects. Huggins's plan has the ability to capture the one thing the TTC has never been able to capitalize on: stories.
"The TTC isn't just transit," he tells me. "It's an institution. People are passionate about it. People are already mashing it up with their lives."
While Huggins refers to web phenomena like unofficial TTC Rider Efficiency Guides, or Matt Blackett's subway stop buttons, his statement applies well beyond fandom. The TTC is a mashup, a confluence of the disparate destinations in our lives, the blurred line between our own selves and the cities of Toronto.
"It's not just about delivering service," says planning student David Pritchard during a discussion of multi-modal transit. "It's about supporting a transit lifestyle."
The discussion facilitator, a gent named Madhava, suggests including Island ferry routes on TTC maps. Similarly, why not connections with other transit systems, bike paths and taxi stands? Why not a way for riders to suggest their own walking or biking routes to stops, or information on local independent merchants, playgrounds and so on? Why not envision transit stops as starting points?
It's revealed that the St. Clair streetcar expansion will see an experiment in time-based transfers: hop off and hop on. Participants seize on this as an example of what inspires them. "The transit route suddenly envelops more of the space around it," says Madhava.
If organizers' obvious passion for the cause holds, similar endeavours could help communities expand as well. This group is mostly educated, white downtowners; if we start dealing with how to make the system accessible to the suburbs, to newcomers, to people without laptops, then the democratic promise of the city could be kept.
By afternoon, interim general manager Gary Webster has joined the mix; he spends most of his time listening. "It's amazing how keen people are," he remarks, agog as members of the "design slam" discuss proposals for the TTC website, signage and subway cars.
There's something sad and beautiful about the TTC's own GM being amazed by enthusiasm for the system he runs. That's not a knock against Webster; rather, it shows how much a renewal is needed. And it's a clue about a vital truth that upper management, beset as it is by the pressures of running the system on a box of shoelaces, has neglected to communicate: transit is not simply infrastructure.
Keen about waiting in the cold for a full streetcar to pass you by? Not so much. Keen about a $2.75 cash fare? No. Even the subway station buttons speak less to our affection for, say, Victoria Park, than to our love for the city - a revelling in the points of intersection between self and others, in the public intimacy of ridership, in the intersection of individual motion and the city's currents.
If we celebrate the stops, it's because they represent milestones on the map though they rush past the window, like the lovers who pass through our lives.