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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Minister talks Northern issues

Minister Michael Gravelle shows himself to be more open to discussions and interviews. While there aren't any developments, it is clear that the ONTC issue is being taken more seriously than it was under the previous Premier.
>>> Minister talks Northern issues | Timmins Press <<<

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Life with PRESTO

For the past three weeks, I have joined the anonymous tribe of commuters in the Toronto Area for the daily pilgrimage from the suburbs to the city. In all, nearly 200,000 people use GO Transit to do this. For someone who loves railways, these three weeks were quite significant as they marked the first time I had ever taken a train on a regular basis - a feat ever more impressive when you consider that I don't have a driver's license and have thus not simply substituted one means of transport for another. Unlike the majority of commuters, I was not travelling to go to work, but rather for archival research. It was this that made me pay attention to those travelling around me.

I am an observant person anyway - it is in the nature of authors and photographers to be so - but my searching through old boxes of documents made me especially so. I used the word "tribe" very deliberately to describe commuters as I think that social scientists should pay more attention to this interesting group. The commuters' conventions of lining up to board the train, the repetition of where to sit, of "owning" a seat and the rift in the space-time continuum when one fails to get ones usual square foot. Consider also how we choose who we sit next to. Generally, I sit wherever I can get a seat facing forward, but subconsciously I am assessing gender, age, disposition, facial expression and I'm sure other factors I haven't even considered. Although the behavioural science of commuting is interesting, it is peripheral to the main topic of this piece: PRESTO.

Just as both jobs and the trains that take people to them are going high-tech, ticketing technology has also evolved. Gone are the cardboard monthly passes as well as the beloved 2 and 10-ride tickets which needed to be cancelled before each trip in a process known affectionately in my family as "kachunking". While the single and return tickets remain, the others have all fallen to the PRESTO smart card, a credit card-sized piece of plastic similar to other systems used around the world.

Although the rollout has been slow (and is far from complete) and the system's installation cost is one of the highest in the world, the system has worked well for me. The initial registration of the card was complicated and the autoload feature did take days to work properly, but once that was complete, the system could not be simpler. At each end of the journey, I hold the card against a reader to deduct money for the cost of the journey. While it doesn't "kachunk", it does beep - leading to a new verb in my family: to "beepy-beepy".

The PRESTO card is part of the surge in new digital technology which has so changed our society by placing so much data into computer code, a medium that has proven disturbingly permanent. Normally, I refuse store loyalty cards on principle: why would I want to attach my complete purchase history to my name so that marketers could follow and predict my every decision? It seems that the more freedom the digital world supposedly gives us, the more our behaviour enslaves us to governments and corporations. It is then paradoxical, if not hypocritical, that I registered my PRESTO card and set an autoload. The entire system is set up to allow you to make anonymous cash top-ups, but I chose to automate everything because it was easy. As a result, I never had to worry about being unable to pay the fare, but my travel history has now also been recorded in startling detail. For instance, on the 22nd of August, 2013:

  • 6:42 am - I deduct money for a trip starting at the Whitby GO station
  • 7:38 am - I end my journey and deduct the balance of the cost of my trip at Toronto Union station
  • 5:21 pm - I deduct money for a trip starting at Toronto Union Station
  • 6:35 pm - I end my journey and deduct the balance of the cost of my trip at the Whitby GO station
  • 6:35 pm - my card autoloads
  • 6:41 pm - I deduct money for a Durham Region Transit bus (I was lazy)

While this does not tell you where I live, or where I went and what I did in Toronto, the picture is disturbingly clear. In many ways, this is more invasive than any loyalty scheme, even allowing you to construe the discounted fares available for using PRESTO cards as a sort of payment for data, yet I still chose to do it without a great deal of worry. That is the key to data mining in the 21st century - we don't worry about it. This brings me back to the start of this entire commentary: commuters.

Technology has indeed allowed our actions and decisions to be logged like never before. In return, we have been able to access content from the remotest parts of the world. GO Trains are no exception to this, whereas commuters once read books or newspapers, today they are more likely to catch up on work or videos on LCD screen-adorned devices. Adding this to the already invasive noise of cellular telephones has compelled GO to introduce "Quiet Zones" on all rush-hour trains. For my part, I look out the window, while those around me are engrossed in their latest gadgets, thankfully now mostly in silence.

My research is now complete and so I have abandoned the tribe to resume my normal, less traceable life. I have enjoyed the train journeys immensely, just as I enjoyed watching my fellow commuters. There is but one question that lingers in my mind: who will get my now-vacant seat today?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Few details following ONTC meeting

If one word could sum up what happened yesterday, it would be "frank." All the coverage suggests that the meeting between Michael Gravelle and the advisory committee was useful and "frank." Al McDonald claimed it was the most productive meeting yet. What was said? Haven't a clue, but nothing is set in stone.
>>> Few details following ONTC meeting | North Bay Nugget <<<

Monday, August 26, 2013

Démantèlement d'Ontario Northland : le ministre en visite à North Bay

Un rendez-vous de la comité de Michael Gravelle va prendre place à North Bay aujourd'hui. Les syndicats ne planifient pas de manifestation car le gouvernement a changé de comportement, adoptant un style plutôt conciliatoire.
>>> Démantèlement d'Ontario Northland : le ministre en visite à North Bay | <<<

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Memory Junction

Memory Junction by Thomas Blampied
Memory Junction, a photo by Thomas Blampied on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
The Memory Junction Museum in Brighton, Ontario is an interesting place to visit and an excellent place to watch trains. Here, VIA 912 passes with Train 61 on August 17th, 2013. / Le musée Memory Junction à Brighton en Ontario est un lieu intéressant à visiter et un endroit excellent pour observer les trains. Dans cette photo, la locomotive VIA 912 passe le musée avec le train 61 le 17 août, 2013.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Group fights for passenger trains

I wish NEORN the best of luck. Ontario needs more passenger rail now. Much of the infrastructure is already in place, all we need is the political will to get the trains rolling.
>>> Group fights for passenger trains | North Bay Nugget <<<

Saturday, August 17, 2013

NEORN Launches Monday

The North Eastern Ontario Rail Network, a partnership between local rail groups and Transport Action Ontario, is officially launching Monday in North Bay. While the scope of their mandate is the entirety of northern and eastern Ontario, the fate of the ONTC is their first priority as it remains intact.

If you are able to join them in North Bay on Monday, please do!

Details can be found on the NEORN website.

GCA disappointed community leaders not involved in meeting with Gravelle

So the meeting wasn't as ground-breaking as people had hoped, but the chance for discussions this fall is a positive step.
>>> GCA disappointed community leaders not involved in meeting with Gravelle <<<

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Rails of the GTA 1 & 2 at the Toronto Railway Museum

My two books of railway photographs in the Toronto area, Rails of the GTA and Rails of the GTA Volume 2, are now for sale at the Toronto Railway Museum. As an extra treat, the copies are autographed. Signed copies are not available anywhere else.

Visit the Toronto Railway Museum online for visiting information.

La MMA perd son permis au Canada

Une décision inévitable, mais qu'est-ce qui arrive au transport ferroviaire dans la région?
>>> La MMA perd son permis au Canada | <<<

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Corktown Common

Corktown Common by Thomas Blampied
Corktown Common, a photo by Thomas Blampied on Flickr.
Via Flickr:
Waterfront Toronto has opened the new Corktown Common Park by the Don River for the summer. This provides an excellent new location for rail photography, as this shot of VIA 904 with Train 61 on August 9th shows. / Waterfront Toronto vient d'ouvrir le nouveau parc Corktown Common pour l'été. Ceci a créé un nouveau endroit parfait pour la photographie ferroviaire, comme cette image de VIA 904 et le train 61 le 9 août y indique.

For more information / pour plus de renseignements: Waterfront Toronto (Corktown Common)

Monday, August 05, 2013

GO's New Colours / Les nouvelles couleurs de GO

GO's New Colours / Les nouvelles couleurs de GO by Thomas Blampied
GO's New Colours / Les nouvelles couleurs de GO, a photo by Thomas Blampied on Flickr.

GO Transit has recently repainted locomotive 607 into their new GO and Metrolinx colours. I think it weakens a strong image. Train 925 at Whitby, August 4. / GO Transit a récemment peinturé la locomotive 607 en nouvelles couleurs de GO et Metrolinx. Je pense que ça affaibli une marque très reconnue. Train 925 à Whitby, le 4 août.

The Canadian / Le Canadien

Via Flickr:
VIA locomotives 6435 and 6446 have just left Toronto's Union Station after their journey from Vancouver with train #2, the "Canadian". August 1. / Les locomotives 6435 et 6446 de VIA viennent de quitter la gare Union à Toronto après avoir terminées le voyage de Vancouver avec le train numéro 2, le "Canadien". Le premier août.

Via Rail mulls tighter security after alleged terror plot

This revelation was inevitable. There was no way that the alleged terror plot would not mean more security and the inconvenience that this brings to passengers. One of the key marketing points for rail travel is that you can avoid the hassle of airports by taking the train. The less convenient rail travel becomes, the more people will once again think twice about taking the train.

That said, the proposed VIA security enhancements appear to be mostly 'behind the scenes' such as increased checked baggage scrutiny and linking baggage with passenger lists. Even ID checks are not the end of the world, even if they are annoying. My concern is that this might only be the beginning.

Finally, on a practical note: how does VIA intend to implement these procedures? Only weeks ago, VIA announced further job cuts, including decreasing the number of manned stations. How can you scrutinise baggage when there isn't a manned station?

>>> Via Rail mulls tighter security after alleged terror plot - CBC News <<<

Sunday, August 04, 2013

GO Underground / GO souterrain

Via Flickr:
Thanks to the new "Puente de Luz" between Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street in Toronto, it is now possible to photograph the GO flyunder. Here, GO Cab 237 leads train 911 on August 1. / Grace au nouveau "Puente de Luz" entre les rues Spadina et Bathurst à Toronto, il est maintenant possible de photographier le "flyunder" de GO. Voici la cabine de contrôle numéro 237 en avant du train 911 le premier août.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

VIA at Port Union / VIA à Port Union

Via Flickr:
VIA 911 with Toronto-Montreal train 60 passes Port Union (Scarborough) on July 25, 2013. / VIA 911 avec le train Toronto-Montréal numéro 60 à Port Union (Scarborough) le 25 juillet 2013.