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article imageU of T student finds a better way to keep TTC riders informed

By Karen Graham     Feb 2, 2018 in Technology
Toronto - Henry Hoàng Tran is a newcomer to Toronto, and he quickly figured out some of the many reasons locals love to hate the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). Instead of complaining, he decided he would help the TTC out.
With a daily average of nearly 3.0 million passengers, the TTC is the most heavily used urban mass transit system in all of Canada, and the third largest in North America, after the New York City Transit Authority and Mexico City Metro.
Tran, who is in the final year of his master's program at the Faculty of Information and specializes in User Experience Design (UXD), experienced the same delays and overcrowding other passengers using the TTC system had to deal with. Tran also found that information on the digital screens meant to provide information about subway delays was frequently unhelpful.
Megan Seto
“I wanted to do something for the TTC,” says Tran, so he applied to work at the transit commission as a co-op student. During his interview for the eight-month co-op placement with the TTC’s customer experience team, he suggested how things could be improved and landed the job.
Digital display signage needed updating
The TTC, in partnership with OneStop Media Group, installed large LCD television screens in major stations throughout their system, doing away with the old "Subway Online" system. The screens show weather a sports and news headlines, but don't show whether a train is running, a pet peeve of many passengers
The TTC started out 2018 by unveiling redesigned digital display signage that is supposed to reduce the perceived wait times for trains and at the same time keep passengers entertained while they wait. Tran was responsible for the changes, especially the new band at the bottom of the screen known as the next train arrival prediction ticker.
While the screen used to tell commuters nothing more than when they could expect the next train or if it was delayed, it now shows both the line number logo and the final destination as well. “The whole of Toronto is looking at my product,” he texted when he sent pictures to his mother in Vietnam.
Tran says this is just a small step in implementing change, but things will get better. He says passengers should be looking out for additional information on the signage. TTC will soon include a second prediction ticker “to provide riders with a lot more information that matters to their journey.”
One thing Tran hopes for is that the estimated train arrival times on the new prediction displays will get more accurate. The customer experience team looks at the overall real-time information management system, and this also includes the announcements to passengers and the methods being used by TTC employees in entering delays into the system.
As it is, Trans says that of the estimated 200 service alerts received each day, half of them are what he calls “disturbing information” of little or no value. And one of the big issues was that if transit control heard about a delay, it was simply passed along to the passengers. But by the time some of these notices reached passengers, the issue was cleared up.
Henry Hoàng Tran uses his Faculty of Information specialty in his work for the Toronto Transit Comm...
Henry Hoàng Tran uses his Faculty of Information specialty in his work for the Toronto Transit Commission.
Ha Nguyen
What the Customer Experience Team accomplished
The team redesigned the software and algorithm so that a delay notice is now made only if the computer calculates the delay is unresolved after two minutes. This should eliminate false delay messages.
Tran says. “The system is now easier to use and more intuitive for TTC employees,” he says. “As a result, the service information is more accurate and reliable.”
New standards for public announcements were also developed. These announcements used to be done by individual employees using somewhat vague guidelines. This resulted in inconsistencies in the messages. With the new system, announcements are prioritized automatically and computer generated.
Tran explains this is meant to reduce the commuters’ “cognitive load," or as he says, “to reduce the stress so that people are not freaking out.” As an example, the line number will always come first on an announcement. Passengers can tune out if the line isn't their problem, and it won’t affect their journey.
When his co-op placement ended last December, Tran was asked to stay on at the TTC in a part-time role to work on ongoing projects. He credits Olivier St-Cyr, an assistant professor, teaching stream, for his success, emphasizing that before he came to the Faculty of Information, he had no knowledge of UXD.
The TTC publishes a Daily Customer Service Report, and it gives viewers information on the company's performance. The scorecard is just one of many initiatives underway to increase accountability and transparency. On today's scorecard, a viewer can see at a glance that the TTC is still having problems with on-time departures and punctuality.
More about Ttc, digital display, service alerts, Delays results, Technology
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