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Toronto Transit Camp wrap-up

On Sunday, nearly 100 Toronto transit enthusiasts converged on the Gladstone Hotel to take part in Toronto Transit Camp. The gathering was called an “un-conference” because the schedule and topics of discussions are dictated by the participants on the day of the event.

The morning sessions took a while to get started, probably due to the frigid temperature and all of the sleepy eyes I saw. I took part in the “TTC Art Projects” session lead by illustrators Julia Breckenreid (a regular Spacing contributor) and Sandra Dionisi. A lot of the suggestions that came out of the discussion were reasonable and, I think, do-able. Some of the ideas floated were: art installations dominating a station, much like certain ad campaigns do; art installation dominating inside a subway/streetcar; image projections onto the walls of subway tunnels to make a moving movie (perfect example of this kind of art performed in Berlin subway system); a Flickr pool of photos that could feed into the video screens on subway platforms; competition to design monthly Metropass; encourage a theatre play on a streetcar during Fringe Festival; and a TTC scavenger hunt.

In the afternoon, I helped lead a discussion on TTC merchandise and self-promotion. We used the success of our subway buttons as a starting point: for three weeks I got the run-around from TTC staff who eventually told me I couldn’t pitch my idea to them because they would have to tender the contract for it first. I explained that the TTC cannot read my brain, so how can they tender a contract of my idea?

Most everyone in the group agreed that the TTC needs to start looking at a variety of merchandise options outside of their lone supplier Legacy Sportswear (which runs the very sad kiosk TTC Stuff in Union Station). We did learn that Legacy’s contract with the TTC is not an exclusive one, but they have right-of-first-refusal on merch items. Obviously, this opens the door for folks like us who wish to create interesting items inspired by the TTC (and don’t fit into the tired look of tourist-oriented swag).

On the self-promotion front, there was unanimous agreement that the TTC’s marketing efforts are hit-and-miss. Some are successful (the bus or streetcar parked in a driveway is rarely derided) while others really make creative-types cringe (the anti-litter/pig mask campaign comes to mind). Probably the best suggestion was that the TTC needs to determine what are its core marketing values — if those guiding principles are lacking, it will be hard to create a coherent message to its riders and potential riders. It was also noted that Toronto has a hard time marketing itself (see Toronto Unlimited, new Live With Culture ads), and the TTC’s own lack of sophisticated branding helps solidify that claim.

But there is already small, but productive, steps underway at TTC HQ to change this tide of mis-marketing. In a meeting I had with TTC Chair Adam Giambrone in early January, I suggested that the TTC does a horrible job promoting its own cultural connection to the city. I proposed a series of historical photos be produced that could be used to dominate a station. This series could float around from station to station, month to month. Mr. Giambrone notified me on the weekend that this idea is now being worked upon, and has a real possibility of making into our stations sometime soon.

As the day wrapped up, I felt confident that the event was as successful as it could’ve been. There was a good mix of people: decent balance of gender, a mix of ethnicities, relatively youthful, not dominated by rail fans, though it was certainly a middle-class/disposable income demographic. But probably the most encouraging part of Transit Camp was the attendance of senior TTC management, commisioners, and staff. TTC Chair Adam Giambrone and his executive assistant Kevin Beaulieu were there; Vice Chair Joe Mihevc was there; General Manager of the TTC Gary Webster hung around all afternoon; Marketing Director Alice Smith and her staff sat in on discussions.

A wide-spread feeling amongst most young transit enthusiasts is that there is a metaphoric wall between us and the old guard at the TTC. Whenever we have to deal with the TTC we have to go to their turf, either at TTC HQ atop Davisville Station or to TTC Commissioners’ meetings at City Hall. This was a chance to have them come to our home turf. With events like Transit Camp, that wall (we’ll say its made with ice to reflect our current temperature outside) is begginning to thaw, and this is good news for everyone who cares about improving the myriad of issues that engulf our transit system.

To read more about the event check out these posts:
• Reading Toronto: part I, part II
• Joey deVilla, the Accordian Guy: follow-up #1
• Julia Breckenreid: TTC Camp results
• David Crow: The Future will be Wikified
• Mark Kuznicki: Toronto Transit Camp: “Trojan Pony”
• Treehugger: Taking back the city
• Gagglescape: TTC Camp outwikinomics
• Flickr photos: tagged torontotransitcamp

photos by Bryce J