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You’ll never believe how ancient the TTC’s technology actually is (there’s a blacksmith involved)

(Image: Jeff Samsonow)

(Image: Jeff Samsonow)

Fresh off an apology for Monday morning’s awful commute, TTC CEO Andy Byford appeared on CBC’s Metro Morning today to talk about some of the problems that plague Toronto’s transit system. The interview seemed to be an attempt to drum up political support for city spending on new equipment for the TTC, and it just may work, because the technology situation Byford described was borderline medieval.

First, there’s the 1970s-vintage system the TTC uses to communicate with streetcar and bus drivers, which Byford described as, “basically a text system that you can send text messages to 10 vehicles at a time.” Drivers have to acknowledge a message before TTC officials can communicate with other vehicles. In short, Toronto’s surface-transit network runs on pagers. Byford said the TTC’s 2014 capital budget request includes money for a new radio system. That budget request is still subject to approval from city council.

Also somewhat appalling was an offhand comment Byford made about streetcar maintenance. Professionally manufactured spare parts are scarce, and so the TTC has turned to a low-tech solution: “We have a blacksmith that has to make the parts,” Byford said. That’s right: someone is literally forging new streetcar bits to order, as though they were renaissance faire broadswords.

The situation should improve once the TTC has replaced its aging streetcar fleet with next-generation vehicles, the first of which are supposed to start rolling down Spadina Avenue in 2014. If that fails, we’re sure the TTC has a good surrey-maker in its Rolodex.