Friday, November 27, 2009

The Politics of Pettiness

Canada’s largest transit system continues to bungle a boondoggle of a mess, stranding riders all to save a buck.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) announced earlier this month they were going to raise fares by a quarter. These fare increases are nothing new, Canada’s largest public transit system continually is ignored by all three levels of government.

The fare increase of a mere quarter may not seem like much to those of us sitting in our luxury SUVs,

Toronto Transit Commission #6715Image by TransferPoint via Flickr

but means a great deal to the lower class, working poor, which comprises the majority of the TTC’s over 460 million passengers annually (last year the service set an annual record, with just over 466 million riders.)

For most of those regular riders, the TTC is their only method of travel, so they depend on the service to do life’s basic necessities – such as going to the grocery store to buy food, going the drugstore to get much needed medicines, and going to work to earn an income to pay for it all.

But, in a boneheaded move which still has many of Toronto’s transit riders – and even some of us who don’t take the service – shaking our heads in bewilderment, the TTC has made it almost impossible for many riders to take the service, all in attempt to prevent lost fare revenues.

Just prior to fare increases, the metal tokens passengers use to pay for the service normally sold in abundant supplies are limited. This is done to prevent hoarding of tokens, so that those taking the service don’t stock up at the old price.

But this year, the TTC announced they weren’t selling tokens at all, until the new higher fare took effect in the New Year. Instead, they’d be issuing temporary tickets which would become invalid immediately in January.

Problem though, some TTC riders were left stranded where they

Toronto Transit Commission #1350Image by TransferPoint via Flickr

were, simply because they didn’t have any tokens left, and these temporary tickets were nowhere to be found. The TTC claims they printed enough of these temporary tickets to meet demand, but admits they supplied their subway collectors first, and that many retailers had called in complaining they were out of stock.

So, if you happened to be within walking distance of a subway station, no problem, you could make the hike to get these new tickets – which incidentally were introduced in a period of less than 24-hours, even the media didn’t know about this new scheme until the night before. But if you weren’t within walking distance of one of the 69 subway stations, you were out of luck.

The TTC’s excuse? It estimates it could lose about $13 million in fare revenues by people buying tokens in bulk prior to the fare increase, so they cut off the token supply. But in so doing, they also cut off access to the system for their riders – which in effect would cost them fare revenues because people couldn’t get onto the system.

Usually tickets are sold without any limits, because newer tickets are printed when the new higher fare takes effect, so collectors and drivers can tell when someone is attempting to use an older, outdated ticket. The tokens on the other hand, are continually re-used.

But in past years, to beat the fare increases, or even to ride for free, some creative-types were able to duplicate the paper tickets, essentially creating their own exact copies.

TTC Strike ExplanationsImage by Canon Fodder XT via Flickr

So, earlier this year, the TTC stopped selling tickets altogether, only issuing either tokens or passes. This only compounds the problems once the TTC stopped selling tokens – which was a really bad idea period.

Who’s brain-dead idea was it to suddenly, and without any warning, stop selling the primary payment method most of the over 460 million annual riders use to take the transit service? That’s like your bank suddenly telling you they no longer accept cash.

As per usual with Canada’s largest transit system, time will pass and eventually cooler heads will prevail, as people forget the current fiasco. Though if the suits and ties that drive to their offices in their own personal vehicles, instead of taking the actual service they manage, actually cared about the service they provide – or in this case failed to provide – heads would roll.

In any other company, a marketing, public relations and customer service blunder as big as this would cost those responsible for the mess their jobs.

Not Canada’s largest transit system – it just plows on through as if nothing went wrong. And that perhaps is even worse than the mistake in the first place. We all make mistakes, but the TTC’s top brass is too arrogant to own up to their mistakes.

Not that they didn’t learn anything from this whole mess – but learning from one’s mistakes is only part of the resolution. One also has to be willing to take ownership and acceptance of the initial mistake to make a real difference in the lives of those affected.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

New Canada Is the Racially Tense America of the Past

Educators in Canada’s largest city must like jar collections, because they certainly are turning the school system into one.

A jar collection is a mix-mash of stuff you can put into a jar, one jar for each item. Some collectors have different jams, others bottle caps, the point is everything gets put in its own jar. Nice and neat, and nothing interacts with the stuff in the other jars.

That’s just what the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) – Canada’s largest public school board – is doing to solve their child rearing problems.
Justify Full
Black kids not getting along with the other kids? No problem, TDSB created a black only school. This idea originated ironically just as the United S

en:Birchmount Park Collegiate InstituteImage via Wikipedia

tates of America swore in their first black president, showing how far race relations have come in the States. We Canadians can learn a thing or two from our neighbors to the south.

The current problem the TDSB is trying to solve using their separate, isolate and divide mentality is immigration. There is a school in the city’s north-east end in a neighborhood where immigration is so high, they haven’t room for the 600-plus kindergarten-aged children. So, the TDBS has raised the notion of creating a kindergarten only school, just to accommodate all the newcomer’s kids to this country.

It is one thing to keep your strawberry jam in one bottle, so as to not mix it with your grape jelly. It is quite another to separate young kids of different ages, ethnic backgrounds and cultural heritages.

By separating kids on these levels, they don’t interact – and learn and grow – with these kids from different ages, ethnic backgrounds and cultural heritages.
And that fosters hate, racism and bigotry, which are traits which should not be a part of any country’s cultural fabric, let alone a country that prides itself on welcoming people from all nations, such as Canada.

The TDSB may disguise this racist segregation using weasel words such as “black focused school,” or practical arguments such as the fact that they have over 600 kids in one grade, where normally they have maybe 60 to 100 kids in that one grade. But let’s be crystal clear – they are separating kids from all other cultures, and isolating them in their own schools.

Having a “black focused school” is pretty obvious, but the same thing is being done with the immigrant children. Yes the kindergarten classes are standi

The head office of the Toronto District School...Image via Wikipedia

ng-room only full, but the immigrants tend to all be from one cultural group. So intentional or not, once again the TDSB will be separating kids from one specific ethnic group, from everyone else.

A more traditionally Canadian solution would be to break up the kindergarten among other schools in nearby communities, placing kids in other schools across a geographic radius. But the TDSB is following the current trends of racial segregation and cultural divides.

One of the biggest on-going problems in Canada has been the segregation of cultural communities.

Over twenty-years ago, Canada really was a cultural mosaic. The streets were humming with kids from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, playing, learning and growing up together. I remember growing up, playing tag with the other kids in the neighborhood – I always seemed to be “it.” I knew my next door neighbors were Italian, the kids from across the street were Polish, there was a family from the Ukraine, and a few other global villages represented by the other kids. I never really noticed when I was a kid growing up, back then, I was just a geeky little boy, trying to catch one of the other kids so I wouldn’t still be “it.”

The families of these children for the most part got along with their neighbors, embracing the various cultural differences, learning and growing from one another. All the parents looked out for each other’s kids. If a kid scraped his or her knee, it didn’t matter which house he or she went too, the band-aids weren’t cultural-specific, and the parents didn’t care what color the kid’s skin was. They just did what any good parent would do, by mending the kid’s knee, offering a smile and some kind words to make the hurt go away.

Not any more – walk into many a Canadian neighborhood these days and you’ll know instantly what ethnic or cultural part of town you are in. We have China Town, Little Italy, the Greek Village – but we don’t have that once wonderful and amazing Canadian street where cultural ethnicity does not matter, and the kids and parents learn, love and laugh together regardless of the accent of the laugh, or the color of the skin.

I miss that Canada – because that was – and should still be – what it really means to be Canadian.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Ups and Downs of a Year End

As the fall winds blow colder, the days shrink while the nights grow longer, we are obviously coming to the end of another year. That and all the best and worst of the year lists popping up all over the place, tells us 2009 is almost over.

I was reading some of these recently – Time Magazine probably has one of the most interesting, the best inventions of 2009 – though many of these gadgets I’ve never heard of until reading their list.

Fortune Magazine came up with the top leader-producing companies in th

Fortune (magazine)Image via Wikipedia

e world of 2009 – though the list is dubious at best, for a global list of companies, all but a handful of the winners are in the magazine’s home country.

This fad is just gearing up, but happens every year – newspapers, magazines, television stations and radio stations all come out with their lists of the top this, the worst that, the best of the year all summarized in sound bites and small font faces.

Originally this concept was created to fill space. Towards the end of the year, as people everywhere begin to take time off work for the “holiday” season, there is less happening in the world because – well everyone is or going on a holiday.

Newsrooms slowdown, as the amount of breaking news stories slows to a trickle; so much so, journalists really have to come up with some creative ideas to fill their pages and air-time.

The best of the year list was born – a quick and easy piece for any experienced journalist to write. Just come up with an idea – say the best television shows of 2009 – and then make the rest up. The best of anything is usually

Donald Trump at a press conference announcing ...Image via Wikipedia

a highly subjective opinion anyway – who’s going to know you weren’t drunk scribbling your notes in crayon while crouching next to the toilet as you made your list?

Not all of these lists are “manufactured” in these off-the-cuff ways, but they all are just one or more people’s ideas, influenced and tainted by their own personal experiences, rather than based on some actual hardcore research.

Some of those personal experiences even come from being wined and dined, treated, bought gifts, and being taken on trips by the key players. Disney was known for taking journalists out on these “junkets” where they were flown in from around the world, to spend a week-long, all expense paid trip to Disneyland.
Naturally, the journalists that went on these free trips always spoke very highly of Disney and its products and services – else they wouldn’t get invited back next year for another free vacation.

Then there are journalists, or even whole news outfits with an axe to grind, so they come up with lists of the worst of the year, to blatantly attack companies and people they just don’t like.

030904-N-9593R-008 Washington, D.C. – Recordin...Image via Wikipedia

Who cares if Donald Trump has the worst hair, Britney Spears the worst outfit, Hannah Montana the most over-hyped show – it’s not going to affect me, my friends or my family – so why is it being reported? Maybe “the Donald” pissed off a reporter by not granting an interview, so now this reporter is getting back at him by creating a list just for him?

Unless the listing specifically says it is based on some actual research, say an actual public opinion poll with a proper Census of a Metropolitan Area (CMA), or other such proven research method, chances are the best or worst list you are reading was simply made up.

When I was a journalist, they were – and still are – great ways to fill space. Sometimes they even make international headlines, such as the annual Time Person of the Year. But even Time Magazine’s choice for who should be the person of the year is based on a biased opinion formulated by a group of individuals, rather than on some actual study.

Maybe next year someone will create the worst of the best of the year list?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

When Religion and Politics Meet – WHAMO – Instant Controversy

Last week, the Canadian federal Liberal Party accused the ruling federal Conservative Party of distributing targeted pamphlets suggesting that the Liberal Party was anti-Semitic.

These pamphlets ask voters to choose which federal leader is “on the rig

Conservative Party of CanadaImage via Wikipedia

ht track to represent and defend the values of Canada’s Jewish community.” They were distributed in five Liberal-held ridings, with large Jewish populations, by the federal Conservative Party of Canada.

The pamphlets compare Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper against federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff’s support of Jewish political causes.
Naturally, these pamphlets were paid for in part by all Canadians, from taxpayer dollars – regardless of what religious beliefs you hold.

Look out – whenever politicians bring religious values to the debate, nothing good ever happens.

What the Conservative Party of Canada did wasn’t by accident, yet they have been asked to apologize by the Liberal Party of Canada.

Mailing out pamphlets specifically to Jewish-dominant areas, discussing the opposition party’s lack of Jewish-based political support didn’t just happen – it was obviously carefully planned.

One could argue that it is no different than a toy company mailing out pamp

Stephen Harper gives a victory speech to party...Image via Wikipedia

hlets to areas with lots of families with children – they are specifically targeting potential customers.

However, the difference here is, governments aren’t supposed to represent any one specific faith or religious group – they are supposed to be relatively neutral, looking out for all citizens best interests.

What’s next – will the Liberals fight back by targeting highly Muslim areas, and show how their leader was more pro-Muslim than the Conservative leader?

Canada is one of the most diverse nations on Earth – rightly or wrongly we let anyone into our country. Some known terrorists have got in, and there are always questions about how many cultures fail to accept Canadian values – which causes many problems here.

Image via WikipediaMichael Ignatieff

Still, we have many pocket communities, each dominated by one specific cultural or religious group. Some areas are Muslim, some Jewish, some Chinese, some Greek, some . . . you get the idea.

This makes it very easy for governments to send out religious or cultural-based propaganda to specific areas, and raises the question – should governments be taking religious or cultural sides?

Not being Muslim, if I receive something clearly from my federal government in a Muslim language, with images and icons from that culture, I’d be offended as I’d feel like an outside in my own land.

Being Jewish, if I received the pamphlets that the Conservatives sent out, I’d naturally be curious – but then I’d also be somewhat suspicious – why are they ignoring the over 250 other nationalities in this once great land of ours?

Once great is right – with isolationistic cultures being allowed to live, work and play in this country, without accepting basic Canadian values, this country nose dives from its once great glory. Add to this, governments that send out cultural-specific mailings, in a sense encouraging this alienation and isolationistic mentality, and one day, Canada won’t be Canada any more.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Fall of Great Cities

Urban Planning Gone Wrong
Last week, over 300,000 commuters in Canada’s largest city were suddenly displaced, when the city’s subway system was suddenly out of service.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) shut down a portion of one of the city’s three subway routes, due to a construction mishap during the afternoon rush hour.

Almost immediately, hundreds of thousands of people had no way to get home. The TTC did add extra buses on surface routes, but a bus holding about 35-45 people is no substitute for a subway train which can carry several times that many.

Commuter bottleneck after a V train arrives on...Image via Wikipedia

Quickly the shuttle buses filled up – actually overfilled would be more like it – to the point where bus drivers were only stopping to allow people lucky enough to hitch a ride off.

This meant an estimated 300,000 people had no way of getting home during one of the busiest times for the ailing transit system.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, just a few months ago during the summer, the whole line had to be shut down during the afternoon rush hour, again leaving hundreds of thousands of transit riders without a method to get home.

Drivers weren’t any better off, in both instances, major north-south roads were closed to all but shuttle buses by police, causing traffic chaos for those of us in our own personal vehicles. Thousands of cars lined the downtown core, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of angry pedestrians, being forced to walk – all because of Toronto’s failing public transit system. If this were a scene from a big block buster Hollywood movie, it might be a cool – but this horror was no movie.

Extra police – some in riot gear – were on scene, to ensure frustrated motorists, pedestrians and just anyone else in the center of Canada’s largest city, didn’t misbehave during this example of urban planning gone horribly wrong. T

City of TorontoImage via Wikipedia

hese made one of the wealthiest first nation countries on the planet resemble a war zone.

Traffic in most cities around the world is constantly getting worse, as more people move to areas outside of the cities to live, but continue to work within those cities. This has forced interdependence upon personal vehicles – you need a car to go from your home in the suburbs to work in the city and back again.

With this urban sprawl, you’d figure the largest cities in the world would listen to the warnings and heed the advice of urban planners like legendary planning guru Jane Jacobs. Jacobs (best known for her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities), a native of the States, in her later years moved to Toronto, Canada where she was very vocal about the decay of North American cities. She predicted how Canada’s cities would follow the same dreadful path to self-destruction, if infrastructure improvements didn’t keep pace with population increases, and if our cities didn’t become centers to live AND work in, instead of what they have become – just places to work in.

That’s how poor ghettos are formed, surrounded by wealthy suburbs.

Jacobs passed away in her 80’s a few years ago, but many urban planners, academics and other braniacs that study these things have continued to sound the alarm on the dire state our most heavily populated places poor planning.

Basic infrastructures have continued to be maintained – sewage and solid waste systems, electrical power grids, even natural gas lines in some areas have all expanded north of our cities, fostering new neighborhoods. But no new major highways have been built to accommodate all those extra cars and trucks going back and forth from the city to the suburbs.

Mass public transit systems (like subways, light rail systems, or even bus lanes) have also not been put into the equation. Meaning the few highways in and out of our major urban centers become disaster zones during the morning, afternoon and weekend rush hours.

Our cities become corrupt, dirty, dangerous and desperate areas, as those living in them are the working poor that can’t afford the luxury of a personal vehicle, so they are stuck in areas serviced by public transit.

As the poor get poorer, and the rich get richer – something which has been occurring now for the past two-decades by many accounts – our cities continue to become urban slums – ghettos for the poor.

As politicians cater to the rich and powerful that support their election campaigns, funding continues to be diverted to services for many who don’t even live in the city – the rich and the powerful living in the posh suburbs.

Cover of "The Death and Life of Great Ame...Cover via Amazon

This ignorance of the very people within the city limits harms us all – roads don’t get built, transit systems continue to be underfunded, both of which collide into a fatal head-on collision during peak travel times.

Ironic as it is, that’s the sad fate of our urban centers, thanks to greedy inept politicians and poor urban planning which doesn’t meet the needs of the majority of the city’s population.

Once safe, friendly and prosperous cities become more crime-ridden, places of danger and despair, as poor planning causes economic disparity. A disproportionate spread of educated, middle class continue to leave the city, to call the suburbs home – though all the jobs remain in the city.

This is because it is easier for companies to find cheap, unskilled labor off major public transit lines, so the poorer city residents continue to live and work in our cities. While the higher-paid skilled workers also work in the city, but they live anywhere but the city.

Politicians, thinking they are scratching the backs of those who will help them win their jobs back in the next election, pump money into expansion of city-run sewers, electrical systems, and other support systems from the city to the suburbs.

This encourages new neighborhoods for the suburbs, but they don’t create any new major highways or transit system expansions from these neighborhoods to the city.

The politicians know no one wants a major highway running through their backyard, so instead of doing the right thing, the do what is politically correct – and least likely to alienate the very people who can elect that person back into office.

So the new urban sprawl continues, traffic congestion gets worse as the middle class and up shifts from the city to the ‘burbs’ leaving the poorer lower classes in our cities, and in the end, our once wonderful cities become victims of their own demise.

Just ask the over 300,000 people who were stuck without a way to get home during last week’s subway shut-down – that’s almost a half-million people. And that doesn’t include the thousands of people in their cars and trucks, trying to get out of the city, to their suburban home.

Poor Jane Jacobs, she must be rolling over in her grave, shaking her fist, as she says: “I told you so.”

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, November 20, 2009

U. S. Economy Heading Towards Another Crash

Both Canadian and American governments have boldly declared the worst economic downturn since The Great Depression over, finished, D.O.A.

Don’t know what the economists in those countries are smoking, but the facts don’t backup that claim.

Unemployment in both countries actually rose last month over previous ones, and in the United States, there are other faltering factors all pointing to the possibility of another credit crunch and crash.

American consumer spending is still contracting, and although the price of

Barack Obama and Michelle ObamaImage via Wikipedia

homes rose slightly in the summer in the States, those prices are falling again – mainly because people aren’t buying homes – or any big ticket items. Credit card rates in the States have also dramatically increased, despite the U.S. Federal Reserve’s extension of generous interest rates to banks.

All of these symptoms were part of the problem which led to the original economic slump, and could easily be the cause of another one – just as bad or worse. If the American economy fails again so quickly, the recession (some might call it a depression) would be far worse, as many still haven’t recovered from the current economic mess.

So what is going on in one of the most powerful nation’s on the planet? Why is the economy heading back into the depths of fiscal hell?

U.S. President Barack Obama’s own economic recovery plan is partly to blame – despite its intent to revive the ailing American economy.

{{Potd/2008-03-06 (en)}}Image via Wikipedia

Credit card rates were suddenly jacked up recently, even for many Americans who had excellent credit, and pay their bills on time. Thanks to a law passed in May by Congress, requiring banks to give 45-days notice before raising rates – to give the banks time to abide by the new regulations, Congress didn’t make the law effective until February 2010. Naturally, all the banks hiked their rates well before the new law took effect.

This meant many people who weren’t expecting their rates to increase, suddenly were hit with major credit card rate increases.

Though this new law will also go further to harm the economy, by severely restricting the available credit issued to consumers. As banks are more limited in terms of their ability to raise their rates, many who can’t pay their bills on time will have their credit cards canceled. Many more with less than stellar credit histories will be turned away.

The faltering economy has already reduced the available amount of credit issued to consumers. In the third quarter of 2006, banks sent 2.1 billion direct mail credit card offers, according to research firm Mintel, this year in the same quarter that number was only 391 million.

Clearly credit card companies and banks are monitoring current and potential customer spending habits more closely. Some credit card companies have even gone as far as to cancel customer cards just for using their credit cards at businesses which typically are used by consumers with poor credit histories – even if they themselves have excellent credit ratings.

President Obama’s economic recovery plan was supposed to build consumer confidence, which in turn would get people spending, and that would charge the economic engine, driving us out of the global economic downturn.

Instead, many of the policies are doing just the opposite, creating fear – on the part of banks and credit issuers – which reduces the amount of money consumers have available to spend. This slows the economy down, as consumer spending drops – as it has.

American money sucksImage by Stickbob via Flickr

Although the credit card freeze wasn’t the best issued legislation by the American government – they should have included some plan to ensure credit card issuers wouldn’t hike rates immediately to avoid the new law – part of the blame does go to the credit card issuers themselves.

These credit issuing companies intentionally raised their rates to avoid a new law, geared towards protecting their customers. By forcing credit card companies and banks to provide 45-days notice prior to a rate increase, it gives the card holders an opportunity to determine if they can continue to afford the credit card, and if not, to cancel it before they get into serious financial trouble.

By jumping the line by raising rates ahead of the 45-day notice period law, these credit card issuers have taken away their customer’s right to choose the best route to take for their own financial well being.

Still, all the warning signs are screaming that the American economy is heading towards another dive – whether this one will be as dire as the one we’re still in remains to be seen. But all the positive hoopla the American government is spreading is pure propaganda – we are not out of fiscal hell – not yet.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Thursday, November 19, 2009

CBC Rebranding Nothing More Than a Patch Job

For weeks now, Canada’s national broadcaster – the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) – has been running ads bragging about how they’ve completely made-over their all news channel, Newsworld. They even took their flagship weekly nightly national news show “The National” and revised it too with a new set, new logo, and now it also airs on weekends.

When I was a journalist, I watched “The National” and CBCNewsworld religiously – what Canadian newshound doesn’t? But back then your choices among the news networks were limited to CNN, CBCNewsworld, CTVNewsn

The NationalImage via Wikipedia

et, and a handful of local newscasts.

I still tune into the CBC every so often, but find myself more drawn to BBC World and occasionally CNN. CBC – although an excellent news outfit – just wasn’t all that interesting anymore. The reporters always covered their stories in the same style, anything innovative usually being a documentary done by an independent person and bought by the CBC.

That’s probably why they recently did a complete rebranding of their news coverage, I’m obviously not the only person who they’ve lost as a regular viewer over the years.

So, when I recently tuned into the newly revamped “The National” I was eager to see what changes the executives at CBC made to win me back.

What a disappointment – aside from the set, and on-screen graphics, e

CBC Newsworld logoImage via Wikipedia

verything was good old fashioned chisel chinned CBC. All the stories were reported in the exact same, cardboard-cut-out, textbook journalism method they have always been.

That’s great if you’re using the CBC to train wanna-be journalists, but not so good if you’re trying to win back lost viewers.

I was expecting new and innovative ways to report on the things happening in the world around us. Instead, I got the same boring cookie cutter stuff the CBC has been dishing out for over 20-years.

CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge – a great Canadian journalist – continues to host the flagship “The National” just as he always has, from behind an anchor desk.
He’s standing behind the desk, and occasionally they bring in a reporter standing across from him to provide some “live” dialogue – but other news stations have been doing this for years.

The news pieces still tell the basic story – but they don’t dive deeper. In fact, some were already out of date. They had a story about what happens to your digital life when you die – your facebook, Twitter, blog and other social networking sites. This story broke on many of those social networks three-weeks earlier, and CNN and the BBC had already run stories on this at least two-weeks earlier.

Where was CBC three-weeks ago?

It was a Thursday night, and that meant they had their regular poli

Taken myself at an awards ceremony for Scouts ...Image via Wikipedia

tical panel, which also hasn’t changed in several years – same people, same topics, same opinions. They are interesting to watch, they’ve been doing this political panel for so long, and everyone has chemistry between and among them. But it’s all the same song and dance.

Then they had their editorialist Rex Murphy – he’s an amazing writer, but despite the zillion years he’s been doing the same thing on the same television show, you’d figure he’d learn to write for television. He doesn’t sound like he’s reading, but his dialogue is clearly written for the printed page – he went on to emphasize bullet points about what the Canadian Liberal leader needs to do to be the leader. Bullets work well in print – in broadcast they sound crass, elitist, and academic.

Actually much of Rex Murphy’s commentary would read well, but was too long winded and wordy for television. In print, you can take your time, re-read sections if you want to – can’t do that on TV or radio. Well I suppose you can thanks to PVRs/Tivoli – but that’s no excuse. It is just as important to write for your intended audience as it is to write for your intended media in this multimedia world. And Rex Murphy isn’t new to broadcasting, he’s been doing the same thing, for the same network forever.

For a rebranding of their news outfit, CBC didn’t do much more than slap a new coat of paint onto an old wall. Essentially it was nothing more than a patch job, using new computer-generated graphics. And that is really too bad, because I only saw one show, and already could see the paint peeling and falling off.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Every year the shopping malls and other retail establishments seem to put out their Christmas decorations earlier.

This year, Halloween had just finished, and almost immediately many stores had their jumbo candy canes, reindeer and snowman displays out. Even the fat jolly hold elf – St. Nick – could be seen in many store windows.

Photograph of the Christmas light display at G...Image via Wikipedia

Understandably, with the global economy being in the toilet retailers want to get a head start and salvage something of this year. And for the retail industry, Christmas time is the make it or break it point in the life of the retail store.

Christmas sales account for over half of most retail sales. So if a retailer doesn’t make a lot of sales during the holiday season, they may lay-off staff, close earlier, or worse, even go out of business.

That’s part of why retailers jump at the chance to get into the Christmas spirit – and why it appears the Christmas decorations go up earlier every year.

christmas displayImage by kaex0r via Flickr

Though the downside is we have to listen to Christmas music more, as we walk through the local malls and shops.

Music, incidentally, has been shown to have a psychological impact on us. Play the wrong music, and we’ll feel uncomfortable, often leaving the store in such a rush, we leave without purchasing what we intended to buy in the first place.

The adverse is also true, when just the right music comes through those teeny tin-sounding loudspeakers in the local mall, we’ll stay in the store longer, and be more likely to purchase not only what we originally wanted, but many other things which we really didn’t need.

Still, the holiday season appears to come earlier and earlier every year. So much so, that by the time the holidays arrive, we’re literally “Christmatsed Out.”
So much for the holiday spirit.

I actually like the holiday season, it is one of two times in the whole year I get to tell people what I want or need – the other time being my birthday. I accept gifts for what they are no matter what I think of them, a gift is a nice thing to receive even if it isn’t something I normally would use or buy. But by telling those that usually get me a gift ahead of time what I need or want, really helps.
It helps my friends and family spend less time and money in the stores finding things that either don’t interest me, or for which I have no use for, while giving them guidelines as to what I would like and use.

Two candy canes, a traditional one (left) and ...Image via Wikipedia

It also gives me an excuse to ask my friends and family for suggestions as to what to get them. This way I spend less time and money in the stores, and I know they will really enjoy and make us of the gift.

Though it does take away SOME of the surprise – not all – SOME.

Everyone knows what is on the others list, but no one really knows what things on the list were purchased, and which ones were not.

Still, Christmas keeps starting way too early every year at local malls and other retail establishments. But I suppose that is all part of the holiday shopping season too.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Canada’s Largest City Among the Least Public Transit-Friendly Worldwide

Major urban centers always have traffic problems – that is just part of life in a big city. Traffic jams are regular fixtures in the urban landscape in New York City, Los Angeles, London, Montreal, and Toronto.

Though the last city mentioned is the worst when it comes to doing anything to reduce the strain traffic jams have on our environment, our transportation networks, or the economy. According to a recent study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the loss in productivity in Canada due to traffic costs the country $3.3 billion every year.

The OECD says Toronto’s public transit system has failed to keep up with the constant increases in the city’s population, resulting in 70 percent of the city’s residents depending on their personal vehicles to get to work – that is the highest rate among the OECD’s member nations.

The Dundas subway stop in Toronto, Ontario.Image via Wikipedia

The OECD is composed of 30 countries from across the globe -- with an additional 25-non-member countries which participate in OECD activities and initiatives. Member countries including Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Sweden, Japan, Germany, Iceland, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and The United States.

Who’s to blame for all of this?

Politicians which decide the fate of bike lanes, toll-highways, traffic calming devices, public transit fares and expansion, the location of new neighborhoods and commercial developments, and pretty much everything else making up urban sprawl are the primary culprits.

They have failed to plan, and in turn have planned to fail.

By not thinking through the locations of major attractions, and the way traffic will come and go from those major attractions, politicians have created more traffic headaches.

A Wheel-Trans Overland ELF 9777 on a scheduled...Image via Wikipedia

Sure, it is great having the Air Canada Centre, The Rogers Centre (formerly The SkyDome), The CNTower, the Hockey Hall of Fame, and pretty much any other major sporting center and tourist attraction within walking distance of the downtown core. But most are sold out with events, and everyone is sitting in traffic to get to those events, we tend to think differently. Although these buildings attract thousands of people (the Rogers Centre can hold upwards of 60,000 people), no new major thoroughfares were built for the added vehicular traffic in these areas.

Local radio and television stations always encourage people to take public transit when there are crowd drawing events in the downtown core – but have you taken public transit recently?

The city’s public transit system – the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) – does an adequate job of moving people around the city. Remember, it hasn’t kept pace with the demands of the growing population, so allow yourself at least twice as long as you would normally take if you were driving, and don’t be surprised if you have to wait for an empty bus, streetcar or subway to get on – especially during the rush hour.

Toronto Transit CommissionImage via Wikipedia

During the rush hours in the morning and the afternoon it is pretty much standing room only, unless you happen to get on at the very first stop. In the afternoon rush, coming up from the downtown, people are literally squished right against the sides, frozen in place because even the slightest movement will put you nose-to-nose with a complete stranger.

There have been many plans to expand Toronto’s subway system, and in the past twenty-years, a whole new subway line did open up. It cost a billion dollars, has only five stops, and the one-way trip from start to finish is less than 15-minutes, but at least it shows effort.

Toronto’s politicians have been too wimpy to really create policies which encourage public transit use, which is where the real problems are. If more people took the city’s antiquated and underfunded TTC, then there would be a greater pool of funds to maintain it, expand it, and keep it in line with population increases.

This is typical of most urban centers around the world – the best ones are in the cities where taking public transit isn’t seen as being cheap, poor, or an inconvenience, as it is in Toronto. In other places, such as New York City, Chicago, even Vancouver, taking public transit is more socially acceptable, and as such, more people take it, so there is a greater amount of available funds to maintain and constantly improve it. And as it is socially acceptable to take transit in these cities, politicians feel compelled to fund these systems better.

But in Canada’s largest city, the politicians talk a lot about public transit, but because 70 percent of the city’s population don’t use it (including quite a few of those very same city politicians), funding is always taken from transit, and funneled into other projects.

What happens when you have a city with a constantly growing population, but little to no growth in terms of public transit?

More traffic – lots more. Current studies say it takes the average Toronto resident an hour-and-half to get to work during the morning commute. Taking growth models and the other estimates, within the next five to ten-years that morning commute will more than double, having Torontonians sitting in traffic for over three-hours just to get to work from the suburbs to the downtown core. And then there is the afternoon commute back home later in the day to look forward too.

Toronto’s city politicians are masters of making the transit system look good on the outside, while hiding the decaying rot on the inside. They have invested in new buses, streetcars, and subway cars over the past 20-years – new streetcars and subway cars are expected to hit current transit routes in next couple of years.

Though they don’t plan these transit purchases well. Back in the 1990s, they spent millions on natural gas powered buses. These buses turned out to c

From top left: Manhattan south of Rockefeller ...Image via Wikipedia

ost more to maintain, and so the project got the axe, but what a waste of funds.
Around the same time, they also spent millions on double-length buses, which turned out to be dangerous – studies found they could split apart, crunch passengers in the center as they turned, or even flip right over and crush nearby cars. Although some are still in use, they don’t purchase these anymore.

Most recently, the TTC has invested in gas-electric hybrid buses, which although safe, have had battery issues early on. The TTC has complained to the manufacturers that the batteries don’t last as long as the manufacturer claims, meaning they have to be replaced sooner. The manufacturer says it isn’t the batteries, it is the long routes which the TTC has which are to blame.

More money wasted, while our traffic jams continue to grow.

The new transit vehicles coming onboard the TTC system in the next few years will cost less to maintain, are more fuel efficient, and have nice and shinny seats. Too bad most won’t get to enjoy them much – thanks to the standing room only of today’s and tomorrow’s TTC system.

Most of these new transit vehicles will replace older ones which are becoming too costly to keep repairing. They should have been purchased years ago, to build the fleet, instead of just maintaining it at current levels forever.

But hey, if you visit Canada’s largest city, at least you know you better get yourself a car – then you’ll be able to get around without standing, poking and pushing your way through the city’s faltering public transit system.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]