Saturday, November 28, 2009

Santa Claus is Coming to

Tonight Santa is here! Santa is going to parade down Yonge Street in Aurora!

But the worst part is for the first time that I've been Aurora, my family will not be here to wave to the big jolly red fat man who hates cookies (no I'm not kidding, click the link for Santa at the Toronto parade).

Ever year since I was a kid, short of my studying in Ottawa and teaching in New York City, my parents and siblings could be found on Yonge Street eagerly awaiting the wail of the Aurora's shiny red fire engines and York Region's police cars at the front of the parade.

But this year, my sister has a birthday party, my brother is in Toronto and my parents are unavailable. So it is just me and my wife at home alone watching the parade. Not that I don't like watching the parade with my wife, it just seems different that this year there will be no usual "Suddard tomfoolery" as we wait for the parade to start.

This is all sad but true......sad but very true.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

YRT "UNFARE" Harassment

Normally I purchase my York Region Transit Monthly Pass for the next month around the 20th day of the month. This is usually not a problem and I'm able to easily get one at one of the local stores near me.

Since November 20th, I've attempted to purchase my York Region Transit Monthly Pass and have come up empty handed. Last night I tried calling three locations that York Region Transit lists on their website as having their fare media available:

1. Metro - 1 Henderson Drive, Aurora, Ontario

2. Metro - 16640 Yonge Street, Newmarket, Ontario

3 Regency Variety & Gift - 14800 Yonge Street, Aurora, Ontario

I came up empty on all three.

Imagine that, with less than one week to go until December 1st, and York Region Transit has no Monthly Passes available at three of it's listed retailers.

To make matters worse, I called YRT Customer Service that evening (shortly before 7:00 P.M.) and spoke with "Kristin". After explaining my problem she said this was the first she and anyone at YRT Customer Service had heard of it and asked me to call back the next day (i.e. this morning) after 8:30 A.M. when someone at the YRT Fares office would be available. So not only did I come up empty at the three retailers but YRT Customer Service was caught unaware on the issue of lack of fare media at certain locations. Further, nowhere on York Region Transit's website was their a customer notice stating that their were issues in printing and/or distributing the passes for December and when the issue would be rectified.

This morning shortly after 8:30 A.M. I called back to YRT Customer Service to inquire again. I spent two minutes on hold before talking to "Elsie". She tried searching the YRT Website where I could purchase TTC Metropasses! I inquired why we should be searching on the website when I was looking for a YRT Monthly Pass for December and had tried this same thing last night and called three retailers and came up empty. I also noted I talked to "Kristin".

"Elsie" then connected me with Erin Strachan of Fare Media. Erin explained that the passes were being distributed late this month as retailers only wanted half their orders for December. She then explained that her delivery driver would be in Newmarket this morning and Aurora this afternoon doing deliveries of the passes. I inquired if the Metro stores would receive them and she said "Yes" but sometimes their accounting departments hold onto them for a day so I should call first.

Fast forward to tonight, I called and they (GOOD GOD!) had them! I nearly skipped the entire way to the store to purchase them. I felt like I had won the lottery!

But in hindsight, a YRT Customer shouldn't have to 'win the lottery' in order to purchase a simple item like a YRT Monthly Transit pass. The YRT Customer shouldn't have to call YRT Customer Service Agents who know zip on why YRT Monthly Passes are unavailable at 3 (!!!!) retailers. YRT Customers shouldn't have to look through the YRT Website for notices why the Transit Passes are not availble. Customers shouldn't have to put up with any of this "UNFARE" Harrassment.

Simply, the York Region Transit passes should be available at the retailers posted no questions asked. But again that would be too simple for YRT, they apprently sometimes like to make things difficult.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

PART 2: My Submission to "What's ahead for the next 5 years?" at YRT

This past Tuesday on my commute I ran into two issues that were relevant to my submission to YRT/VIVA for their future Service plans. I thought I would provided YRT/VIVA with concrete examples of how service could be improved over the next five years if details were paid attention to.

The following are the two points (in grey) that made in my previous entry with the examples of YRT/VIVA issues that I ran accross that could easily be resolved:

Schedule Adherence: YRT schedule adherance on some routes is pathetic. The words "schedule adherence" basically answers the question: "Can the bus arrive by the scheduled time or, at most 2 minutes late?" The answer should be "Yes" or "No." With YRT Customer Service I've received replies that as long as a bus reaches a point within ten minutes of the scheduled time then the bus is considered "on time."

Example from this past Tuesday: On Tuesday November 17, 2009 @ 5:16 P.M. the Eastbound Route 86 left Rutherdford GO Station early by 3 minutes (posted time on for departure is 5:19 P.M.) to begin his route. There is absolutely no reason for this bus to leave early as this Route 86 Bus wasn't in the middle of the route (i.e. arriving at his stop three minutes early) but starting his route from a point of origin (i.e. first stop on trip). A Miller Supervisor was present, sitting in Miller car # 52105, was said he recorded this poor schedule adherence occurance and the fact the bus left one passenger (myself) behind. Please see YRT Customer Service CARES Ticket # T55364 YRT's investigation on this. In this case I did have another option, Route 85 that arrived a minute later to take home, but had this been another route the results would have been different.

VIVA Bus Maintainence: VIVA Van Hool busses, that are no more than 5 years old, continue to have mechanical difficulties. Usually in the summer I find one or two buses a week on Yonge Street alone off to the side of the road waiting for a tow or a mechanic. As a taxpayer I find this especially disheartening that these buses worth over three quarters of a million dollars are on the side of the road stranding passengers who pay, in 2009, the highest transit fares of any local transit agency in the Greater Toronto Area.

From the buses I've ridden and hear back from YRT Customer Service the main issues seem to be one of two things: 1. The "turbo chargers" (at least twice ) and 2. The breaks ceasing up (once in the middle lane of Yonge Street just south of Industrial Parkway South).

The recent addition in 2007 and 2008 VIVA buses will probably start showing these same mechanical issues will soon appear if nothing is done in terms of better maintenance practices and supervision by YRT over their private contractor Veolia on this issue.

Example from this past Tuesday: On Tuesday November 17 @ 5:50 P.M. I arrived at Bernard Terminal on a Northbound "VIVA Blue Bernard Terminal" bus and walked up to Yonge Street Bernard Avenue VIVA station to find the next bus was 18 minutes away. I called YRT Customer Service on my cell phone and waited until 6:00 P.M. (10 minute sitting in the que for customer service agent). The YRT Customer Service agent relayed the following information to me about a service advisory for the Northbound VIVA Blue to Newmarket (i.e. the bus I would take to Aurora from Bernard). 1. Bus #8206 at 5:30 P.M. failed to leave as none of the exterior lights (the lights on the outside of the bus) would illuminate. A replacement or the actual bus didn't leave until 23 minutes later. I confirmed with the YRT Customer Service Agent that if a bus was over 20 minutes late for VIVA a fine under the contract with Violia would be levied by the Region of York. The Customer Service Agent confirmed this. I also told the agent as a regional taxpayer it makes my blood boil that the Region of York would have a bus around one year old worth $750,000 with such poor maintenance. This is recorded under YRT Customer Service CARES Ticket Number T55367. Finally, after I disembarked Route 98 at Golf Links Drive & Yonge Street two VIVA Blue to Newmarket Terminal bound buses pulled in less than 2 minutes apart.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How to Beautify your Bovine Courtesy of the Cows at the Royal Winter Fair

How does one beautify a cow in preparation for judging at an agricultural fair? This question doesn't normally cross my mind but it did this weekend on my adventures with my little sister.

Now for an explanation of how one goes about doing this using my own footage from Canada's premier agricultural fair, the 2009 Royal Winter Agricultural Fair that ended today at Toronto's CNE Grounds.

The first step in beautifying your bovine is locate said bovine (preferably one you actually own):

Second, give your bovine a good washing down at the local bovine shower stall.

Third, don't forget to blow dry your bovine. Also, and most of important of all, moose, trim and comb your bovine to perfection.

Fourth, lead your newly perfected bovine to competition.

While in competition darn well make sure your bovine's "utter seams" are perfectly straight! That is how a judge can apparently determine the difference between a second and third place finish.
Fifth, after competition, make sure your Bovine feels appreciated with a little cuddling time

Finally, don't forget to milk the bovine for all it's worth after long days work.
For more photos of the Royal Winter Fair visit the Toronto section of my scrapbook.

My Submission to "What's ahead for the next 5 years?" at YRT

YRT & VIVA is looking for resident input into their next five years of planning (i.e. until 2015). As a regular weekday and sometimes weekend rider commuting from Aurora to points southward I feel I'm quite able to provide some feedback based on my extensive experience on YRT & VIVA Services in York Region. On a dayly basis I ride at least 3 routes including one VIVA route, one YRT Route and a shared YRT & TTC Route to get to work. In other words I rely on transit to get me to and from work and sometimes on weekends to where I need to be. Below are some suggestions and my experiences on the YRT & VIVA systems to support my recommendations.

Connections (Transfers): Connections between transit routes need to be at least five minutes in length. For example, VIVA Blue arrives at Yonge Street & Carrville Road at 8:00 A.M., a passenger dissembarks and crosses the street to catch the Westbound YRT Route 85 at 8:05 A.M. would be a successful connection. Today the connections are much tighter than this which results in a passenger dissembarking one bus only to see the bus their hoping to connect to leave without them. This only frustrates the passenger. Also, if a route is running a couple of minutes late this allows the passenger a possible chance to get across the street in time to hopefully reach the connecting bus. Trip Planner: Remove the Trip Planner as it is currently useless on weekdays during peak periods. Otherwise, update the schedules (See Schedule Adherence) the Trip Planner uses to provide better information. If I cannot get from "Point A" to "Point B" with the information shown 90% of the time, then what use is the Trip Planner? Hopefully a significant improvement in updating YRT/VIVA schedules will fix the poor performance of the Trip Planner that I've experienced.

Further on the Trip planner, there currently is a "Tip" at the bottom of the results page that reads: "We recommend using trip plans with at least 5 minutes between transfers. This will allow for any unexpected delays and will provide you with sufficient time to reach your transfer stop." Then perhaps the Trip Planner should account for this instead of recommending connections with less than 5 minutes most of the time in it's results. As it stands now, the Trip Planner shows connections that have less than 5 minutes and doesn't show the next connecting bus if the connection is missed leaving the passenger stuck at the stop wondering when the next bus will come or the passenger is forced to search around for better scheduling of the connecting bus. Instead YRT/VIVA should be supplying accurate information that follows YRT/VIVA's own "5 minute" recommendation that would allow prospective riders to get all the information they need for their trip from accurate Trip Planner which was one of the initial ideas for the "Trip Planner" in the first place when YRT launched it. With the "5 minute connection" Trip Planner implemented, the trip planned route rider would feel lucky if they actually made the earlier connection and be, in theory, ahead of schedule. As a regular transit rider it feels good to be either ahead or right on scheduled time instead of behind schedule.

Schedule Adherence: YRT schedule adherance on some routes is pathetic. The words "schedule adherence" basically answers the question: "Can the bus arrive by the scheduled time or, at most 2 minutes late?" The answer should be "Yes" or "No." With YRT Customer Service I've received replies that as long as a bus reaches a point within ten minutes of the scheduled time then the bus is considered "on time."

The above situation occurred when I complained to YRT that the TTC 107B Route (operating within York Region) scheduled to arrive at Rutherford GO Station by 5:18 P.M. and failing to do so consistantly between May 2009 and October 2009. I made complaints to YRT Customer Service via both phone and e-mail. In fact, between at least July 2009 and October 2009 the 107B made the time schedule less than 10% of the time. But apparently this is fine with YRT Customer Service.

In actuality what needs to happen is the YRT/VIVA routes need to be properly audited over periods of time. Periods being audited should include both peak (i.e. morning and afternoon rush hour) and off peak routing (i.e. other times of the day). If the audit shows that the majority of the time the bus fails to reach a location (i.e. Rutherford GO Station) at the scheduled time consistantly then the schedule for the route should be relooked at, edited by transit planning staff and implemented. This process of editing the schedules would only improve what YRT currently has in place where some buses at time periods, like the TTC 107B, never seem to make the YRT posted route schedule.

Further, if schedule adherance improved, via revisions to the existing schedules, then the Trip Planner would be more useful to transit riders. Transit riders would then have confidence that the Trip Planner would be providing accurate information. This is unlike today where the Trip Planner currently has several issues noted in the above section labelled " Trip Planner".

Cleanliness of Bus Stops and Stations: Currently VIVA Stations and major bus stations do not look like they are properly cared for. An example, the Golf Links Southbound VIVA Station located here on an average day is littered with Tim Horton's coffee cups with the garbage bins overflowing. Thus, cleanliness of the stops could signficantly be improved in garbage pick up was increased.

The garbage bins at the stops look like they haven't seen a proper power washing for quite some time. Also, when the garbage bins are cleared by the contractor I've witnessed the three bags (1 garbage bag and 2 recycling bags) be thrown on the same trailer and not seperated into compartments similar to a regular municipal recycling truck. Since the bags are all the same black bags mixed up together in the same compartment on the trailer there is obvious no way for the contractor to later sort the bags properly into YRT's three streams (1 Garbage, 1 Paper for recycling and 1 for beverage containers for Recylcing). Thus all three streams from my point of view end up in landfill. This means YRT's claim to recycling efforts seems to rather suspect.

2 Zone Fare: I've yet to figure out the rational for the Two Zone YRT fare. YRT claims that fewer people live in the northern service region of Aurora or Newmarket. However, the towns of Newmarket and Aurora are growing quite rapidly and between them have a population way over 100,000 in a less square kilometre area than the City of Vaughan (Population 240,000) I would even venture to guess that there are more people per square kilometre than the City of Vaughan as well living in these two communities (Aurora alone has a density of 960 per square Km to Newmarket's 1951 and Vaughan's 873 per square KM according to Statistics Canada) Yet, Aurora and Newmarket Residents pay a 2 zone fare while the population density, which is supposed to improve transit ridership, would indicate that this fare suppliment is not required.

If YRT contends then that distance should be required for a two zone fare lets look at two cases using Google Maps to calculate the distance: One traveller venturing from Vaughan Mills Mall to Markham Stouffville hospital would travel, according to Google Maps, 34 KMs. A traveller going from the Newmarket GO Terminal to the Finch Subway Station would travel 32.3 Km, or approximately 3 KMs less than the Vaughan Mills Rider. Yet the Newmarket Traveller is nailed for an extra dollar due to YRT/VIVA's "Two Zone Fare". The Two Zone Fare kicks in as soon as a transit rider crosses both the Bloomington Road and King Roads.

Then YRT makes the two zone fare even more complicated. To keep the southerners happy that their children won't daily have to pay the two zone fare, YRT allows students travelling to Seneca College King Campus to not pay the 2 Two Zone fare. This is despite the Seneca College King Campus Students do cross both King Road and Bloomington Roads on their way to class. However, if YRT bases the 2 zone fare on population, then Seneca College King Campus, located in King Township on Dufferin Street north of Bloomington Road, then students there should be paying the 2 zone fare. This is because the surrounding population itself of King Township is 18,000 to Aurora's 52,000 (never mind adding in Newmarket's over 75,000 population to the mix). If the reason for the lack of two zone fare into Seneca King College Campus is distance, than why should someone travelling from Wellington & Yonge Streets in Aurora to Bernard Terminal (located at Bernard Avenue & Yonge Street in Richmond Hill) to grab a Whopper at the Burger King there have to pay the two zone fare? This exemption to the Seneca Students only causes further inequalities to Aurora and Newmarket Residents.

Thus with distance and population figured in, YRT's Two Zone Fare policy is nothing but a cash grab discrimination towards the transit riding population of Aurora and Newmarket.

VIVA Bus Maintainence: VIVA Van Hool busses, that are no more than 5 years old, continue to have mechanical difficulties. Usually in the summer I find one or two busses a week on Yonge Street alone off to the side of the road waiting for a tow or a mechanic. As a taxpayer I find this especially disheartening that these busses worth over three quarters of a million dollars are on the side of the road stranding passengers who pay, in 2009, the highest transit fares of any local transit agency in the Greater Toronto Area.

From the busses I've ridden and hear back from YRT Customer Service the main issues seem to be one of two things: 1. The "turbo chargers" (at least twice ) and 2. The breaks ceasing up (once in the middle lane of Yonge Street just south of Industrial Parkway South).

The recent addition in 2007 and 2008 VIVA busses will probably start showing these same mechanical issues will soon appear if nothing is done in terms of better maintenance practices and supervision by YRT over their private contractor Veoilia on this issue.

I hope to see significant improvements on the issues above in the next five years. If these issues are addressed, plus increased transit improvements promised by VIVAnext, the YRT/VIVA system will thrive with increased ridership.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Steak out your Spot at the Keg

We arrived at the Keg Steakhouse (18195 Yonge Street, East Gwillimbury) 6:10 P.M. and were told the wait was 25-35 minutes. We were seated in just over 20 minutes which was pretty good considering most places sometimes push you beyond the promised wait time.

Our waiter, came by fairly quickly and took our drink order and brought it back. Then two minutes later came back to take our dinner order.

The Order: New York Classic Steak and Terayaki Classic Steak with Pepsi and glass of water.

Within five minutes of ordering he swung back to to drop off the ceasar salads and freshly baked bread. The bread was delicious, the only complaint was one of the salads only had one cruton whereas the other had six. The other issue was someone forgot to drop off cutlery. Our waiter was quick to rectify the cutlery issue when we brough it to his attention.

The steaks both came served with potatoes and grilled vegetables and tasted excellent. I had the baked potato with sour cream and bacon bits and my wife the mashed with bacon bits. Both potato dishes were well done.

Overall the Keg is a great place to eat when looking for good steak.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

A Good Time at Wild Wing

We arrived and were seated immediately at Wild Wing (the location at 340 Eagle Street West, Newmarket)

Soon our waitress came and took our drink order (Pepsi and a glass of water). She also explained how the "Wild Wing" worked in terms of the table being set up (i.e. your caddy has everything you need!) to how many wings are in a pound typically. It was very helpful for us as we don't normally eat chicken wings.

We decided to split a pound each of BBQ wings and "Honey Buns Wings" and an order of Sweet Potato fries.

Within ten minutes of us ordering we had th wings and fries as well as refill on my Pepsi.

The BBQ wings were the traditional in taste to other bars. However, the Honey Bun wings were diferent with their ownly downfall being they have way too much sauce on them.

My wife and I would probably come back to this restaurant again in the future as the food was good and the service was quick. We may even try another of these restaurants in this franchise.

Common Sense in the Public Sector?

Two news items this morning have left me shaking my head in my confidence in public officials to do the right thing:

1. In Toronto several area hospital Board of Director's, who see nothing of the day to day operations of sick people coming in the front door, received H1N1 shots. H1N1 shots in Ontario are currently and have always been limited to "priority groups" (e.g. pregnant women, children under five, etc.) as set out by the provincial government. Their was no indication that the members on the Hospital Boards have underlying health conditions or anything. The worst part of all, the man that should've known not to give these members the H1N1 vaccine, Donald Low gave the authorization. Now he's apologizing left right and centre. But in actualy Dr. Low knows that nobody can replace him as chief Microbiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. He has been the face of fighting the SARS pandemic and the current knowledagable 'talking head' for the H1N1 for the media. So it seems he agreed to take the fall on this as Mount Sinai hospital knows the province is highly unlikely to fire him over this issue as the media would then have a field day over this issue.

At the provincial legislature, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is calling on making a list of anyone who received a shot not in the priority groups public. This would hopefully shame those who received the shot who are perfectly healthy before lets say a five year old with asthma or a pregnant woman. This just leaves me shaking my head as anyone in the public sector could easily skip this criteria by classifying themselves as "healthcare worker" (i.e. the board members of hospitals) or somehow in a "priority group" somehow thus not having to have their shot accounted for.

Whats even worse right now the provincial government, despite several calls for this information from Opposition members, can't even release how many people have been vaccinated. But all this accounting for the H1N1 program would mean public officials would be held accountable and we can't have that now can we? No sir... but we can have more of the public shaking their heads.

2. Finally this one from small town politics from a town (village? Small inhabited local?) in story in today's Toronto Star found here:

If promises are sometimes forgotten in politics, one ought to remember that George Patterson is not a politician. His brother James is.

And so when George, owner of the only gas station in the picturesque village of Sainte-Madeleine-de-la-Rivière-Madeleine, warned residents that if they didn't re-elect his brother as mayor, he'd turn off his pumps – he kept his word.

"I said I'd close them," George declared matter-of-factly. "It's no more serious than that."

Asked whether he was punishing residents, he replied, "It's not so much a punishment (as) a protest. I'm against the new mayor."

Again, I'm left shaking my head as the next set of gas pumps is 30 to 40 kilometres out of town. Talk about selfishness of the highest regard just because someone didn't get their way in politics. I wonder of George and his brother got their flu shots? I would hazard a guess, but then again that would mean someone would have to be held accountable and we can't have that now can we.

I've learned my lesson, politics will just leave the average person shaking their heads at the lack of common sense.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A Decent time at old reliable Swiss Chalet

My wife and I have been to the Richmond Hill Swiss Chalet (9350 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill, Ontario) before with mixed results. Either it was a long wait to be seated, took a while to get service or everything went well.

This time we seated quickly (no one lined up) with our menus. Five minutes later our food and drink order was taken.

The Order: Quarter Chicken Dark Meat, White Roll with Fries and Pepsi and Chicken on Kaiser with fries and glass of water

The dinner was average Swiss Chalet quality (decent chicken with good fries and sauce not too hot but not too cold either). The same with chicken sandwich.

The only complaint was the waitress came over a couple of times to see how we were doing to which we always replied "everything is fine." However at no time did she offer to refill my Pepsi even though there were, according to the menu "free refills."

Other than that, this place is your standard run of the mill Swiss Chalet franchise restaurant.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

A Bland Pho not in Saigon at Pho Saigon

My wife had decided to look up a few good vietenamese restaurants in the Aurora / Newmarket area. She chose Pho Saigon (located at 16925 Yonge Street, Newmarket).

My wife and I arrived around 5:15 P.M. and were immediatly seated and handed menues. So far so good.

Then things started heading down there from there. There was one waitress who took orders, served drinks, gave out the bills and took the money for the ENTIRE place! This wasn't too bad when we go there as there were only 4 tables being served. But later some larger groups came in which meant we had to start to compete for attention.

When ordering my meal I was told there was no rice left. The thought came to mind: "What Asian place doesn't have rice?" and "Isn't rice a main component of most Asian dishes?" The waitress, after I dumbfoundedly looked at her over the rice issue, suggested I try noodles. So I did.

I was sadly disspointed at the result. It turned out to be a chopped chicken pieces with lettuce and noodles on the bottom. It tasted quite bland, and once the noodles got colder it only got worse from there.

My wife had the large pho. The broth was quite bland but at least the noodles were satisfactory.

To say the least we probably won't return as we've had better vietnamese elsewhere.

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