Monday, January 02, 2012

York Region Transit's Moneypit: Richmond Hill Centre

Last Summer the Region of York announced it, via it's Summer YorkWorks Newsletter further construction at Richmond Hill Centre which is the main hub for connecting transit in York Region.

The Region has just finished enclosing two passenger waiting areas with glass and automatic sliding doors and relocation of transit bays to accomodate longer VIVA Purple buses.  This will be followed up by implementation of washrooms, as the YorkWorks Newsletter promises, by end of 2013.   

There are a couple of issues here that need to be investigated in terms of how if taxpayers are seeing a proper return on investment at Richmond Hill Centre.  

A. Numerous Construction projects at Richmond Hill Centre since it's September 2005 opening.

B. Promised implementation of construction phases and Region of York's / York Region Transit's  implementation track record on previous projects.

Richmond Hill Centre has had a couple of construction projects since it opened in 2005 to VIVA Service.  These include (Note: all dates below are approximate):

1. Boxing in of the semi-enclosed passenger waiting areas in 2006.  This improvement was required because Richmond Hill Centre at the time, like it is today, is fairly open to the elements and wind.  Thus, passengers were freezing waiting for arriving buses as the wind wipped through the california style waiting areas with wide open entrances, glass partitions with seperation between support pillars and ground.  Add to this the awesome idea of stainless steel metal benches to sit on February, YRT and the Region had a significant issue on its hands.  YRT and York Region decided to add metal pieces to at least remove the voids between the support beams, the ground and the glass.  However, this did not help matters as the large entryways were still left open.

2. Bridge from Richmond Hill Centre to Langstaff GO Station opened in 2008. The Region of York constructed a pedestrian bridge to connect the Langstaff GO Station together.  The concept of a bridge connecting two transit stations together was a great idea.  However, like many other YRT concepts, things did not turn out so well as several issues with the finished product emerged (and many are still evident today):

a) The first issue was for disabled passengers looking to traverse the bridge (note all doors have handicap access buttons). First lets enter the new bridge from Richmond Hill Terminal via an exterior door. Next turn left to open the door to the waiting area of the elevator (yes there is a door to the elevator waiting area!).  Then push the button to open the elevator carriage door and board the elevator. Next, after the elevator door opens on the 2nd floor, open that elevator waiting area door and traverse the bridge.  Repeat elevator door waiting area door opening, descend the elevator, and repeat again the next door and the exterior door and turns into quite the trip.  Whose idea was it to include exterior elevator door waiting areas with their own doors?  The whole structure is covered in glass and has exterior doors.  It is not that drafty all to require full enclosure of elevator waiting areas.  The only reason to necessitate this issue is a fire code requirement, but I doubt it. 

b) The Second issue is both the distance to the Langstaff GO Transit station and nearby retail shops from the Region of York constructed bridge from Richmond Hill Centre. The Region, in their infinite wisdom, decided to construct the bridge to exit near the railway tracks and provide a 200 metre passenger walkway to the Langstaff GO Station guarded by a chainlink fence, which later they would add a further extension on top to prevent people from climbing the fence.  The main problem with this chainlink fence is, after a pedestrian exits the bridge on the Langstaff side, pedestrians are located within 50 metres of the entrance to Home Depot.  So lets say someone was going to Home Depot for a hammer, you traverse the bridge and then are forced to walk 200 metres down to the Langstaff GO Station, and back again (i.e. another 200 metres) in order to go about 5 metres from where you started.  Thus, it is pretty inconvienient to visit the Home Depot which would be a major possible trip generator for YRT and GO Transit. 

3. Electric Heaters were added to passenger waiting areas in 2009. This improvement again attempted to address the issues with passenger discomfort during the winter months. But again the Region of York and YRT left the entrance openings void still allowing for a wicked wind to whip through.  The only improvement of YRT infrastructure layout was the no longer using stainless steel benches at new transit stop implementation.  Yet passengers at Richmond Hill Centre and other stops are not so lucky as the stainless steel benches remain. 

4. Creation of new fully enclosed of the Passenger waiting areas with automatic glass doors in 2011.  This project, noted above, created new passenger waiting areas that are heated, enclosed and fairly comfortable for passengers.  This project was completed in two phases for the passenger waiting areas that seemed to take about 3 months each. The length of time to construct and complete the project at 3 months apeice seems a little lengthy considering both of the structures appear exactly the same, yes, the same layout, almost the same the measurements, etc.  At times there was little to know activity at the construction site while passengers filed by on reduced platform widths etc.  As well, the old passenger waiting areas remained untouched.

Now there are two prospective construction projects for the future.  1. The Washrooms installation promised by to be completed by 2013 in writing by the Region of York in their YorkWorks newsletter.  2. The integration of Richmond Hill Centre area into the possible Yonge Street Subway extension which may or may not see the integration of the current Richmond Hill Centre Bus Terminal into a new subway station.  This latter project will be one to see whether the Region of York has wasted millions of dollars just to see the existing terminal demolished and a new one built.  The first future project will also be interesting to watch as the YRT is not really great a finishing promised projects on time or, as the above noted issues with Richmond Hill Centre note, without further remedial work. 

York Region and York Region Transit do not have a great track record when it comes to promising improvements for the transit system.  My blog post from last year noted several delayed or not implemented projects.  Perhaps the best known YRT implementation fiasco was their implementaiton of the PRESTO payment system which saw implementation delays and constant issues with the PRESTO technology that caused passenger headaches.  Even today, York Region Transit has yet to fully implement the PRESTO system into all of it's ticket vendor locations. With YRT's track record on PRESTO and other issues, it will be interesting to see if the new Richmond Hill Centre washrooms are completed on time and if they will need further refinement. 

Overall YRT has proven itself not to be able to finish transit projects on time or as even start the ones as promised.  Further the implementation of certain supposedly transit rider friendly items seems to be lacking.  The use of stainless steel benches and open concept bus shelter in the original VIVA Stations upon initial system construction raises an eyebrow, especially to a Canadian in January waiting for a bus.   These delays and misssteps  leaves YRT in the eyes of transit riders and taxpayers overpromised, poorly implemented, not well served and costly to remediate.  Hopefully the Richmond Hill Centre will not need any further construction for the forseable future, as all the above noted construction projects between opening in late 2005 to today (2012) adds up to almost one construction project per year.  And that equals a taxpayer and transit rider money pit.


  1. Nice job following all this, Michael. The way that bridge is cut off from the Home Depot parking lot has always baffled me. There's even a gate to it, chained shut, that taunts you right near the bridge's exit. It's just incredible how hard it is to get from the Centre to the plaza that's immediately next to it.

    I will say, though, that the new shelters are a definite improvement. And washrooms would be a nice addition. We'll see how that plan goes, I guess.

    Also, thanks for adding me to your blogroll!

  2. A couple more complaints:

    1. Obtaining a Presto card is incredibly inconvenient. Their sales days at the terminals were limited to business hours, so come 5 o'clock when people leave work, there was no one selling the cards. I am not venturing all the way up to YRT HQ just to buy a silly pass card.

    2. Along with taking far too long to build (seriously, glass and aluminum does not take that long to construct with), the enclosed areas had faulty automatic doors that weren't installed with the protective rubber bumpers on the door edges. So whenever the door would open/close (which happens far too often due to them being overly-sensitive), the glass doors would smash into each other, making a huge BANG and chipping the glass.

    3. The cold metal material selected for the benches is only half the story. The angle designed into the seat makes them uncomfortable and unergonomic to sit on for long periods of time. Objects placed on the benches slide right off, which ultimately leads to spilled coffee and god knows what else on the ground.

    As with most other public projects, the idiot administrators don't use the system, or are uncommonly stupid to miss these obvious design flaws. Crap like this would never happen with stronger pressure on those running the system. In the absence of competition, riders must develop a way of pushing back on the YRT. Perhaps a riders union, or organized boycotts of the system. Given the current situation with the strike, and riders finding alternate transport, perhaps we have a unique situation to affect change...

  3. Hi Simon:

    I found your blog while looking through Google about the YRT Transit strike in November. I read a couple of entries and liked what I saw.

    I add items to my blogroll for two reasons, I like what I read so I can easily find the link to come back and Google keeps watch for the latest updates (i.e. new entries) for the blog so I don't have to keep checking repeatedly the twelve blogs I like to read. Thus, really I should thank you for the great reading and staying on top of the transit strike on a daily and weekly basis.

    - Michael

  4. randomdialer:

    I agree with you. I still believe Richmond Hill Centre and the overall shelter designs on the VIVA System are made by those who lived in California or somewhere nicer.

    The pitch of the benches are an issue but I thought it was to keep the homeless from sleeping on them. Perhaps they could go with the GO Transit style seating where each person's seat is sectioned off with a metal support beam looped over the top.

    PRESTO, I've noted issues with in a seperate post and I pray will get better as the concept is good but the roll out is hideous.

    Perhaps YRT passengers should get together to form a union or a campaign like they have in New York City: Check it out at:


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