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Some useless transit ‘ghost shelters’ have finally been moved

The city has taken a few baby steps towards relocating transit “ghost shelters” that are not used by TTC riders to wait for a bus.

But if you think they were moved because the TTC stepped up for its riders, you’d be wrong.

Last year, we began writing about transit shelters after readers pointed out a couple in places where buses do not pick up riders. They wondered if they were deliberately located where passing traffic would see the ads posted on them, rather than provide protection from the weather.

Shelters are a contentious issue for TTC riders. For every bus stop blessed with a shelter, several others are without one, leaving people who use those stops exposed to the elements and feeling shortchanged.

Decisions on which stops get a shelter are made by the city’s street furniture division, which says one of the main considerations is a “minimum ridership count.”

Shelters and other street furniture are provided by Astral Out of Home, which is just past the halfway point of a 20-year contract with the city. So far, it has installed about 4,000 shelters, with another 1,100 or so to come.

Ryan Lanyon, who’s in charge of street furniture, said that “advertising is necessary to fund the program,” adding, “this has been a very successful public-private partnership that has provided a higher level of amenity for transit riders and the public, across the entire city, at no cost to taxpayers.”

Still, the perception of many readers is that locating shelters to maximize ad exposure is sometimes more important than the needs of TTC riders.

With that in mind, we asked readers last fall to tell us about shelters where few, if any riders wait for a bus. Based on their response, we compiled a list of 16 locations, which we passed along to the TTC and Lanyon.

In an Oct. 16 note to Brad Ross, who’s in charge of communications for the TTC, we asked the TTC “to review the complaints (15 in total, plus five about the recently-installed shelter in front of Neil McNeil High School., on Victoria Park Ave.) and make a determination on the necessity of shelters in each of those locations.”

Ross replied that the TTC would co-ordinate a response with street furniture and get back to us.

We still hadn’t heard anything by Dec. 15, so we sent a note to Stuart Green, another TTC spokesperson, asking if they finally had a response.

“The ghost shelters?” replied Green. “We provide advice and information to the city only in terms of use of a given stop and where a shelter could be safely positioned at a given stop. Beyond that, (street furniture) is in charge of shelter locations, installation and removal.”

If the TTC had no intention of providing its opinion on the necessity of the shelters on the list, Ross could have said so the same day we sent our request to him, or on at least two other occasions when we asked Green about it.

But we fared a bit better with Lanyon, who said on Dec. 20 that “we have reviewed the list and will be taking the following actions:

“We will monitor the usage of the shelters at the following locations and review their utility in 2018: Leslie and Lake Shore – NW corner. Ellesmere and Mirrow – SW corner. Parliament and Front – NW corner.

“We will remove and relocate the shelters at the following locations in spring of 2018: Yonge and Lake Shore – NW corner. (We have confirmed with the TTC that no service is planned to return here in the near future). Jarvis and Queen – NW corner.

“All other shelters to remain in place as long as they are serving an active TTC stop.”

After Lanyon’s reply, a third shelter at the southeast corner of Queen St. and Eastern Ave., which we wrote about late last summer, was removed in mid-January, because buses only stop there to let off riders.

Lanyon said the TTC provided “context” that was taken into account in its decisions, but did not elaborate.

In a later interview with Ross, he said “it is ultimately the city’s decision where they put shelters. It wouldn’t be appropriate for the TTC to contradict the city, if the city would have a very good reason to put a shelter there.

“I’m interested in ensuring that the city has all the information they need to make the right decision. And we feel that we provide that to them, and it’s up to them to make those decisions.”

We suggested the TTC could be more forceful in advocating for its riders.

“That wouldn’t be fair,” said Ross. “Because I wouldn’t provide the Toronto Star with what you wanted doesn’t mean we don’t care.”

But is it unfair? By its own admission, the TTC provides only basic information to street furniture and says it’s inappropriate to comment on its decisions, particularly in public.

Given the number of shelters that readers say are not used by riders waiting for a bus, we think the TTC should be up to its eyeballs in the process to determine which stops get shelters.

And if the current process doesn’t allow for it, then the TTC should push for changes that would give it a prominent say in what goes where.

If it truly wants to advocate for its riders, it could start by creating the conditions that require it to be involved in shelter placement decisions. It could be done, if there’s a will to do it.

More on that next week.

What’s broken in your neighbourhood? Wherever you are in Greater Toronto, we want to know. Send an email to jlakey@thestar.ca. Report problems and follow us on Twitter @TOStarFixer.