10/03/2013 03:59 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

The TTC Has a Branding Problem

The TTC has a branding problem. Let me explain. One morning, Premier Kathleen Wynne was late for question period. Why was she late? Well, why are any of us late for work? The answer is simple: gridlock. No doubt this simple, frustrating fact was on the Premier's mind.

"I apologize for being late," she began. And then, with only the slightest irony, "I have a modest proposal for building transit in the GTHA."

Well, I have a modest proposal for building transit, too: get better TTC maps. Yes, it really could be that simple.

There is absolutely no doubt that we need to build transit throughout the GTHA. But, for years now, for every step forward, we seem to take two steps back. The latest roadblock to breaking gridlock: subway fetishism. This summer, suddenly, and for likely no other reason than polling numbers, TTC Chair Karen Stintz decided she wanted to change the Scarborough transit upgrade from an LRT to a subway. Mayor Ford, who doesn't really seem to have a clue about what exactly an LRT is, was thrilled, pleased as punch to implement his pledge of "subways, subways, subways."

Shortly thereafter, the Ontario Liberals got on board with the city's newfound subway enthusiasm, even going so far as to campaign in a by-election as "subway champions."

And now, Tim Hudak, the Conservative leader, is trying to initiate a debate at Queen's Park about which party loves subways more. "World-class cities build subways," he argues.

I'm not an engineer. But I am a designer and a branding expert. Images matter and a picture is worth a thousand words. So, why this fascination and fixation on subways? I'm struck by how simple the root of this subway obsession really is. Take a look at the TTC map. Do you see what I see?

Yup, other than the Scarborough Rapid Transit, the only lines on that map are the subway routes. (No wonder the people of Scarborough say they "deserve" a subway -- the map makes it look like they should already have one.)

The current map only shows subways; you wouldn't even know, coming into St. Clair Station, that there's a great streetcar that could get you all the way across town, into Weston. You wouldn't know at Union Station that you could take the Spadina Streetcar over to Kensington Market. You wouldn't know, after a night on College St, that you could get all the way over to Little India on Gerard St.

So here's my modest proposal: get a better map on every subway and every streetcar and every (future) LRT. Get a map that shows the actual Toronto Transit Commission's system.

We actually have the continent's largest streetcar system, but you wouldn't know it. In fact, in the eyes of the TTC maps, streetcars and buses are the same thing -- less than a subway.

Why are we privileging one form of transit in the TTC's network? Why are we giving commuters and tourists less information than they deserve? Why, ultimately, are downtown lefties so surprised when people say they prefer subways? No wonder: the maps do too.

So, yes, I have a modest proposal for transit in this city: get a map that shows the complete picture. This should be a no-brainer. Once the TTC stops branding subways as the be all and end all of the system, maybe then we can have an adult conversation about building transit. Because the answer as to what kind of transit we need in this city is simple: all of the above.