Waiting for the 161 Rogers Road westbound last night at the Ossington TTC station, I looked up above the posted schedule to see that someone had torn off the sticker advising people of personal safety features of the bus routes to reveal a much older sticker talking about the TTC's timeline service. I had never heard of timeline before.
In January 2007, Spacing Toronto published an essay by former senior TTC member Bob Brent explaining what timeline was and why it went away. (Cost-cutting under the Harris government, it seems.)
Timeline was introduced around 1989 at a cost of $3.3 million with the Provincial government paying 75% of its cost (along with all other TTC capital spending).
For those of you unfamiliar with Timeline, you called a unique phone number found on the TTC sign pole at transfer stops and it would give you a digitized voice of the current time and the scheduled arrival time of the next three vehicles.
When I joined the TTC as a senior manager in January 1997, Timeline was an established service (about 1,000,000 calls/month) but the writing was already on the wall. It was running on obsolete technology that was literally falling apart with frequent outages and increasingly expensive service calls.
In 1998 an IT company, whose principals had been involved in the original Timeline implementation, came in to give a beta demonstration of a new Y2K-compliant Timeline customer information system running on a MS NT server. It was a mere shell than a mature application. It crashed a few minutes into their demonstration.
The alarm bells went off and tough questions were asked if it was ready for prime time. They admitted it was just a prototype shell to demonstrate what was possible. In fact, they wanted the TTC to be the guinea pig first installation and fund its commercial development in â€œpartnership.â€ They estimate a stripped down version would cost $2 million.