Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What Does A Decade of TTC Metropass Designs Look Like?

I once spent more than $14,000 to get around Toronto.

Granted, it was over the course of eleven years. And the whole time, I never once had to park, pay for gas or insurance, or change any flat tires.

How did I do it? Easy -- I took the TTC!

What a decade-plus -- and $14,000 -- of TTC Metropasses looks like.

A Collection of Monthly Passes

It’s a familiar routine: At the end of each month, I take my expired Metropass out of my wallet, and toss it into a pile at the back of my desk drawer.

I thought it would be fun to share what that pile looks like...

How the months roll by...

Visual Design -- Room for Improvement?

Many people like to moan and groan about the visual design of the Toronto Transit Commission Metropasses.

Are their complaints justified? Decide for yourself -- take a look at the passes below, and tell me what you think! I’ve grouped them chronologically into rough sets of similar design, and made a few comments about each set. (Sorry completists, my collection isn’t perfect--several months are missing, lost in my files or discarded.)

Pastel Flowers: December 2001-March 2004
Click any photo to expand and view larger
  • TTC passes were non-transferable and had to be presented along with a photo-ID. 
  • You had to write your name or TTC photo ID# on the space in the front. 
  • Months are abbreviated and spelled in capitals.
  • Check out the genuine 1970’s bubble font! (‘Metropass’)

Gradients: April 2004-Aug 2005
  • Bottom left: A blocky ‘A’ to denote an adult pass; bottom right: a repeated ‘adult’. The thing is, do you actually need the ‘A’ to distinguish it? You could just as easily leave the space blank -- and only mark Student/Senior passes.
  • The months are spelled out in faux-gold foil lowercase. 
  • Gradients, then eventually patterns are used for the background. 
  • The TTC logo appears twice, in colour and in gold.
  • These represent Kal Bedder’s first makeovers of the pass design (see article link near end of this post).

Patterns - September 2005-December 2006
  • In September 2005 Metropasses became transferable -- you could share your pass with someone else once your ride was complete. The wording gets tinkered with in January 2006, and again in November 2006. 
  • The Big A now appears on both corners.
  • I have heard the patterns described as ‘Corel PhotoPaint texture fills’ -- can anyone confirm?

Random Typefaces: January 2007-December 2007
  • The months are spelled out inside a dark bar at the bottom of the pass, using semi-random typefaces. Some of the months are painfully stretched -- oh, June! 
  • We’re back to the single A on the right with a thin black outline, and a single foil TTC logo. 
  • The non-kerning between the P and A of Metropass is especially glaring.
  • July and December are looking ready to party...

Pastel A & Photographs: January 2008-December 2008
  • Photographs are used as background images, using a floating angled rectangular mask. The scenes are TTC related, naturally. In later years art from various stations seems to become a theme. 
  • The ‘A’ gets moved to the left, now pastel-coloured with a white outline. ‘ADULT’ makes a reappearance.
  • Typefaces are again kind of random. What is that, Stencil for November?! Also it’s a matte gold as opposed to reflective.
  • ‘/ 08’ gets appended to the month line.

Vertical Pastel Bars: January 2009-June 2009
  • Order returns to the Metropass universe. Note the vertical bars and upright photographs. 
  • The ‘A’ goes back to white and gets the thin black outline again; we are informed these are ‘Adult Metropass’ cards.
  • Heavy counterfeiting of Metropasses occurred during this time period. And apparently counterfeiting is on the rise again.

Holographic Foil Stamp: July 2009-December 2010
  • The anti-counterfeiting holographic foil stamp appears. High-tech! 
  • The stamp, the ‘A’, and the photograph move around from month to month, along the middle third of the pass. (Though, the ‘A’ never gets the middle slot)
  • Those yellow ‘Only Valid if Removed’ stickers begin usage. Amusingly, underneath they have a transparent film with ‘Do not remove’ on it. (The stickers are applied this way so they can be easily removed but not reapplied -- they prevent pass-renting)
  • In August 2009 the TTC issued an RFI calling for original artwork to use on Metropasses. Allegedly passes were to use artwork by April 2010. But... did anything happen on that front? -- Can you tell the difference? As a sidenote, the political career of Adam Giambrone, the TTC Chair who was championing this initiative, was derailed in Feb. 2010 in the wake of a sex scandal. Perhaps that nixed the artwork idea, who knows?

  • Depending on the angle, the foil stamp shows a different TTC logo / crest. Um, no, the month doesn’t change! Haha.

Horizontal Bars: January 2011-October 2011
  • Thin horizontal bars slide across the middle. 
  • In August, the transparent ‘Do not remove’ film seems to have been... removed.
  • September turned out a bit garish, wouldn’t you say? Whoever was doing the work didn’t want to put a white outline around the TTC logo, I guess. (This would have enabled a red pass, with the text in white)

Cutting Corners: November 2011-December 2012
  • The TTC incorporates a small but useful bit of innovation for visually impaired users: the top left corner of each pass is clipped for easy orientation by feel. 
  • In January the month is moved to the left.
  • The foil now has different cuts or shapes for each month. What’s on the foil changed as well.
  • The graphic used for Dec 2011 is a crop of the one used for July 2011! C’mon, that’s lazy.

Updates: Horizontal lines and solid colours: January 2013-December 2013
  • The background of the cards is now solid (in 2012 faint patterns were used)
  • Two horizontal lines with gradients enclose the 'A', holograph, and photo
  • The 'Valid for Month/Year Shown' text is deleted
  • Fans of TTC typography are happy to see that 'Metropass' uses the original TTC font. The month is also de-accentuated with a lighter typeface.
  • May 2013 repeats the graphic used in Sept 2012. Boo!

Minor tweaks: January 2014-December 2014
  • The horizontal lines with gradients were removed
  • The TTC crest gets a bit larger and stays on the left
  • The (redundant) fine print ‘Adult’ under the A is removed
  • A black band (with the exception of June) near the bottom highlights the month and pass type
  • The pattern on the foil often changes involving variations of the TTC crest

The Fine Print on the Back

  • I’d write about what changes occur, but the fine print is surprisingly effective at defeating my attentions. It just gives me a headache! 
  • Various TTC Chairs have deigned to put their name on passes, including: Brian Ashton, Betty Disero, Howard Moscoe, and Adam Giambrone. The current pass omits the present TTC Chair’s name.
  • ‘No Pass Backs’ as of September 2005.
  • As of January 2008, TTC passes could be claimed for a transit tax credit, so a space was made for signatures. 

TTC Photo ID Card
  • Hahahaha. 
  • Up until August 2005, monthly pass users had to present a photo-ID along with the pass.
  • For me the typeface for ‘Metropass’ feels nostalgic and comfortable, rather than dated. It’s similar to how I feel about the phasing out of the maroon jackets.
‘Must be presented in an open and unrestricted manner’

Criticism & Discussion: Who Cares?

The Metropasses are ugly -- that’s the standard criticism I’ve come across. Fonts are haphazardly chosen, layouts are cluttered, the graphics are bland or unremarkable. The passes lack clarity.
“It's an aesthetic thing. ... You carry this thing around for a month. It should look nice.”  
- TTC spokesman Brad Ross Toronto Star, Aug. 14, 2009

The TTC is a brand, and love it or loathe it, has an identity which connects many of us as Torontonians.

Mediocre execution on something shared by almost half of all TTC customers speaks to a certain... indifference on the part of the mandarins of Davisville.

Where is their passion and pride for this city we love? Shouldn’t we expect better? It invites larger questions about cohesion in presentation for the TTC as a whole -- observers have wryly noted that the TTC lacks consistency in its signage and branding.

On the other hand, Metropasses are supposed to be utilitarian objects, not art. Over the long run they are ephemeral -- no-one secretly cherishes the disco-glory of December 2007. It’s not like someone’s going to collect them all (Er, hold on a sec...).

I often imagine the TTC management mindset as, “We’re busy making the trains go. Typography and aesthetic flair is not a priority.”

And I’m not entirely unsympathetic to that.

If Metropasses were cool to look at and to collect, would it have any impact on usage or adoption rates (which would actually negatively impact the TTC, as revenue is lower from pass holders)?

What if we put awesome archival photos on them? Or community-generated art? Or images of historical figures from Toronto’ past?

Is there a better way we could celebrate Toronto transit?

I wonder...

Thanks for reading! Tell me what you think in the comments!


The Man To Blame (or Credit)

I would love to ask Print and Electronic Information Supervisor Kal Bedder some of the above questions. He’s the TTC employee who is responsible (from 2004 to at least Jan. 2012) for the design of the passes. But I didn’t get around to it. And frankly, he’s probably got better things to do than field random questions from a gadfly blogger. Sorry!

However, I did manage to discover an excellent interview with Bedder by Chris Berube for the Grid. The article sheds light on the production challenges and constraints on pass design due to security, bureaucracy, and a plethora of other requirements. If you’ve found this discussion of interest, I recommend a perusal.

Has Bedder been successful in his choices? That’s up to you to judge...

The Cost Calculation

Aesthetic considerations notwithstanding, financially it’s been a great deal when you compare it to the cost of owning and operating a car.

My TTC metropass cost calculation is an approximation only -- it uses the full retail adult prices, and does not take into account factors such as the Metropass Discount Plan, student or senior rates, Volume Incentive Programs, tax credits, municipal taxes, net present value of funds, opportunity costs, inflation, service interruptions, externalities, etc. Data source: Mike’s Transit Stop [update: this site is sadly defunct. But the data still exists on the Wayback Machine: click 'Update Archive', do a find for 'TTC Statistics', follow that link and then look for the item 'TTC Fares from 1954 to Present')

This post was covered in the Summer 2013 issue of Spacing magazine. It tickled me to find myself opposite Steve Munro, the city’s wise luminary on transit matters. Click the image to read the article!

‘Evolution of the Metropass’ by Amber Daugherty in Spacing

Further reading

A History of TTC Fares (Transit Toronto article - also has a gallery of 1980s Metropasses)
Test Drive a Metropass (Historicist article by Jamie Bradburn)
Who Designs the TTC’s Fantastical Metropass? (The Grid article by Chris Berube)
TTC Metropasses have evolved artistically (The Star  article about a year later by Graham Slaughter)

Other Posts I’ve Done on Transit

The Toronto Subway Song
Parody Re-Mix of the TTC Union’s $1 Million Ad
WITHOUT CAUSE - A Political Comedy
Is this Accessibility?
“Any Idiot Could Do This Job!”

ps. Yes I know I should have put some effort into making a vibrant collage or pop-art arrangement. 

Please ‘Like’ and Share this post with other transit enthusiasts!