"Toronto Rocket" LED Subway Maps

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 1 out of 5
Yeah, but: Just look at how shiny it is!

The Long Version: Toronto has been working hard on its transit system recently. Just this year the city has decided that transit is so essential that the workers who run it lost their right to strike, but not so essential that the system should actually be properly funded or given priority in transportation planning. As always, politics involves compromise.

As a way of squeezing more capacity out of a constrained system, the Toronto Transit Commission has been introducing new subways to its busiest line. Enthusiastically called the Toronto Rocket, these Canadian-made cars offer significant improvements over the previous Canadian-made models. In addition to more standing capacity and wider doors, they've tinted all of the glass so that passengers aren't distracted by being able to see what station they're in. The new subways also introduce some cutting-edge 90's technology, like computerized voice announcements, pixel boards, and LED lights in the system maps.

The LED maps use green and reddish-orange lights to indicate the stops. The upcoming stop flashes, and the 'interchange stops' – a term that, as far as I know, isn't used anywhere else by the TTC – are marked by larger lights that are always orange. In our "green means go" society, where red is used to mark hazards, it's natural and intuitive that the train has passed the orange lights and the green ones mark future destinations. However, since this is the TTC, that's the exact oposite of what the colours mean.

The TTC hasn't called a coin toss correctly in years.

One nice thing that the new "Rocket" trains have is indicators showing which doors to use at the next stop. Toronto mixes island with side platform stations, so this is good to know. This could also be shown on the system maps by replacing the station-marking dot with a bold dash. Oriented along the subway line, it shows an island platform, but drawn across the line it would represent side platforms. They could even add a subtle break in the dash at Dundas to show that it's the only station where it's not possible to change from one platform to the other.

If they were inventive, they could even make it light up.

photos updated 9 jan 2012


  1. If the led lights could somehow even indicate whether or not you need to have a Transfer at the stations you'll be arriving it at in order to get on a bus/streetcar after, that might clear some confusion as to what Transfers do for some people (and possibly bring a small reason for the led existence to the map).
    On a side note, I just read your twitter feed on the side of your site (regarding St. George station)...
    (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ <-- that's me flipping my table...

  2. That's a very good point about the transfers. These maps have lost the cute little "T" indicators that the old maps used to (badly, barely) convey that information. Very little on the TTC routinely sucks more than arriving at a station to realize that continuing the journey requires a piece of paper from somewhere else. It's like the commuter version of The Amazing Race, just a lot less fun and with no prizes.

    I almost want to say that I picked a good night to publish this article. The effects of a small fire at St George Station, and how the TTC communicated its decision-making to customers and their own staff, was exactly what I'd expect from an organization that creates a map where the missed stops turn an inviting green. But that would be like writing a review of the sunrise and feeling smug the next morning when it happens again.

    Really, the lesson to take from this is that when some random guy on the internet – me – becomes an important source of information, there's something very wrong with the system.


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