Home > Contemplations, Fail > Laughably Bad & Confusing TTC Signage In Sheppard-Yonge Station

Laughably Bad & Confusing TTC Signage In Sheppard-Yonge Station


TTC Sheppard Yonge Station: You may have been to this station before, you may not have been but chances are decent that if you live in Toronto you’ve ridden on one of the subway lines which attach to it – the Yonge-University-Spadina (YUS) Line and the less used Sheppard Line.

As you can see in the picture above when you are walking throguh the subway station you are advised by a directional sign what the escalators and stairs in front of you lead to. The folks who wrote this TTC signage decided to indicate to travelers that at the bottom of these steps can be found “Yonge Trains and Sheppard Subway.” Wait, what? What’s the difference between the two subway lines aside from the obvious answer that they service different areas of the city and one’s a north-south line while the other is an east-west?

Why is the Yonge Line referred to as having ‘trains’ and the Sheppard Line as being a ‘subway’? Is the idea to confuse commuters, people new to the city, and tourists? If so, they’re probably doing a superb job! Seems that in the City of Toronto our public transit does not only have subway lines, streetcars, buses, and the Scarborough RT cars but we also have a fifth option – trains! But hold on a second…don’t GO, VIA Rail, and the like run the trains? Aren’t trains intercity not intracity? Why the confusing descriptors TTC? Why?

The YUS and Sheppard Lines both run the same subway trains in the T1 so there is no difference there. (although the YUS Line also has the Toronto Rocket as well as the older H5s running on it, the latter of which are slated to be sold to Eko Rail of Lagos, Nigeria in the coming years.) In fact, the only difference I can think of between the two lines is that the Sheppard Line remains underground for its entire length whereas the YUS Line comes above ground for a fair portion of its route. Does that make it a train and not a subway? I have never heard or seen of it referred to as anything but a subway and this sign just seems so weird. I wonder why the TTC has chosen to compose the sign this way. It just seems odd and silly to do so as well as unnecessarily confusing.

Until I hear otherwise I am classifying this as an epic FAIL on the part of the TTC signage team. There’s bad signage which is what it is because it’s illegible or badly placed or not lit up or simply not present and then there’s this. This goes beyond being bad signage to the point of being confusing signage which works against the smooth flow of urban passenger traffic on mass transit.

If anyone knows the answer for this, I would love to hear it. I assume – or rather I hope – there must be a rational explanation for this. Then again, it is the TTC.

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  1. November 25, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    Here’s an explanation which is not necessarily logical, but somewhat plausible. Some cities make a point of naming their roads avenues when they run, say north south direction, and streets when they run east west. This is especially helpful in cities where streets are numbered (ie: 4th Ave. vs. 4th St.)

    Maybe the TTC has come up with a crazy idea that they’re going to call the vehicles that run north south “Trains” and ones that run east west “Subways”, in an effort to make things less confusing!

    OK so what’s more ridiculous now…the signs, or my explanation?

    You’re welcome! ;^)

    • November 27, 2011 at 9:53 pm

      That works until you consider the Bloor Line. If you go to Spadina Station there are signs that point one way for the Yonge-University-Spadina Trains and one way for the Bloor trains. Otherwise a valiant effort and even if that was the reasoning it still would confuse the heck out of anyone not familiar with the system which makes it less, not more, accessible to the average citizen or tourist at a time when they are supposedly trying to encourage people to use the system not avoid it.

  2. G
    November 28, 2011 at 9:37 am

    My take on the sign is that the YUS line was the original line in the station and the “trains” of that line are in that original station. The Sheppard Subway is relatively new and stands on its own. Hence, the sign in Sheppard station directs commuters to the YUS line trains which are immediately below and towards the Sheppard Subway – an entity on its own.

    • November 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm

      Hmm thanks for the reply G. I don’t know if I agree with that because I was on the lookout the other day when I was in Spadina Station and noticed that they refer to both the Bloor & the Yonge Lines as having “trains.” Why is Sheppard the only one that’s a subway. It also strikes me that this was a very conscious decision on the part of the TTC because, as best I can tell, that whole sign was made at the same time and the “Sheppard Subway” part wasn’t an addendum. If it were an addendum that could be considered an excuse, a pretty bad excuse but an excuse nonetheless.

      Further, if it gets a different name why doesn’t it get a different symbol? Why is it the same symbol as is used to indicate trains on the YUS Line and the Bloor Line?

      Finally, we as a society are used to signs indicating things which are coming up immediately and which require further direction by more signs later on appearing on the same sign. Think of signs which tell you how far it is to the next major stops/cities on the highways or signs on the PATH network in downtown Toronto.

      I am aware you are grasping at any logical reason to explain the signage here and it isn’t your first choice but if yours was the TTC’s reasoning then, in my opinion, they need a checkup from the neck up.

  3. Chris Upfold
    April 16, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    The TTC uses the word “Subway” as part of our general vocabulary, when directing customers towards a Subway Platform from some distance away; it takes the place of the term “Line”. The term “Trains” is used to indicate the immediate proximity of the Subway Platform itself. The two terms are used in concert with each other to try and demonstrate the idea of distance and separation.

    I agree that it doesn’t seem to make immediate sense to customers and we will include in a review of our wayfinding protocol.

    Chris Upfold
    Toronto Transit Commission
    Chief Customer Officer

    • April 16, 2012 at 5:10 pm

      Thanks for answering this one Chris. Makes sense now that you’ve explained it but, as you said, to the average person using the TTC it doesn’t immediately make a whole bunch of sense and probably confuses more than it helps – especially for people who do not use English as their first language.

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