Ask Metrolinx public forum attracts compliments, concerns and cool tech

Event saw CEO Phil Verster, management team field questions from customers and community members

Nima Yasrebi stood in line at a recent Metrolinx town-hall public meeting and fiddled quietly with his smartphone.

One by one, as Yasrebi waited for a turn at the microphone to speak to Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster and members of his senior management team, others raised important realities.

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Metrolinx leaders recently gathered to hold a public town-hall meeting at Union Station. From left, CEO Phil Verster, Chief Planning and Development Officer Leslie Woo,  Chief Operating Officer Greg Percy and Chief Capital Officer, Peter Zuk. (Thane Burnett photo)

There were those – in person, watching online and among social media submissions gathered prior to the November 28th ‘Ask Metrolinx’ event – who wanted to know about changes to GO Transit schedules and the impact of new development projects on old neighbourhoods.

“I want to know when you’ll start tearing into that hill?” asked one member of the Longboat Resident’s Association, of future work in his community, located east of Union Station.

Research analyst Daniel Jung, who writes on national and international safety issues, has never felt at risk on the GO trains he’s used for the past decade. But after being stuck on a stopped Lakeshore West train last July, following a lighting strike at a rail signalling bungalow, Jung wanted to know what measures GO Transit takes to learn from past incidents.

“I commend you for creating a safe environment,” he added.

Others weren’t as happy as Jung, and wanted to vent frustration.

There was angst over rush-hour commutes on trains, as well as brutally long bus rides on traffic clogged Hwy. 401.

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As senior Metrolinx colleagues listen, Chief Planning and Development Officer, Leslie Woo, second from left, answers a question from the public during the recent Ask Metrolinx event. (Thane Burnett photo)

Emily Daigle, who uses a motorized wheelchair, challenged Verster personally to continue to break down barriers for customers. She was concerned about issues she has found using PRESTO. As well, she sternly noted a lack of an emergency plan for those with disabilities attending forums, like Ask Metrolinx, which was held inside Toronto’s historic Union Station.

Daigle is so dedicated to transit in her life that her social-media handle is @buschic.

“Phil, I’m holding you to account,” she told Verster.

“You have fought for accessibility in several ways. You need to do better.”

Verster responded: “Your challenge to us is great.

“We do have a very strong accessibility program. But the program is not delivering, clearly then, what we need to deliver to satisfy the wider community of people with accessibility needs.”

As he spoke, Verster’s red tie rested in a bundle on a nearby table.

The CEO earlier told the dozens who attended that Metrolinx must be grounded in the concerns and voices of the community.

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Nima Yasrebi stands ready to address Metrolinx leaders, as online and audience members listen on. (Thane Burnett photo)

But finally taking his turn at the microphone, Yasrebi, hoped to augment things.

With a masters in electrical and computer engineering, the founder of Toronto-based tech-company, Arnocular, held his phone out and asked if Metrolinx would consider linking up with his augmented reality business. Much like Pokémon GO, his software enables travelers to look out of a window using their smart-phones, and see computer generated images – deals at shops and even menus from restaurants – as they ride by.

He wanted to know whether Metrolinx would be open to partnerships with local companies.

“The answer to that is yes, yes, yes and yes,” Verster assured, explaining Metrolinx is keen to find collaborations that can deliver relevant information to riders.

After the meeting ended, the CEO and his senior management team stood and continued to talk about pressing issues with those who had come out.

Just as excited tech entrepreneur Yasrebi traded business cards and showed off another world on his phone.

(Story and photos by Thane Burnett, Metrolinx Editorial Content Manager)

(Answers to questions that weren’t addressed as part of the most recent Ask Metrolinx event will be made available on the Metrolinx Engage website, which can be found here.)