See also Site Map
Outdoor rinks – Recreation.
(*Why “Zanetti”? To remind us of a very effective former Recreation Director whose slogan was “let’s make it work!”)
This report addresses two categories of problems that need more work at outdoor rinks: (1) poor communication and (2) low attendance at some of the city’s outdoor artificial ice rinks. The report offers some Recreation-run solutions, many of which are already being successfully applied at selected rinks.
Contents: rink hot line/ Access Toronto/ telephone and web information/ signage/ school visits/ skate rentals/ helmet policy/ per capita cost of outdoor rinks/ permits vs. public access/ healthy snacks/ harmonization of holiday access/ summary of recommendations (p.6)
* A hotline that’s not hot: The City advertises its 338-RINK line as a “rink hotline” and promotes it on its website: “You can also get updated rink information by calling 416-338-RINK (7465) 24 hours a day.”
As an information line, the city’s 338-RINK line gave wrong opening-date information about all four outdoor civic rinks: Nathan Philips Square, Mel Lastman, Albert Campbell (Scarborough) and West Mall (Etobicoke), on dates ranging from November 22 to December 8. The 338-RINK line also had wrong or missing outdoor rink access information for other rinks on major holidays like Christmas Day (until 3 pm) and New Year’s Day (all day).
As an updated weather-related hot-line, the 338-RINK line gives information for the central Toronto rinks only. The 338-RINK line does not function as a hotline for the rinks in any of the other city districts. The Etobicoke recording gives a general warning about rinks having “temporary closures” in bad weather. General cautions of that type, posted seasonally, do not qualify as the “updated information” that the web site promises. For an inventory of how the rink “hotline” performed so far this season: Hotline Monitor December 2008.
* Access Toronto: had incorrect information about Christmas Day rink access, but it did connect callers to a Parks, Forestry and Recreation number that had better information. Access Toronto can’t substitute as a hotline since it’s not currently answered in the evenings or on weekends, i.e. during the main skating hours.
* Individual rink phone numbers: unlisted. Actual rink phone numbers are not on the city’s rink schedules nor in the phone book. Rink users are directed to all-purpose community centre phone lines that are often not answered, especially during high rink-use times like holidays. Two examples from recent e-mails received during the school holidays by cityrinks.ca:
[About Irving Chapley Rink]: “…. the phone rarely gets answered.... they still have outdoor pool information on their answering machine. It’s unacceptable.”
[About Ledbury Rink] “I have tried calling the number on the schedule (Elvie @ 416 395 6004) but she is on holiday! why would she be on holiday at the height of her busy time? Her voice mail left two other numbers - no one is answering even though it is Monday!... We are trying to keep three young boys busy outdoors over the holidays and the lack of coordination and community communication is startling and extremely frustrating.”
* Signage at outdoor rinks: missing or wrong. North York outdoor rinks have no outdoor posted signage about rink hours, but are apparently about to get such signage. There are paper signs posted in windows, but in the case of some rinks they are either not prominent or posted inside locked areas. There are no prominent signs revealing that outdoor rinks are accessible to skaters outside of the (few) supervised public skating times and the permit times.
Etobicoke rinks did not have opening day signage. But those rinks all have standard metal signage about rink schedules, with duct tape over the wrong bits. Most of the rinks have the current west rink schedule prominently posted.
Many central outdoor rinks had outdated opening-day signage. About half of the central rinks have outdoor bulletin boards, but up-to-date schedules are less common than schedules that are 1-6 years out of date. Civic rinks have no city rink brochures and no bulletin boards for posting such information.
* Better telephone information:
*a) Immediately publish each rink telephone number on the city’s website, and next year in the phone book. During busy times or bad weather, the staff at each rink can record updates messages about their local rink conditions, and go about their other work the rest of the time. During peaceful periods, rink staff can answer the phones and be helpful, and promote outdoor rink use.
* Better website information:
*a) Improve the information and layout of the city’s outdoor rink website pages and update it more often.
* Better on-site rink information (signage):
*a) Post current local and citywide skating schedules at every rink where they can be seen even when the rink is locked.
* Collaboration with outside groups (like cityrinks.ca)
*a) Direct rink staff to allow the cityrinks.ca website poster to be posted at all outdoor ice rinks, and to restore the poster where it was removed by staff.
There are very noticeable differences in attendance between different rinks. In general (with some exceptions), single-pad rinks with lots of permits have lower all-over attendance numbers. Double pad rinks have much higher attendance, with the possible exception of West Mall and Giovanni Caboto, which are often sparse.
Weekday daytime attendance at most outdoor rinks is vanishingly low, except at those rinks where school visits are actively encouraged. However, it appears that there may now be a city policy requiring school classes to pay for using outdoor rinks. This policy, if it exists, needs more investigation (due in Zanetti Report #4), since requiring schools to pay for using outdoor rinks seems to bring in little revenue, merely keeping school classes away.
Many, but not all, outdoor rinks also have low attendance by female youth, newcomers, and low-income rink users.
Given that outdoor rinks are costly to run, the per capita civic funds spent at such rinks are highest in rinks that have low attendance. Permit fees collected at even highly permitted rinks, with very limited public skating hours, only marginally compensate for the increased per capita cost. For example, the 2007 PFR “Full Costing and Pricing Study” reports permit revenue at even one of the higher-earning outdoor rinks, Sir Adam Beck, as only $12,582 a year, whereas the full cost of operating that rink is calculated at $271,127 a year. (The per capita spending at the different outdoor rinks is the subject of the upcoming fourth Zanetti Report).
* Different cities within a city.
The City’s website posted a “holiday rink schedule” covering half the school holidays, from December 29 to January 4. This schedule was helpful, not only in guiding Torontonians to rinks where they could skate, but in showing the great disparity between outdoor rink access practices in different parts of the city.
Because New Year’s Day this year was beautiful and sunny, many hundreds of people were out on the rinks in those places where they could get access. But poor North York and Scarborough residents!
* Locked front doors, and/or no staff in sight. Examples: At West Mall the main doors to the rink change area, which face the street and the bus stop, are always kept locked. Entry is from the back (via the parking lot). At Giovanni Caboto the front doors to the rink are kept locked because the staff are unwilling to clean snow off the steps or the ramp down to the rink from the street.
At some rinks there is still no signage on the windowless staff doors, which are usually closed. Locked doors and non-visible staff discourage new users and make other users feel unsafe.
* The helmet policy for non-contact (“shinny”) hockey discourages participation in the sport. Up until this year, the City’s mandatory helmet policy for non-contact (shinny) hockey seemed to be reducing rink usage dramatically wherever enforcement became the rink staff’s central concern. This was worrying, especially at rinks that formerly had high levels of youth participation. Where youth were told to leave if they didn’t want to play shinny hockey with a helmet on, they often didn’t return.
But it appears that the policy just won’t stick. This year, enforcement has become noticeably less firm even at the formerly zero-tolerance rinks, and youth attendance seems to be recovering. However, an unenforceable “mandatory” policy puts the City in the most legally vulnerable position possible. See for instance this landmark case: http://celos.ca/wiki/wiki.php?n=Liability.FurtherResearchPertainingToParks
Solutions for better outdoor rink attendance * Hospitable welcome:
* Plentiful free public skating times: Set a starting target of 25% prime-time public drop-in skating time at every City outdoor rink, with the aim of increasing newcomer and low-income users. The plentiful free skating time at Etobicoke’s unsupervised tennis-court rinks is the reason why some of those rinks are so popular in their neighborhoods, and such important social centres there, despite the lack of even washroom access.
* Mature supervision: Combine good staffing with useful work for staff to do, for instance skate rentals (see below) and provision of snacks, drop-in skating help for new skaters, free beginner-shinny classes (with helmets!), and youth support. Give solid supervision and support to those staff, recognizing the important youth centre function of busy outdoor rinks. This arrangement already exists at some neighborhood rinks and can readily be replicated, without staff increases. (There may have to be some staff borrowed from other units in the short term, for example from strategic planning, but that can only help in the long run.)
* Low-cost skate-rental sites:
Cheap ($2) skate rentals change the attendance and the colour of the outdoor rinks almost immediately, adding many more newcomer children and youth, as well as more women and extended families. Small-scale neighbourhood skate rental sites are fairly easy to set up and soon pay for themselves.
For example, skate rental income/expenses at Dufferin Rink for December 2008:
Income: skate ($2) and hockey stick ($1) rental, sale of pucks, laces and tape: $3120.48
The skate sharpening machine is almost paid for, and after that, extra income can be used to replenish the skate supply. Note that the starter supply was a donation from the NHL Players’ Association, but after that the money has been used to enlarge the collection.
* Healthy snacks and a variety of beverages at rinks where kitchens already exist: The availability of cheap and tasty snacks seems to influence steady rink attendance by children and youth, and rink use by newcomers and low-income skaters.
* Encouragement of school classes. Where school classes are encouraged to use public outdoor rinks, with no permit fee, and (at four rinks) even with free skate and helmet loans and free hot chocolate, weekday daytime attendance is very strong. This is a good way of promoting exercise and introducing children to the availability of public facilities.
* Reconsideration of the City’s mandatory helmet policy, using a risk assessment tool such as this one from the B.C. government: http://www.fin.gov.bc.ca/PT/rmb/ref/RMB_ERM_Guideline.pdf A Freedom of Information request turned up the encouraging news that the City has had only two rink-related third-party injury claims in the ten years since amalgamation, both of them related to full-contact hockey (a body check and a fight). Therefore, there is room to reconsider the outdoor rink helmet policy with less haste than appears to have been the case last time. According to the very limited documentation available, the City’s mandatory helmet decision for outdoor rinks – unlike the Province’s bicycle helmet law – was entirely without public consultation. There needs to be more thorough consultation with the City’s lawyers as well, to discuss the unintentional increase in the City’s vulnerability to injury claims in the present situation.
Institutions and governments have begun to use various analytical tools like the one in B.C. for complex risk-related decisions, to evaluate the benefits, drawbacks, and hidden costs, with due diligence.
* Immediate harmonization of holiday access for city outdoor rinks. The city’s decisions to open so many city outdoor rinks for public skating on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day was a big success. On Family Day, North York should not again get less access than the rest of Toronto. Generally, public access should be maximized for all outdoor rinks. The rinks already exist, so there is no new expense. Etobicoke’s unsupervised rinks have shown the extent to which improved access is possible without extra spending.
Attendance/ public rink usage