Founded in 2017, The Guardian aptly describes it as “a global network of millennials who want to make cities better.” More than 209,000 members share memes, articles and discuss myriad topics on public transportation and New Urbanism.
Ernest Ng, who is one of the ELMTOTs group’s founders, noticed that while there was a lot of Vancouver content in the NUMTOTs group, there wasn’t a local group dedicated sharing Vancouver content. He created SkyTrain Memes for Bike-Lane-Oriented Teens on April 20, 2018. Needless to say, STMBLOT didn’t quite roll of the tongue like NUMTOTs.
Around the same time, an Ottawa-area NUMTOT group was created. It was called the Fresh OC Memes for Confederation Line-Awaiting Teens. “OC” refers to OC Transpo, which operates public transit in Ottawa, Ontario and nearby Gatineau, Quebec. The Confederation Line is Ottawa’s light rail line.
“A day after I started wondering why don’t we just call it ELMTOTs with the Expo Line, which we can relate to our area,” says Ernest. Expo Line Memes for TransLink-Oriented Teens was born.
Now more than two years later, the group counts close to 6,000 members, ranging from transit enthusiasts and city planners, to regular everyday transit riders and just curious cats.
When asked if he expected the group to be so popular, Ernest says, “To be honest, it was a shock. When it first started, it was just a couple of my friends. [I told them] ‘Hey, join this group that I made. It’s a subgroup of NUMTOTs that you’re already in.'”
Soon it just started to snowball and friends started invite other friends, and the group’s momentum became unstoppable becoming, arguably, a Vancouver institution.
The group’s been mentioned and discussed outside of Facebook, including stand-up comedy events, in Vancouver podcasts and even TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond knows about it. He gave them a shoutout at the transportation authority’s 2018 Annual General Meeting.
It’s also become a place for public discourse on urbanism in Metro Vancouver. It allowed transit enthusiasts like Andy Leung to connect with others, but at its core, it remains a meme group and just a community for like-minded people: people who value transit and cities.
Ernest remains one of the most prolific meme posters in the group. And he’s quick to acknowledge and thank his fellow administrator and moderators, Chris Coulson, Cali Langley and Julia Bilinski for being integral to its success.
With everyone eager to share memes, urbanism and public transit, moderating the group has become a bit of a full-time job for the team with multiple posts at all times of the day for approval.
But it’s the love of transit that keeps the others and Ernest going. He’s excited to think about what lies ahead for himself and how the group might lay the foundation for the the next generation of NUMTOTs and ELTMOTs.
As a young child, Ernest was introduced to transit by his parents, who would take him around the city on the bus and SkyTrain.
“I remember the first day when the Millennium Line opened, I thought, ‘This is so cool,'” he says. “And when you’re visiting other cities, their system is so unique, different and exciting.”
Eventually that led to him to think about transit as more than just that. Ernest also started thinking about the planning behind it.
“It has grown to a point where now I’m actually really interested in this and it might be something I [want to] pursue as a career,” he says.
Today, there are more ways for kids to be introduced to transit. Aside from the ELMTOTs group, we have an ongoing commitment at TransLink to encourage kids to walk, bike or roll to school and to get to know the TransLink system.
We’ve be offering free transit for K-12 students during the first full week of October since 2006, and in 2014, introduced a contest for a behind-the-scenes visit to TransLink. This way, kids are armed with the tools and skills to foster independence and become transit riders for life.
And although the ELMTOTs group has “teens” in its name, it’s for more than teens. It’s for everyone who wants to be a part of it because the love of transit knows no bounds.
Perhaps TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond puts it best, “Everybody who rides transit, you know, there’s not business class and first class, it’s all coach, and it’s a great leveler. It’s open to everybody.”