Michael Warren’s Words of Wisdom (Updated)

The Globe and Mail carried an online commentary by Michael Warren, the man who originated the position of Chief General Manager at the TTC.

Warren was hired after a lengthy, bitter strike that the Commission felt was triggered by poor bargaining by their own management.  The Commission wanted their own man in charge (the strike cost then-Chair Karl Mallette his seat on Scarborough Board of Control), and Michael Warren was the one to do their work.

However, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Very quickly, Warren, who had no background in public transportation and who came to the TTC fresh from Ontario’s Ministry of Health, discovered that he couldn’t get anything done without TTC staff and management support.  He became part of the very problem he was hired to solve.  Over the years, the position of CGM has been strongly coloured by the style of each incumbent with strong contrasts among Al Leach, David Gunn and, now, Gary Webster.

Warren began an era where style mattered more than substance at the TTC, an era from which we are only now recovering.

What is Warren’s recipe for fixing the TTC?  His arguments are reasonable up to a point:

  • We can’t get people out of their cars if we don’t improve transit.  Congestion is a GTA-wide issue, and the GTTA needs to hold Queen’s Park’s feet to the fire to make a real change in transit’s role in fighting congestion.
  • If Ottawa is going to be part of the solution, they need to participate seriously, not with one-time programs or events designed more as photo-ops than true remedies.
  • Ontario must resume its role in capital funding on a predicatable basis.

Where Warren goes off base for me is with his call to privatize portions of the TTC as a way to reduce the “ask” for funding from other governments.  He makes no suggestions about what, specifically, might be moved into the private sector.

Alas, Warren misses two vital points in this debate:

  • The vast majority of  the TTC’s operating costs come from their specialized workforce that, on the TTC’s scale, simply cannot be transferred to the private sector overnight.  We are not talking about getting someone to run a fleet of 50 buses.  If there are working conditions in the labour contracts that Warren wants changed to improve productivity, cite those.  Don’t just leave the impression that the real goal is to cut everyone’s pay.
  • Capital projects including construction projects and vehicle purchases are overwhelmingly already contracted to the private sector.  Any issues with featherbedding or wage levels rest with the suppliers and contractors, not with the TTC.  If projects are ineffectively designed and managed by the TTC (the neverending construction at Broadview Station comes to mind), those are problems of management (bad project design) and funding (piecemeal project approvals leading to inefficient work plans).

Organized labour is a handy target whenever someone wants to critique public sector spending, but we rarely hear, chapter and verse, how things would be improved.  Warren undermines his entire commentary with a two-paragraph coda implying there’s nothing wrong with transit funding that some strong-armed labour relations couldn’t solve.  Why ask Ottawa for money when the obvious solution is just to pay everyone less and make them work more?


Updated August 13, 4:10 pm

Michael Warren’s commentary included:

While we argue over who should finance our ailing transit system, cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong, Madrid and Chicago have been aggressively expanding theirs, achieving higher density, more energy efficiency and financially sustainability along the way.

Warren is out of touch at least with Chicago where substantial service cuts and fare increases will take effect in September according to an article in Mass Transit.  Chicago is on the verge of bigger cuts than are proposed for Toronto thanks to the ongoing debate about appropriate funding levels and the perceived inefficiencies of CTA management.

[Thanks to Dennis Rankin for passing on this link.]

27 thoughts on “Michael Warren’s Words of Wisdom (Updated)

  1. The success of our “Capitalist” or “Western” economy is based on having a viable and vibrant middle class. A society based on an elite exercising a “command and control” over an oppressed group of underpaid workers is fraught with failure and subject to disruption. (Not the least of which is expensive turnover, raising the total labour costs back to the equivalent – or more – of the “fair wage” level again.) Such a system will be little more successful than the Soviet Model and is in addition saddled not with the “noble” goal of equality for all but rather with the desire by an elite to be made rich by the work of the “paeons”. It is just not on – or perhaps hogwash.

    The trouble with the TTC (or City Garbage Collection) is not the fact that employees are paid too much. It is the fact that these activities are underfunded. The solution, in some way, is greater taxpayer commitment to the activity. This might mean a small (or larger) tax increase for all the City Citizens or an acceptance by the Province that their current funding policies are unfair. (There remains “only one taxpayer”, but at the moment the City taxpayers are transferring a significant portion of their Provincial Tax payments outside the City.) It is absolutely unfair to expect a group of workers to pay this entire tax increase on their own through the reduction of their legitimately earned income.

    This is making me angry. Our Transit System (and our City) is being severely damaged by the refusal of two (and in a way three) levels of government to commit the appropriate tax dollars to the activities that make our society and City vibrant and successful. We are not bankrupt beccause we are poor. We are bankrupt because we are stupid – or at least lead by stupid and shortsighted politicians.


  2. Steve, by dismissing this argument you are suggesting that TTC workers are already working at maximum productivity, with wages at market value. I think that implied claim requires justification.

    Indeed, a casual observation of TTC operator habits at any major station suggests the opposite; they never appear to move with any particular sense of urgency. Also, I’m not sure what private sector drivers are being paid, but the quoted salary after 2.5 years (from the thread a few weeks ago) is more than I was getting in the 2.5 years after finishing a PhD in the sciences.

    Seeking cost savings from labor is not the only answer, but it is an answer, and in tough financial times, all solutions should be explored. Especially given the proportion of the TTC budget that is allocated towards labor.

    Steve: In my commentary on Michael Warren’s piece, I threw down the gauntlet — if there are efficiencies to be had by changes in the contract, then be specific. I am tired of a catch-all argument that assumes we can just fix any problem by paying people less.

    The point has been made many times that the TTC is having trouble hiring drivers, and significant wage cuts won’t help that situation one bit. They are also having problems getting workers in the trades, and that is a problem throughout many industries. That is a measure of the market. Don’t forget that TTC operators, unlike those on many “private” operations scattered around the GTA, work full days. They are not part-timers and the level of off-peak TTC service makes effective use of part-time staff much more difficult than on a mainly peak period operation.

    The TTC looked at hiring part-timers several years ago. This caused a big stink with the unions, but they looked at it anyhow. Their conclusion was that part time drivers are a much more mobile workforce and tend to leave sooner that full-timers. This drives up the replacement rate of staff and adds to overall costs.

    There is a problem in defining “maximum productivity” for TTC workers. Operators at any major station are taking a break at the end of a trip. After driving across the city, you don’t really expect them to turn around and start the new trip without a break? Does your job require you to work non-stop? Productivity has nothing to do with what we pay people in the sense that if the goal is to perform “x” amount of work per day, we then haggle about how much that is worth. The productivity is independent of the salary unless your unit of measure is something like customers carried per dollar spent on operator wages. That’s a fake measure and says nothing about the real resource, the operator’s time. If you don’t have operators, you don’t carry any passengers.

    While I’m on the subject, several of the recent improvements in working conditions are due not to union contracts, but to changes in Provincial legislation restricting the length of the workday. This interfered with about a year’s worth of planned service improvements as all marginal increases in the workforce went to providing enough staff to cover the new rules.

    I’m sorry that you are poorly paid after your PhD. A lot of people are in that situation, and it speaks to the market value of your degree. This is a basic concept of free enterprise.


  3. Steve,

    An implied assumption in your argument is that high wages are necessary because the pool of workers is finite — there aren’t enough people to go around, so we need to offer higher wages in order to attract and retain them.

    This perspective ignores the fact that the pool is not finite (or, more accurately, is not as finite as you claim it to be). For example, London UK has historically engaged in outreach efforts around the world in order to attract immigrants to work in the transportation sector. Why can’t the TTC engage in similar practices? If there aren’t enough Canadians who are willing and able to be transit operators, the TTC should take the initiative and work with the federal government in order to step up overseas recruitment efforts and to facilitate immigration by aspiring transit operators.

    As an aside, I would be interested in statistics showing whether the diversity of TTC employees matches the diversity of Toronto’s population. From what I’ve seen — and this is purely a personal impression, so I may be wrong — the TTC (like the police and fire departments) is more white and more male than the general population. Being more active in overseas recruitment (and/or in underrepresented communities here in Toronto) might help to remedy that.

    Steve: The TTC is actively working to improve its diversity. However, any large organization (public or private) will always lag the makeup of the general population when this changes faster than the turnover rate of the organization. Even if the TTC is hiring proportionately to the current makeup of the city as a whole, a large number of employees were hired when the makeup was much different.

    This gets into the delicate question of whether people in groups who formerly made up a larger part of the population should be denied employment. Note to posters — I will not entertain a discussion of race-based hiring here so don’t bother trying to start one.


  4. As a note to people who think TTC operators seem less than 100% efficient, I will paraphrase a comment made by a transit employee on another board relating to another city where this discussion came up. He made a comment along the lines of “Well, to those people who say that .. how efficient are YOU in your job? Are you allowed to take breaks? Are you expected to work for eight hours without a coffee or lunch or washroom break? Are you willing to say that you don’t waste one minute of your work day chatting with your co-workers or surfing the internet or doing some personal activity? Transit operators don’t have the luxury of going the washroom or stopping to catch up with a co-worker whenever they feel like it, so when they get to the end of the line and have a few minutes before leaving again or have their scheduled break, they are entitled to it. You may only see them for a short fraction of their work day, and if it happens to include them stopping for a few minutes, you are wrong to assume that they are not working “efficiently”. Like you they also have a home and family to think about, bills to pay and worrying about their children or their elderly parents. You don’t see this when you see them for only a few minutes. ”

    Transit employees are not robots, and like everyone else, are entitled to breaks as appropriate. Also, just like the rest of the population, some may be less efficient and some more efficient than average. The job requires paying attention at all times to unpredictable traffic, weather conditions, surly passengers, monitoring fares and calling stops, plus working varying hours, split shifts which can play havoc with family life. This line of work is a lot more stressful than many jobs, and discounting it on the basis of seeing a handful of drivers is unrealistic.


  5. If (for the sake of argument) TTC workers are not working at maximum productivity, what is management doing about it? If working below maximum productivity is endemic, then management would seem to be the problem, a problem that would persist if cheaper labour was hired. Productivity could well go lower, given that people making less for doing the same work have less reason to be committed to it. You could also look for the same high replacement rate you get with part-timers.


  6. I will reiterate what I had said earlier in another thread that was not posted: the perception of public transit operators by the average taxpayer is that these operators are being paid too much when a good portion of them are rude and provide terrible service to its patrons. Even more galling is the attidude of some of these bad apples in which they only think about their wallets and not about their customers (as they should be doing). I have actually heard operators dismiss the complaints they have against them and wonder about the next pay increase, or that they don’t care about the customers they want to strike because they want that cushy pay raise. And when they do get said pay raise, their attidude deteriorates even more as they care less about doing their job right and more about how the money instead.

    Steve: Sorry, but I cannot agree with your characterisation of TTC staff. Based on my own experience it is not true. Indeed, if you are thinking of “bad apples”, then by definition they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

    I’m not asking for them to cut TTC wages. It is way too late for that. Rather, I would like to see the provincial government declare Transit workers as an essential service, meaning that they do not have the right to strike and that they should submit to an arbitrator. This is essential because if they do go on strike the entire city stops, as evidenced by the recent wildcat strike. Also, it means that the TTC no longer has to accept outrageous demands by the Union and will have more flexibility on how to do its business.

    Steve: Be careful what you ask for. Some of the previous issues that have gone to arbitration have been won by the union. You seem to have the impression that arbitrators will always see things from the politically correct and conservative point of view.

    As for demands placed on the TTC, it is time for people to start citing chapter and verse about what should be changed, assuming of course that you know what is actually in the ATU contract and have some specific suggestions rather than mudslinging.


  7. OK I’ll offer up a suggestion or two. I do not have a current ATU Collective Agreement however, some years ago there was a demand by the Union for more straight shifts (as opposed to split shifts) one way in which this was accomplished was giving work to operators whereby an operator coming off a morning rush service would drive buses through the wash for the balance of his shift. This was garage work and said garage workers got paid less. Instead of creating a new rate, blending the two classes of work, they paid operators their rate to do garage work. If operators wanted a straight shift they should have been prepared to accept a little less pay for that benefit.

    Steve: There are several points here. First, the “combined work” shifts didn’t work out well. There isn’t a huge requirement for garage operators between the peaks, and someone who drove in the AM peak would be finished work probably no later than 2 pm. The argument about wage rates ignores the fact that the TTC saves money by having one employee’s worth of benefits spread over two functions. That saving more than fund the “extra” cost of paying a garage operator at full operator rates.

    Is there a proper spare board to cover work of operators taking time off? In older Agreements this was prohibited and all such work was/is covered by operators working at time and one half. For the size of the work force this is ridiculous. I don’t want to see part time workers but, a spare board is essential. Workers don’t have a “right” to all the overtime they want.

    Steve: There has been a spare board at the TTC for as long as I can remember and its main function is to fill crews that are empty due to absences. Anyone on the spare board who isn’t assigned a full crew is given whatever work is available.

    As for overtime, this is not a question of a “right”. Up to a point, it is cheaper to pay an existing employee to work overtime because the marginal cost is not the full 50% premium for overtime. All operators have certain fixed costs including uniforms, vacations, insurance, UIC and CPP that do not go up when an operator works more hours. A rule of thumb for benefits and other overhead is in the 20-25% range, not to mention the “capital investment” of having an employee who is trained and experienced. For a certain amount of extra work, especially in an organization with peaks and valleys in demand, it is no more expensive to have someone work the overtime than to crew it all from dedicated staff. Indeed, if you have too many extra staff to cover the extra work, you may have more staff than you actually need.

    Another note is that the length of an operator’s work day is set by Provincial legislation. This prevents using the same operators for a widely extended workday.


  8. Steve,

    Several “interesting” comments so far. It would seem that the solution to all that ails government (at all levels) is simple: blame the unions and go after the renumeration paid to unionized government workers. This is the simple approach of the far right wing. I am a TTC operator. On the last “Sunshine List” there were 277 TTC employees; 28 were unionized workers (17 operators, 3 clerks, 5 coach technicians, 2 lead hand coach technicians, 1 lead hand C.I.S. technician), the balance were various levels of TTC management.

    Prior to joining the TTC, I was employed in the telecommunications industry and was myself downsized twice. I also watched many jobs disappear as they were outsourced to “emerging” second/third world countries. It is tough to watch colleagues lose their jobs after they have given many years of service to a corporation. I came to the TTC mainly for the security – bus operators are hard to outsource to overseas.

    Am I well paid? I would say yes I am. Am I overpaid? I would say I am not. Those who say that I am overpaid should spend a day doing my job. Keep in mind that on all those storm days in the winter when everybody leaves their car at home because it is too nasty to drive; I am on the job making sure that they get to work and back home safely. I am not a radical left wing unionist. Politcally, I am more middle of the road. I believe very strongly, however that Toronto needs a well funded, efficient transit system.

    To those who want to tackle the city unions in Toronto: you also have to look at how well the unionized workers are managed (or not as the case may be). The TTC is very top heavy with managers and I am sure that the same can be said of the City of Toronto.

    Take a look at the ATU contract and remember that it is a “Collective Agreement” equally agreed to by the union and the TTC Commissioners (and thereby the City).


  9. Steve,

    Thanks for providing a forum to discuss these issues.

    I agree that people should point toward specific examples of cutting labour expenditures, rather than just making unfounded allegations. In that spirit, I have looked at the collective agreement (http://www.atu113.org/pdf/atu113agreement05.pdf).

    I found Section 14 interesting. This section grants an employee a paid holiday on her/his birthday and an additional “floater holiday” on the preceding or following workday. I know of no other workplace that grants it (certainly most people don’t expect it), and I tend to think that the average TTC rider would have no qualms about pushing for its removal. Removing this clause would enable two extra workdays per employee. On the assumption that the average worker works about 250 days per year, this produces a labour efficiency gain of 2/250 = 0.8%. Given that over 70%+ of the TTC’s budget goes toward salaries, this could go a long way toward finding the cuts that the TTC needs to make.

    What do you think?

    Steve: However you slice it, you are asking for the equivalent of “Rae Days” where people either work more days for the same pay, or take unpaid time off.

    The floater holidays in many organizations are relics of statutory holidays that are no longer observed. One of them, I am sure, is November 11 which was once observed throughout government agencies. Yes, there are many people who don’t get that day, or a replacement floater, off, but that type of arrangement is part of the pay package negotiated over many years.

    If you want to cut pay rates, just say so, because that is the effect of what you are asking.


  10. I think the TTC has a strong business case to keep much of its operations in house; this isn’t about militant unionism; in most cases it does make sense. Still there is a strong, sometimes valid, belief that there is potential value to be realized from competitive tendering for public services. The TTC management should be pragmatic about this; “play the game” so to speak, and be open to competitive tendering, especially if it is confident that its own people can do the job as well for the same money. If it is not willing to do this, it is open to arguments that its business practices have an ideological basis (which I don’t believe they generally do) and may be subject to a heavy hand from senior governments, who after all, do hold have the deep pockets here. So say you’re open to contracting out, but prove it is not the right, or most cost effective, solution.

    Steve: There is a huge overhead in “playing the game” because the type and scale of work to be done is quite large, and no potential contractor will have facilities or a trained workforce just sitting there ready to roll. Just specifying the work to be tendered would be quite a task, let alone evaluating the competence of someone to take the work on.

    When the TTC built the Sheppard Subway, they were going to tender the tracklaying, but gave ATU Local 113 a chance to bid on the work. 113 won.


  11. A note to Gord (and any other TTC operator who may be reading):

    T H A N K Y O U ! ! !

    Thank you to the subway collector for recognizing and letting me through the turnstile when I absent-mindedly left my metropass at home. (Nice to know my occasional “hellos” don’t go unnoticed.)

    Thank you to the Queen streetcar driver who woke me after I fell asleep and nearly missed the stop that I had asked, through slightly intoxicated language, to be called out.

    We’ve spent an hour or more together almost everyday for the past 38 years. Thank for for getting me to school and work. And shopping. And drinking. And the movies. And thank you for doing it safely. I must have travelled a million miles on public transit in this city and can honestly say that I have always felt like I was in good hands. I started riding the College streetcar on my own at eight years old to get from my parents’ home near Dufferin to the doctor’s office near Bathurst for weekly allergy shots. Apparently even my mother — who puts her faith solely in God and nobody/nothing else — had even a little for the TTC.

    Yes, there have been a couple of jerks here and there, but that’s what happens when people are involved. Some of ’em will be jerks.

    But let’s give these folks a break, and maybe even a smile and a hello from time to time, instead of blaming them for the city’s fiscal mess.


  12. “… you don’t really expect them to turn around and start the new trip without a break? Does your job require you to work non-stop?”

    No. But maybe a shorter break would do. And the comparison to “my job” is meaningless because my employer is not in financial difficulty. It is of course unpleasant to take fewer breaks and work more, but if it were a choice between my breaks and service cuts, I might find a way to suck it up. I don’t understand why this is taboo.

    Steve: The question is not just of “sucking it up” but of the safety of the passengers and some basic biology. As for a shorter break, the amount of time operators get at terminals varies depending on the day of the week, the weather and prevailing traffic conditions. If the schedule is cut too finely, it will be almost impossible to stay on time and the service will deteriorate even more than it might be thanks to the inadequacy of the service.

    Also, service cuts mean layoffs and more crowding for passengers leading to more confrontations and a hostile work environment. Just asking people to take slightly shorter breaks is a simplistic response to a complex problem.


  13. The CTA Yellow line, in which is going on the chopping block because of it being a two stop line and two car trains running every 15 mins is one line that will probley be replaced by a horrible bus service. (It already is on weekends and holidays. Plus the Skokie bus is 3-4 times slower then the trains, I know from experence:()

    To everyone who reads this blog from all sides of the poltical spectrum, I feel Steve should run the GTTA! If anyone who is running for premier is reading this blog, here’s your chairman! 🙂

    Steve: You realize, of course, that I would immediately launch a network of Swan Boats!

    Seriously, though, the GTTA chair can only do what the government lets him do. Up until now, this seems to consist of making one speech to anyone who will listen and showing up for photo ops when the Minister makes all of the important announcements. Not the job for me, thank you!


  14. If anything, I’d suggest it would be better to schedule longer layover time at terminals to allow room to even out bunching that accumulates on longer routes. A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting for the Sheppard East bus at the first stop east of Don Mills station in the early evening. Finally I saw two of them heading westbound towards Don Mills, and sure enough, when one finally came eastbound, there was the second one right behind it. Building in more recovery time could have evened the service out, but instead the same uneven service continued right from the start of the route.

    Normally I would think that any additional buses should simply go toward increasing service frequency, but they might actually be better off going toward recovery time to better regulate service, especially on longer routes that start bunching up easily and where the effect of one extra vehicle on service frequency can be pretty minimal. (And those probably happen to be the same routes where operators really could use the extra break.)


  15. That article on Chicago is an eye-opener.

    “‘The CTA has a long history of scaring riders with doomsday scenarios. They claimed the sky was falling, and now only half the sky is falling,’ said Michael Pitula, a community organizer with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.”

    CTA could easily be replaced by TTC in the first sentence at least.

    I was in Chicago last year, just after a bunch of service improvements tied to the introduction of the Pink Line (basically a rerouting and improvement of the old Blue Line Cermak branch) were implemented. It’s not a bad system by US standards, but trains there run every 10 minutes on weekends, with smaller, narrower cars in only 2-6 car trains on most lines. I’ll still take the TTC over almost anything else in North America (New York may be the only exception, but even Muni isn’t wonderful).


  16. Rob mentions the provision in the collective agreement that gives TTC employees a holiday on their birthday and a floater holiday as a specific example of where a specific cut could be made. Steve pointed out that it is effectively a pay cut, and should be labelled so.

    This is true, as they were implemented effectively as pay raises without directly changing the budget dollars to do so. However, there is far more than simply the budget issue in this point in the collective agreement: the public perception. As they say, sometimes it is the sizzle and not the steak. While I wouldn’t want to suggest that TTC employees have it easy and are overpaid, this sort of thing in the collective agreement is perfect cannon fodder for those who will take that point of view.

    If we’re going to call the removal of those two days a pay cut, then let’s have some cahones and replace them with an equivalent pay raise before making the cut.

    Steve: More to the point, in any work year an employee gets “X” number of paid days off be these statutory holidays, vacation days, or floaters. The birthday holiday is effectively part of the vacation allowance, but it will be distributed over the full year rather than falling in one season. If people want to debate whether the vacation allowance (regardless of what it is called) is excessively generous, that’s the real issue.

    Going after people for having birthday floaters makes the argument a personal one against TTC staff rather than a general one about the appropriate number of paid days off.


  17. Rob said, “This section grants an employee a paid holiday on her/his birthday and an additional “floater holiday” on the preceding or following workday. I know of no other workplace that grants it.”

    Many workplaces grant floater holidays to extend summer long weekends from 3 days to 4, and shut the office down on those days. Rather then 2 days, they usually get 3 or 4 days. Because the TTC can’t just do that, they are providing this as an alternative using a mechanism that ensures drivers don’t all take days off at the same time.


  18. Longer Layover times? Maybe, if it is on routes known to have unreliable service periods. However, I’ve seen long layover times at routes that do not need such long periods.

    Take the 106 York University, for example. During Sunday evenings, it takes two buses to make a 40 minute round trip. 20 minute layover time. I know this because I used to be on residence at York and heading home on a Sunday night was quite annoying. So why don’t they shorten the interval to 20 minutes? So at least we don’t have to wait as long for a bus. Same with 37 Islington. During the evening hours, it usually stays at Steeles loop for upwards of 20 minutes. Why not reduce layover times to provide better service? How about 30 Lambton? 1 bus can make a round trip in 40 minutes, yet it is laid over for 20 minutes. Meaning service can only be provided every hour. Why not provide 45 minute service? They’ll still get a 5 minute layover.

    Again, this is all about perception. What the public will see is TTC employees not only providing bad service (per my earlier posting), but they spend a good amount of time simply loafing around. If you want to justify the wages the operator makes, they should make sure that they present themselves as working hard for the average commuter. Right now, I and many other people are simply not seeing it.

    Steve: Unreasonably long layover times come from scheduling, not from lazy employees. I commonly see several King and Dundas cars at times in my “home station”, Broadview especially on Sundays. These are days when running times are unpredictable due to special events, and when things are quiet, the cars have lots of time to kill at the terminals. However, on other days, one can wait quite a while for a car because they are all short-turning due to some event that demolishes the service.

    The question here is whether the York U bus, for example, ever needs the generous running times it has, or if service could be improved at no cost simply by reducing the layovers. That is completely separate from the question of whether operators are “loafing around”.


  19. I agree with your comments Steve, but I have seen many commuters irate over the fact that the driver has been doing nothing but “sitting there picking your nose while we wait for you”.

    Granted this is also a management issue and not purely union-based, but the average commuter does not know this and proceed to think that the operators, and by extension the union are a whole bunch of lazy bums who do nothing but waste time and so on.

    I had a discussion with a driver of the 106 York University bus at one point and asked why doesn’t the TTC increase the service frequency by reducing layover time. What he told me was that the TTC has been trying to do so, but has to run the proposal past the union, who then shot it down. While he wouldn’t mind running on a reduced layover, apparently the other driver does not want to, apparently he is a senior driver who prefers the extended layovers.

    Again, Steve, this is all about perception. The reason why unionized workers in public service are usually the target of taxpayer wrath is that they appear not to do much and yet demand exorbant wage hikes. To us it appears they want to work less and get paid more. The TTC needs to do a better job to make it appear that their workers are worth every penny on the job. Scheduling is one thing, making sure that their employees excel at customer service is another.

    Steve: It is management’s right to set the schedules. They should use it. I find it hard to believe that the TTC caved on such an obious issue as this, and more may be at work.

    For example, if you have a route that runs every half hour all day long, it may only actually need 25 minutes running time during the day, and this is rounded up to 30 to make it easy for people to remember. Come the evening, the bus might be able to handle a 20 minute running time. However, this would create a reasonable expectation of an all-day 20 minute service and therefore require an extra bus.

    It is possible that the TTC is hiding behind “the union won’t let us” when what they really want to avoid is a service improvement that costs money to implement on an all-day basis.

    As for operators’ attitude, I reiterate that there are many, many fine operators who I and other writers here encounter every day. Yes, there are some idiots, but that doesn’t condemn everyone.


  20. Currently the 106 York University bus runs on a 15 minute schedule during the day on Sundays and 30 minute schedule during the evening. It shouldn’t be a stretch to lower it to 20 minutes to make the service more frequent. You may be right that there may be a reason behind it, but the fact remains is this: during Sunday evenings, the buses consistently arrive at 25 and 55 minutes past each hour and leave 20 minutes later at 45 and 15 minutes past the hour. There is hardly any traffic on this route during the evening either and I will have to assume there is no reason why the TTC cannot lower the frequency to twenty minutes. If they are that concerned about layovers, then make the frequency 22 minutes (4 minute layover round-trip) and run it concurrent with 108 Downsview which also runs every 22 minutes.

    I have no issues with buses doing layovers so that the schedules are more manageable. But there are cases in which there seem to be no reason why we need to have 30-60 minute headways with layovers of 20 minutes. A 5-10 minute layover I can understand, but 15-20 is overkill.


  21. Just a fast comment about “Birthday” and “Floater” Days.

    TTC crews are based on a five day workweek (Sunday to Saturday). Statutory Holidays are actually scheduled work days for us UNLESS it happens to fall on one of our two off days. We do not get time off for Stat days. The floater days enable us to get TWO long weekends per year!

    There are many work rules and regulations which are not listed in the collective agreement. They are covered by many appendixes which are hidden in the archives (until you contravene them).

    As for breaks/layovers at terminals; keep in mind that TTC management officially refers to this as “recovery time” or “schedule adjustment time”.
    This allows for additional vehicles to enter service during the start of rush hour or go out of service at the end of rush hour. As for operators taking a “break” at the terminal. This is an opportunity to use the washroom as well as get up out of the seat and stretch.

    I agree that there are some “bad apples” with attitude problems working at the TTC. However, they are present in every workplace. They are a small minority of the workers at TTC – most TTC operators and collectors are professional (from my personal observations). Unfortunately, most people remember the one percent who give the negative perception and tend to paint the remaining ninety-nine percent with the same brush.


  22. Just a quick thank-you to Steven dS. We (speaking on behalf of all TTC Operators and Collectors) appreciate your support. As I previously posted, ninety-nine percent of us make the effort to be courteous and professional in our day to day dealings with the travelling public. And yes, I do recognize regular passengers on my routes and will help them in the way that the Station Collector helped you.


  23. I use the TTC mostly in off peak hours and therefore have the luxury of speaking to Operators. I always say Thank You when boarding or leaving (hence the off peak hours opportunity to NOT leave by the rear doors.) Almost all the Operators I encounter (and many who I know) smile and say You’re Welcome, Pleasant Evening or something similar. Given the stresses that Operators encounter every day, I could not imagine a more pleasant work force.

    One time, as I stood at King and Ossington, I was trying to decide whether to eat at a King Street eatery or in Chinatown (via Ossington Bus and Dundas Car). I was not at a bus or streetcar stop – just sort of contemplating. An Ossington bus came by and stopped – opened the door and the Operator said “How are you Buddy”. I chose Chinatown. On other occasions I have been on the Ossington Bus when it passes the streetcar stop on Queen near Ossington. The bus stop is around the corner, but when an individual with a heavy load or an elderly person gets off the streetcar the Operator stopped the bus – not at a stop and invited the rushing overloaded or elderly person aboard. Many times I have been on the Ossington Bus when Operators look in their mirror and wait for people rushing up to the stop. These observations are anecdotal, but I doubt that all the concerned and polite Operators are put on one route. More likely they are everywhere.

    I am completely tired of the “politics of resentment”. Being a TTC Operator is a good job – though in some ways somewhat more stressfull than some others. Arbitrarily cutting benefits or wages is just spiteful and hateful. Thank you Steve for so ably countering some of the ill informed comments above. Please don’t post wage and benefit cut suggestions unless they are actually capable of being backed up in a fair society equivalent to the treatment each of us would expect for ourself.


  24. First, and with all due respect, criticizing the provision in the collective agreement that gives employees an extra paid day holiday on their birthday is not a “personal [argument] against TTC staff.” It is a general critique of a provision that the overwhelming number of employees in society as a whole do not receive. Steve, with all due respect, and I happen to agree with most of what you write, I think that you are incorrect on this one point.

    Steve: My point is that the clear intent is to attack people for getting something others don’t. I have already pointed out that these are simply an alternative way to allocate vacation days. This arrangement (a) spreads them out over the year, and (b) ensures that everyone gets a two-day vacation on an important date for them.

    Many companies have shorter hours in the summer, and that’s something not available to everyone. It is considered a benefit and an enticement for their staff. Lots of people don’t have as generous benefit packages as others, but that does not invalidate the package that the more fortunate have.

    My more general concern relates to the seniority-based (as opposed to merit-based) structure of the TTC. Under the collective agreement, junior employees receive significantly lower salaries and vacation allotments than senior employees. This makes little sense — an operator with 20 years’ experience is driving the same routes as an operator with 2 years’ experience, yet s/he is entitled to a substantially higher salary and vacation time. (As an aside, there may be pay-equity considerations if, as I suspect, most senior operators are men whereas junior operators are more evenly balanced between men and women.)

    Steve: Seniority is a long-standing principle as is experience. The lower pay for early years addresses the experience issue, and also encourages new staff to stay long enough to rise to the full level of older staff. The use of seniority to govern job selection does not violate human rights laws. Indeed, seniority is the main incentive to stay with an organization so that you get to a point where you can pick a shift and route that you want rather than taking the dregs of the schedule. You may not like it, but a fast way to drive employees out the door is to take away the one benefit they get for longevity on the job.

    There seems to be a misconception that operating a transit vehicle is a highly skilled occupation. As much as I respect transit operators, and as much as I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, it’s not. The position requires little education, and skills that can be taught in a comparatively short training course.

    Steve: Just ask the TTC how many people fail the one-month training course, and how many leave within a year of starting work because they cannot handle the stress. Pay is not always about “education” as those who have worthless degrees know only too well. It’s about the value a service provided by an employee has and the need to attract new employees.

    Instead of placing so much priority on a seniority-based system, which encourages operators to stay on for years if not decades, we should encourage them to move on after a reasonable period of time, perhaps into TTC management — I’m a strong believer that the best managers are those who have been operators. In their place we should be conducting vigorous outreach efforts here and overseas to encourage new people to take up their positions. There is no shortage of people in the world who would be willing and able to be TTC operators, if we cast our net widely enough.

    Steve: [I hate to say it, but I am laughing out loud now.] So your solution to the problem is to have operators move en masse into management, an area where there is even higher salaries, and where the classic complaint about the public sector is that it’s too top-heavy. Driving a bus does not necessarily make you a good manager. Organizations are full of people who were good at what they used to do but are hopeless as managers.

    You put a nice policy gloss on this by suggesting that this will open up spots for a more diverse workforce w.ho, of course, we will pay at the lower rates you want for new TTC staff. I believe that is called discrimination.

    Churn in the labour market isn’t a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong about viewing TTC operators as having an entry-level position and expecting them to change jobs in a few years. Paying a senior person significantly more for doing substantially the same job as a junior person doesn’t make sense, economically or philosophically.

    Steve: Churn is fine when you can get and keep staff, and have them work under trying conditions. Even so, there is no reason to make a TTC operator’s job as miserable as possible in the hope that they will leave so that you can bring someone new in at even lower pay.

    Please note that I will not post any further comments in this vein as I find many of your suggestions highly offensive and simplistic in the extreme.


  25. Steve, this sure is a testy topic!

    As to the comments about merit pay, it’s an idealistic concept that doesn’t work without objective measures of performance. Sadly those measures are usually manipulated to satisfy other criteria than performance, the motivation being something other than the desireable and inspired instead by issues such as favortism, nepotism or other nefarious -isms!

    Seniority could very well be the worst measure of worth, but it’s better than the alternatives.

    Also to those opposed to the TTC giving a couple of days paid for a birthday or floating holiday. All 4 of the companies I’ve worked for in the past 25 years have floating holidays to compensate for statutory holidays in other jurisdictions (example Heritage Day in Alberta, Remberance Day, Fete Nationale in Quebec) that employees wouldn’t otherwise get. We in the “private sector” also get things like Golf Days, which I’m sure more than a few TTC operators would enjoy an afternoon shooting a few rounds. I say don’t begrudge them a day off for their birthday, look at what days you get off when others are working. If you don’t get anymore that the statutory requirement, get a job with the TTC if you think you can handle it.


  26. Just a comment to clarify “Rob’s” comment about TTC Operator’s wages and vacations.

    Hourly wages breakdown as follows:
    $20.06 starting
    $22.35 after 12 months
    $23.77 after 24 months
    $26.58 after 30 months
    above efective April 1, 2007

    After 30 months on the job, ALL operaters earn the same rate. Hardly showing favourtism for “senior” operators.

    As for vacations, this policy applies to ALL TTC employees (regardless of whether they are unionized or not):
    2 weeks after completion of one year
    3 weeks commencing their second year
    4 weeks commencing their ninth year
    5 weeks commencing their seventeenth year
    6 weeks commencing their twenty-third year
    This is comparable to my experience working in the private sector.

    My final comment is that anybody can read through the collective agreement and quote portions of it out of context to try to validate their arguments.

    Steve: Various people have written in here saying that it doesn’t take much education to drive a bus. In the formal sense, no, you don’t need a PhD. However, as drivers gain experience in a variety of traffic situations, they learn how to handle congestion, heavy loads, surly passengers and bad weather among other things. Anyone who has ever compared the progress down a line of a bus or streetcar with a junior operator to one with a veteran who know how to handle a difficult situation will know that there’s a big difference. Junior operators tend to get later, sooner, because they don’t have the experience to drive more aggresively, but still safely, when they need to.

    As for wages, note that the top rate is equivalent to just over $55,000 per year based on a 40-hour week and without benefits, and you need to work 2.5 years to reach this level.


  27. Steve,

    A simple question: Can anyone name a major transit sytem (in a city with a high percentage of automobile ownership) with a cost recovery ratio that approaches Toronto’s?

    They can’t. The next question: Given the TTC’s outstanding efficiency, how can anyone argue that the TTC has a major efficiency problem tied to its labour costs or any other factor?

    They can’t. Talk is cheap, but services cost money. The TTC does not receive enough operating funds from the Province to do the job we demand of it. As some conservatives say “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. If we want public services we must pay for them.

    Here is the choice we need to debate: are you willing to pay taxes for good transit or are you willing to see transit service sharply decline? Anyone who dodges this question by shifting to an arguement about the efficiency of the TTC is not facing facts, or worse is avoiding owning up to the consequences of their anti-tax position.

    As a member of the budget committee, I do take a serious look at the TTC’s operating expenditures line by line. In the 2007 budget I found some small amounts that could be shaved, but in terms of the overall budget these were pennies.

    Toronto needs excellent transit service to: defend neighborhoods from being swamped by cars; to keep the thriving retail strips in customers; to include the 1/3rd to 1/2 of the population who by virtue of age ability or income do not drive cars; to keep cultural and entertainment sites like Roy Thompson Hall (which has fewer parking spots than seats) viable. If you want the quality of life Toronto offers, one piece of the equation must be a meaningful commitment of provincial money.


    Steve: But another piece of that equation is a real commitment by Council to fund the TTC, not to treat it as a handy, fast way to cut its overall budget when times get tough. People waiting for the streetcar that never comes don’t want a sign on their stop saying:

    “For more information about our frequent service, please call Dalton McGuinty”.

    Queen’s Park is important, but as long as Council sits on its butt until Dalton hands over some cash, it’s the service that suffers.


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