Keeping My Hand Out Of The Cookie Jar

After my appearance on Metro Morning today, an interesting question came up from a caller — am I paid for the work I do by the TTC?

The answer, quite emphatically, is no.  The last time the TTC paid me for anything was in 1969 when I left a clerical position there to return to school.

My professional life throughout the entire period of my transit activism has been in the Information Technology sector, most recently as Operations Manager for the Toronto District School Board’s IT department.  I have my opinions about how TDSB was managed, but I keep them to myself as befits the role of an employee, and my advocacy has been in other sectors, mainly transit.  I retired at the end of March.  And, yes, as a manager I appeared on the “sunshine list” for 2008.

Over the decades, I have co-authored a few small reports for non-TTC agencies and have received small honoraria for appearing at community events.  A $50 Chapter’s gift card is not going to change my lifestyle or buy my opinion.

I’ve been to countless meetings where the refreshments ranged from pizza and sandwiches, cookies, coffee, cold drinks (if you get there early), water or nothing at all.  People buy me a beer now and then.  Oh yes, Bombardier bought me breakfast once.  I think it cost them about $15.  Dinners at the Ritz are not my lot.

I am actually paid, but not much, for the articles I write in spacing magazine.  The hard copy version, not the blog.

Part of being a “transit advocate” is to talk to people, to advise them on the details of my thoughts on issues.  These have ranged over the years through the media, many parts of City Hall and Queen’s Park, community groups, even people within the TTC.  Some listen more than others, but an advocate can’t expect to hit 100%.  It’s the consistency and credibility of the message that matters.

I must say that the current environment both at the TTC and City Hall are a vast improvement over the days when talking to me was a firing offence at the TTC.  That was a few Chief General Managers ago, and it’s not hard to figure out which CGM might have been so insecure as to have such an attitude.  David Gunn was a huge breath of fresh air by contrast.

There are times that what I say supports TTC policies, and more times when I am highly critical.  Indeed, there have been occasions when I do a better job of explaining what the TTC is up to than their own staff do (or can, given constraints on what employees can say).

Would I like to be paid for all of this?  Well, at times I wonder why I do it, particularly all the work of maintaining this site, but it’s for a good cause.  My cause may not align with the views others have of Toronto’s planning and transit.  They are free to advocate on their own, although I have a few years’ head start.

The moment I get paid, my role would be suspect, and after a long period as a pro bono advocate, showing up as a paid spokesman might confer a credibility undeserved by the client.  I’m not selling my reputation.

The 2005 Jane Jacobs Prize was a special honour in recognition of years of work.  When I did a quick calculation, the $15k award came out to well under $1 an hour, although it was tax free.  The honour was to receive this from Jane while she was still alive, and that I share it with so many others of distinction in our city.  There is no formal requirement of the prize, although continuing my effort is likely assumed.  It’s hard to imagine anyone on that award list treating it as a chance to retire from public life.

If I ever take on paid work, I will be the first to declare it here so that any possible conflict of interest is visible to all.

21 thoughts on “Keeping My Hand Out Of The Cookie Jar

  1. Bravo! Even if readers don’t always agree with you, I believe that you have garnered the utmost respect for exercising a fundamental tenet of democracy – free speech.

    Please – continue to play advocate. The value goes beyond money, you are the voice of thousands. And thank you.


  2. Well, as someone who tracks semi-obscure interests over what is now becoming a very long term, what I can’t understand is how you keep track of so many details on so many subtopics, particularly when such details are buried in mountains of ancient paper.

    To say the same thing another way, just keeping current on lousy TTC signage and the history of its typeface took years off my life.

    So what’s your secret? Surely clean living.

    Steve: I will remain silent on my secrets, clean or otherwise.


  3. While many people may not agree with your sensibilities, I’m sure most, if pressed to admit it, would approve of the way you go about spreading the word. Politicians certainly find out the hard way how you can go from hero to zero getting paid to perform an honourable service. In my personal experience it’s help a friend, they appreciate it, but get hired for the same job, you’re the enemy. I’m very skilled with computers but don’t make a career of it for that very reason.

    Some will never understand your dedication just as much as certain people’s hobbies are a great mystery to me. Perhaps if everyone would make the effort to inform themselves properly on transit/transportation issues instead of taking things personally then we’d be much further ahead as a region. Unfortunately a lot of small minds need expanding and a lot of large egos need deflating. I’m sure you’d happily retire from advocacy were your input not so desperately needed. While a number of people in high places need a little prodding now and then, there’s much more to life than hearding shepherds 😉


  4. Steve: Though I do not always agree with every position you take I think that anyone who lives in Toronto (especially those who are interested in transit) owes you a great deal. Not only do you explain complex and inter-connected things very well, you tolerate ‘fools’ gladly (or at least politely!) and this blog is a wonderful source of transit (and sometimes culture) facts, figures and opinions. The “Better Way” can do better and it’s thanks to you and a few others keeping an eye on them that may actually see things improve (more). Perhaps the first Swan Boat could be named “Steve”?


  5. If you were paid for your work, there is no way you’d be saying a third of what you say on this site. So, I am one who is grateful that you’re not in anyone’s pay.

    On the other hand, I do wonder how much the Swan coalition has you in their pocket. Perhaps they gave you a cygnet ring?

    Steve: Groaning loudly! I am not sure how well “Lord of the Swans” would have done as a piece of fantasy, much less an extended edition DVD.


  6. Steve, thanks for all the work you do in the spirit of generosity (and good transit). I’ve learned a lot from your site. I’m sure more prizes are forthcoming!


  7. Congratulations Steve — extremely well deserved on your part. From someone who follows much of what you say and agrees with you often (but not always of course).


  8. How about a theatrical rendition then? I’d go to Stratford to see that!

    “O TTC, TTC, wherefore art thou TTC,” which I believe loosely translates into “Can’t live with It, can’t live without It.” Are we destined to destroy each other? “That which we call a Tokyo Rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” The audience will be seated upon stinky trash bins which, thanks to the garbage train fire, have become the bench of choice outside Lansdowne Subway Station.

    Steve: Sounds rather Brechtian to me, although some of the TTC’s antics are more apropos of Gilbert and Sullivan. After all, where do you think “Admiral Adam” came from?


  9. For some weird reason, I keep thinking I have read this post before. But regardless, I don’t think the people in this city realize the debt they owe you and others like you for your efforts.

    Steve: There will be some echoes to an earlier post, probably one celebrating a milestone in the history of this site. However, given the question about whether I was on the TTC’s payroll, I thought it best to reiterate my relationship with them and with “official” agencies generally.


  10. Thank you Steve for pursuing this labour of whatever it is – and the keeping up of the blog with limited curtailing of commments.
    But here’s a thought – if the TTC is somewhat of a monopoly, what can we do to promote some competition ie. bike lanes that parallel a lot of the core travel/transit demand that the streetcars effectively prevent installing, as we can’t rearrrange the road so readily for bike lanes by repainting, as the streetcar tracks dictate lane position. I think if we had a decent safe east-west bike route in the lower west end core, we’d see a lot more folks on their bikes and thus undercutting the TTC revenues, even saving the price of a new streetcar or two.
    And on Bloor, a bike lane there is about as close to free subway capacity as one will ever have. Maybe 8kms done for the salary of 3 tickettakers?
    Nobody at the City is tracking the myriads of harms to cyclists from the streetcar tracks either.
    Yes, sometimes cyclists are passholes and beyond sometimes, but the bike is truly the better way for a lot of the core.


  11. ‘Epic theatre’, huh? We came close with that subway closure – just imagine the scene if those throngs of travellers had been forced to stand around waiting for the shuttle buses in today’s rain! The only thing that kept it civil was that the problem wasn’t the TTC’s fault, which all staff in attendance were quick to point out to everyone. Somehow that diffused most people who were looking to pick a fight about the closure. Had it actually been the TTC’s fault, LOOK OUT!


  12. While we may not always agree- you keep everybody honest. You are fair and balanced, and frankly many advocates are not. Thank you for that.

    (You’re option to publish this… blatant praise may be embarrassing, but I wanted to show my support for what you do so well.)


  13. Steve:

    Your lucid way with words combined with your passion/love for public transit provides an ideal basis for your role as an activist. Roll in your background knowledge and IT skills — it is easy to understand how you have the attention of the media, public officials and the general public. You fulfill a vital role in the public realm.


  14. One of the best examples of what a blog can be.

    Would love to hear you more on CBC Radio One. Not so much on that uh, streetcar show on the TV channel.

    I really value what you post here. An enjoyable education.

    Thanks Steve.


  15. You’re going this role for nothing, and 20+ TTC staff and at least a half dozen SCs were on the platform at Yonge/Bloor SB this morning milling about directing people down the platform something about a third of them (at most) could have done.

    At least it’s not standing in place doing nothing but handing out leaflets – like last week.

    Steve: Yes, I must pry myself out of bed early some day and go to watch this farce. I may even take a camera, and wait to see how long it takes for some officious TTC type who hasn’t read Bylaw 1 carefully to tell me I cannot take pictures there.


  16. When I heard about the TTC’s new thing at Bloor, I thought for a second they might be trying out a “common-sense” idea that was (rather disastrously) pitched on CBC’s Dragon’s Den. It was called the “Subway Barrier Wall with Enhanced Passenger Flow” and — like the staff-intensive pilot project at Bloor — focused on trying to separate and reorganize platform traffic.

    You can watch it online (it starts about 27 minutes in; click just to the right of the third dot in the timeline bar).


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