Customer Service On The Rocket (Update 3)

Updated January 24 at 5:30 pm:  The TTC has decided that it will accept the temporary adult tickets for refund until the end of March rather than having them turn into worthless confetti on February 1.  The original concern was with redemptions of counterfeit tickets, but few people would have any reason to have a large number of tickets on their own.  Only organizations that hand out TTC fares to their clients would buy large stocks in advance.

Updated January 24 at 8:00 am:  The TTC has added route-based advisories to its schedule pages.  47 Lansdowne now tells me about the diversion at the north end of the route.  504 King tells of the bus replacement on Roncesvalles.  41 Keele has three advisories — two for construction at Keele Station and one for the diversion at St. Clair.

This change addresses the problem of having to search in multiple locations for notices affecting the same route.

Updated January 23 at 11:00 am:  Revised and expanded to include comments on the Commission meeting of January 20 and CP24’s “On The Rocket” of January 21.

At the January 20th TTC meeting, on proposals by Chair Adam Giambrone and Commissioner Peter Milczyn, the Commission decided to seek out a “blue ribbon panel” to review customer service and improve the TTC.

What’s missing here is the very first step in any such review — a recognition that “customer service” is not just a smiling face on the front line, but an organization that really, truly, top to bottom believes that this is important.  Too much of what the TTC talks about is focussed on the employees’ interaction with customers.  Of course that’s part of the overall picture, but that relationship is coloured by the tools and support employees are given.

The TTC takes every chance to pat itself on the back, to tell Torontonians how great the system is.  Inevitably this shows up with praise for TTC management.  Indeed, Commissioners are loathe to publicly criticize management’s efforts.

That’s a huge shame because it sends the message that management is just fine, thank you, and doesn’t have to change the way they do business.


Many times, the TTC has received complaints about fare disputes, and a common response is that operators should use discretion depending on the circumstances.  However, the TTC spends an inordinate amount of time telling anyone who will listen how much money they are losing on fares, and stressing the need for greater vigilance.  (In the next breath, they will tell you how low the fare evasion rate is.)  Some customers make honest mistakes, but some are trying on whatever tactics they can use to avoid paying a full fare.  Just how much “discretion” should an operator use?

The recent fiasco about token hoarding, tickets and the fare increase has been worn, politically, by the politicians on the Commission, and, operationally, by the front-line TTC staff who suffer customer wrath about the botched implementation.  Everything in this can be traced directly to TTC management, but they get none of the blame.

  • In previous fare hikes, tickets were the fallback medium when the system ran out of tokens.  Now there are no adult tickets.  Ooops!  What did management do?  Suggest that people could pay full cash fare (a 50-cent premium to pay for their screw-up), and then send out a series of modified messages about where a lower cash fare might be acceptable (in a subway station but not on a bus).
  • Roughly half of the new revenue to be gained by the fare increase was from repricing the Metropass to a higher fare multiple (2 fares higher).  This was directly opposed to a Commission and City policy of some years that passes should fall, not rise, in price relative to tokens to shift more riders to the “all you can eat” mentality of transit use.  A reversal of this policy was never approved at the political level, but it was central to making the numbers work for the fare increase.  Indeed, net of projected riding loss impacts, the revenue jump for 2010 is much smaller than the overall expense increase in the budget.  This remains unresolved.

If there is a political lesson in the fare increase, it is that fare freezes (such as the one we had in 2009) are counterproductive.  In the short term, politicians look good because in tough economic times, we give people a break on transit fares.  But in the long term, there will eventually have to be a larger increase with much worse effects on riding and on the credibility of the Transit System.  Smaller increases in 2009 and 2010 might have had much less effect on riding, and the system would be in better shape for it.

Updated January 24:  The temporary tickets created to bridge the fare hike were originally set to expire and become non-refundable at the end of January.  The intention was to deter counterfeiters.  The TTC has extended the deadline to March 31 for refunds only, and will look carefully at anyone with a large volume of tickets to turn in.

Service Quality

The TTC has a long history of winning awards, so much so that I remember one staffer joking that a senior (now departed) member of the management team was looking for more awards for the TTC to win.  This sort of industry back-patting allows management to preen, to show what a great job they are doing.  Sometimes, they even share the glory with operating staff who actually make the system work.

At the January 20 meeting, we were treated to a long, rambling presentation that, on paper, sounded intriguing:  “International Benchmarking of Subway Cost and Performance”.  This came from a review launched in London (UK) of the performance of the private contractor responsible for running the tube system.  How well did they stack up against other agencies worldwide.  I will write this up in detail in a separate post.

The problem with this presentation was that it was badly done, and the presenter clearly didn’t really understand the behaviour of the data.  Some of it looks very bad for the TTC, some looks very good, but it is unclear why or which we should take seriously.  This all droned on for half an hour while the Commissioners did everything other than paying attention.  I expected to hear snoring.

Given recent complaints and well publicized incidents with subway service delays, signal problems, crowding, track fires, one might expect a presentation on these issues.  What is the TTC’s history?  Has the rate and/or length of delays been going up or down?  Are there specific changes the TTC can make to reduce these delays?  But no, there was nothing of that sort on offer.  Nothing to show how the system can address service problems, or even that it knows how current experiences fit into ongoing trends.

Customer Information

The TTC keeps coming up with ideas for better information for customers, but they are often fragments and suffer from half-hearted implementation.  There’s info on the web (if you know where to look), there’s info available by email, there’s info by text message, there’s even info by phone (business hours only, please hold for the next available operator), and soon there will be a trip planner.

The website, indeed the electronic information sources, suffer from disjointed implementation. If you want to know what’s going on, you have many options:

  • A major disruptions box appears on all TTC pages, but this only tells you about serious problems such as subway shutdowns or major (but temporary) surface diversions.
  • If your route is on diversion, this info might be found on the Route Diversions page or it might be found on the Construction Projects page.  Where it almost certainly will not be found is on the page holding the route’s schedule and route description.  There won’t even be a hotlink to the other pages.  Moreover, I suspect that the folks responsible for the Route Diversions only work business hours, and if something happens off hours, it may never appear anywhere at all.  Updated January 24 at 8:00 am.  This problem has been fixed by the addition of links to all service advisories affecting a route on its schedule page.  I will check to find out whether ad hoc diversions will be posted in the same way.
  • You can subscribe to eAlerts which arrive by email.  At this point you cannot subset which alerts you receive by route, but most alerts are for the subway anyhow.  As I have discussed elsewhere, these alerts are subject to delays common in all email systems.  Sometimes they arrive quickly, but often come in 8 minutes or more after they were sent.
  • You can follow Twitter or Facebook via SMS text messages on your PDA.  (If you don’t understand the preceding sentence, it probably does not apply to you.)  Technically, the advantage of text messages is that they tend to arrive much more quickly than email, typically within a few minutes of being sent.
  • Only recently has the TTC synchronized message content between eAlerts and text messages so that all the info goes out on all channels at once.

When the subway platform video screens were installed, there was much controversy about the intrusion into the system.  The advertising was sanitized by the provision of a band for TTC info displays and, more recently, the next train info.  If anything this is a boon to advertisers as it encourages people to look at the screen on a regular basis.  It’s rather like product placement in reverse — put some real content in with the commercials.

The problem with these screens, oddly enough, is that there are far too few of them.  Most platforms have only one, some have none at all, notably at TTC’s head office station, Davisville.  There is no information at mezzanine or surface level where it could be seen by customers using other parts of the station or even by TTC staff.  Meanwhile video screens are popping up as an advertising medium replacing static wall cards.  The visual clutter in some stations has reached the point where it is hard to find the actual transit information.

Collectors in the booths and operators on surface vehicles have almost no information about what is happening on the system.  A surface operator, at least, could subscribe to text messages, but they’re not supposed to read them while driving.  Indeed, there is some question about whether they are even supposed to look at internal messages sent via the CIS (vehicle monitoring) system from Transit Control while their bus or streetcar is in motion, or pick up calls via their vehicle phones.  Doing so may contravene the anti-cell phone legislation.


Signs are a special subset of information, and their content does not lend itself to conversion to electronic media.  There are, broadly speaking, two types of signs:  directional information that rarely changes and ad-hoc information about maintenance programs, special events and route diversions.

I will leave it to others to declaim at length about the vagaries of TTC signage both for content and for style.  Last fall, we saw new area maps go up in stations, only to discover that they were hopelessly inaccurate.  New ones were supposed to appear, if memory serves, by the end of October.  It is now January.

That such error-filled maps could be produced says much about their importance to the organization.

As I mentioned above, some stations have become so cluttered with “Station Domination” advertising that it is hard to find the actual directional signage.

When access between parts of stations is partly or completely closed, signs directing people to these routes should be blanked off.  For example, at Broadview, the new east stairs from platform to street level have been out of service since early fall, and will remain so until at least May 2010.  However, signs advertising these exits are fully lit and could, especially in an emergency, draw a passenger to an exit that is not actually available.

Temporary signs abound in stations, both in Collectors’ booths and in various other places.  The booths are simply a mess, and the TTC has yet to deal with this problem even though at least six months ago they claimed that they would provide proper laminated signs to replace the many hand-written ones.  Special event and diversion signs remain posted months after the event is over.  These are misleading to occasional riders, and should be removed, but it doesn’t appear to be anyone’s job to actually do this.


I left this to the last, given the recent publicity of the snoozing collector at McCowan Station.  Presuming that he was not ill (something the person who took the photo failed to ascertain even though he watched for five minutes waiting to see some signs of activity), yes, sleeping on the job isn’t a great advertisement for employee dedication.

That said, and among other complaints in the press and the blogs about rude employees, my day-to-day experience with TTC staff is fairly good.

One major problem the TTC does have is with poor labour relations.  This is a very dictatorial organization prone to demanding rather than working with its employees.  Good customer service comes from people who feel good about their job and their employer, and no amount of “training” can overcome a bad working environment.  Some years ago, every operator went on CUTA’s “Transit Ambassador” course.  It was considered a joke, simply a way for some time off, by many.

If employees feel badly about their jobs, the reasons need to be understood and addressed.  This won’t solve everything, and the bad apples will still be just as rotten.  However, the vast majority of good employees will be able to do better.

That said, a recent example shows how the attitudes in the field show up with on street service.  The Queen split experiment was resented by many, including those in TTC management, and this message hit the street loud and clear.  Many riders complained that they could not ride around the loops to destinations with better connections (Dufferin in the west, Broadview in the east).  Two separate orders went out from TTC head office saying “do it”, and these were ignored.

I have heard a lot of bilge about this related to the privacy of operator breaks, but this could have been addressed by changes in the operation.  (In the west, lay over on Dufferin, not on Shaw, so that passengers can connect to the Dufferin bus.  In the east, loop counter-clockwise so that a connection at Broadview is maintained and lay over southbound on Parliament.)  At times, it is easier to blame the union than working to find a solution.

At The Commission

As a long, long time attendee at TTC meetings, I am sadly familiar with the process of making deputations to the Commission.  Cap in hand, we supplicants come forward for our five minutes hoping that at least one Commissioner will even listen to our stories.

Far too often, people with legitimate issues are dismissed with, at best, a “thank you” and little followup.  One good example this week was a presentation about the St. Clair project.  Perish the thought the TTC might acknowledge their foul-ups, and the comments were more or less ignored.  This tactic may avoid a conflict with management in a public meeting, but it also sends two messages.  To staff, it says, we’ll back you up no matter what you do, and to the public it says, you don’t matter.

When those who would advise the TTC on service talk about how it must “start from the top”, that’s the kind of thing they mean.  Why should staff be polite to customers when the Commission will dismiss any complaint?  I know that’s a slight exaggeration, and some deputations (including even mine) can be trying, but that comes with the territory.

On The Rocket

Thursday’s show was Adam Giambrone’s last as the election campaign is about to start.  (I’m not pre-announcing anything — he said so at the end of the show.)

This program has always suffered from Giambrone’s wearing two hats.  He is the host, and as such, should be able to take the viewer’s point of view, to be an advocate for their concern in grilling an on-air guest.  Unfortunately, he is also the “guest” who answers many of the questions, and he spends too much time dolling out the official line without fully understanding what the caller’s concern might be.  The dual role is not workable.

In the first part of the show, the topic was the Queen route and the split operation trial.  Although I will write about this subject in more detail once I have analyzed all the data, one comment by the TTC merits rebuttal.  It was claimed that in having to turn off of Queen (left at Parliament eastbound and Shaw westbound), the streetcars created their own delays.  The answer should be that this scheme, to work, needed transit priority signals such as the one eastbound at Broadview and Queen.  In any event, the delays at the turn locations were nowhere near the main source of problems.  Giambrone should have challenged the statement, but let it pass.

There were many more short turns during the split operation than without it, but this is directly traceable to different line management techniques.  Something that was already known to work for the unified route was dropped for the test split operation with predictable consequences — short turns went up.

At no point was there any discussion of the alternative 507/501 split scheme put forward by many (including me) that would see a Long Branch to Dundas West service operate independently of a Neville to Humber service.  Indeed, one wonders if the TTC will now dismiss any request for a 501/507 split on the grounds that they tried a split and it failed.

The major issue on the show was customer service and delays.  One of Giambrone’s guests was Lecia Stewart who, among other callings, was for a time involved with the West Coast Express, Vancouver’s commuter rail operation, although much smaller than GO.  On the basis that this company managed to achieve an extraordinary 99% customer satisfaction rating (itself highly suspect), Stewart was introduced as a transportation expert.  She also happens to be a lobbyist for Bombardier, but this was not mentioned.  (Full disclosure:  I have eaten one breakfast on Bombardier’s tab paid for by Lecia Stewart.  There was no booze.)

I was amused that Stewart kept trying to pull Giambrone away from a focus on training staff and push him to recognizing the need for organization-wide commitment to good customer relations.  As long as we pretend that a smiling face and a pleasant voice will fix everything, we will fix nothing.  Getting staff the information they need to be able to advise customers accurately is essential, and the business has to focus on customer service even though it would prefer to just run the railway.

In the end, if the TTC expects to find a “blue ribbon panel” to advise it, that panel will almost certainly say “Talk to your customers” and “talk to your staff”.  They should also say “don’t promise miracles, but what you do promise, deliver”.

47 thoughts on “Customer Service On The Rocket (Update 3)

  1. I’ve always found it ironic that the customer service line does not take calls after 5 pm! (One evening, the ticket collector at Broadview Station seemed to be enjoying a 45 min break outside the booth, while a line grew longer and longer waiting for SOMEONE to appear. On that occasion, I wanted to call and complain on the spot, “why is no-one manning the booth?”)

    BTW: Steve, maybe you could shed some light on what was going on. There was no emergency. It seemed as though she was on a supper break, even though I think she was just around the corner.

    Steve: The collector at Broadview is often away from the booth. For a time, the usual haunt was nearby having a smoke. Possibly they have moved further afield. This sadly is an excellent example of the bad apples in the barrel.

    Having said that, if you’re at Broadview, remember that several different people staff that booth over the day and week, and the one you see may not be the culprit.


  2. Would you join this blue ribbon panel of “experts”?

    I so love to hate on people who call themselves experts. A real expert will let others call him/her an expert. I think they should add you and other transit advocates instead of “experts” “consultants”.

    We are a lot cheaper.

    Steve: Yes. I want the free cookies! On a serious note, my concern here is that the TTC recognize that this is an organization-wide issue, not something that can be fixed just at the front lines.


  3. The reality is that the only way Steve is going to find his advice taken by the TTC is for him to become like Soberman et al, a consultant who tenders for work from an incorporated business. This is why citizen/grassroots initiatives have such difficult getting traction at TTC and the city generally, but when they are called out the bureaucrats wring their hands and tell us the alternative is to go back to the days of MFP, because we can ONLY have a fully closed or fully open interaction with our municipality, apparently.

    If that happens we can say bye-bye to this blog because first the Commission won’t want him giving everybody for free the advice they would pay him hundreds of dollars a day (thousands even?) for, and after that he’d be too busy doing a George Clooney (Up In The Air) impression jetting from city to city to advise them on how to do LRT.

    Finally, having done that for a few years Steve will probably apply himself to the problem of how to run LRT on the small Caribbean island he has bought for himself 🙂 🙂

    Steve: I will content myself with moving into Casa Loma on the condition that the TTC add a station on the Spadina line in the basement.


  4. The text of the proposal is on Globe website and one sentence caught my eye. It reads:

    “The TTC has technology in place to inform its customers, directly, of service disruptions. Managing the face-to-face interactions with customers, however, is more challenging and, we believe, requires a thorough review.”

    I do not hold out much hope for this customer service review if they really think the only problem is surly (or sleepy!) front-line staff. This is an organization which continues to live in ‘silos’; where the schedule pages continue to report on the planned schedule though other pages report delays, diversions or cancellations. Where many stations do not yet have the, far from perfect, TV screens and none (I think) have screens at the entry points. It is also an organizationw which does not, I think, even have a customer service department and where the phone lines are answered from 8-5.) Sigh.

    Steve: I was planning to raise this and other issues when I updated the post. From this, and from some comments made on Giambrone’s show last night, it is clear that the “understanding” of the problem is far too simplistic. More when I update.


  5. I’m wary of the blue ribbon panel idea. Gary Webster seems like a nice guy and I’m sure he already says all the right things about the importance of customer service. The Commissioners have constituents complaining to them all the time, so I expect they get it too. Front-line staff may well dismiss a blue-ribbon panel as yet another meddling body that doesn’t understand the inner workings of a transit system.

    I think the fundamental problem is lousy management; poor customer service is just a symptom of that. Everything at the TTC seems rule-driven — you can’t do something different without first revising a policy, commission report, or contract — and when there is room for initiative it seems to be vested with the people who are the furthest from the customers, such as Transit Control and various departments like service planning.

    Take the example of the Queen car split: the idea came from the top, with political pressure. There were lots of stories about how operators didn’t buy the idea and as a result hindered (or at least didn’t help) its implementation. That’s a management 101 issue: you have to get the people involved in a project to believe it’s worthwhile, and you have to take the time to listen to them to head off any front-line issues that could derail it. Somewhere in the organization, the will to make the thing a success was lost, but I’m suggesting the real problem is that no one seems to have recognized this and tried to fix it.

    Or take the chaos of a typical subway service delay. I was in one on New Year’s Eve (two cars lost lighting and had to be taken out of service), and although there were a ton of TTC staff on the platform, no one seemed to be in charge of the situation. Everyone left it to a rookie guard to make announcements — which were terribly confusing — and the decision to dump everyone onto the platform was made by Transit Control, probably unaware of the size of the crowd and their restlessness. Proper on-site management could have shortened the delay and lessened the inconvenience.

    Even the Broadview stairway problems are a good example: of course someone in a North York office drawing up plans wouldn’t know about persistent water trouble at the east end of the station. But if someone local had reviewed the plans, they’d have had a chance to catch the problem in advance.

    Maybe the blue-ribbon panel will hit upon some specific ideas that will help, such as the long-discussed “station manager” concept. But I’m worried that mostly it’ll be an exercise in cataloguing good intentions, which will go nowhere if the organization lacks management ability.


  6. Hi there.

    Out of curiosity why wouldn’t TTC consider changing the whole fare system to a electronic one like in Washington DC. They have a information booth with a employee, a station manager of sorts, who can give directions, check escalators, look for spills, ect. There will be less line ups at the entrance, and the collector job is still kept, just in a different form. Let me know your thoughts.

    Steve: I agree. The TTC has been working, and working, etc on a new fare system, and the cost estimates keep rising through the roof. They claim that in a few years we will have one, at which point the jobs of station collectors will change substantially.


  7. As a bus operator I would hope that the “Blue Ribbon Panel” would also include some “Front Line” TTC employees. We have the day to day working experience that we could bring to the panel. I noticed that one of the items on the list of top complaints was “Fare Enforcement”. If we enforce fares we get complaints, if we don’t enforce fares we also get complaints. Granted, there are those who take fare enforcement to an all-time low in customer dis-service, but we are constantly reminded by the management that fare enforcement is a major function of our job.


  8. Hi Steve

    How sincere do you think the TTC is in actually acting on this? As we have seen, there is a lot of inertia around the organization that seems to stifle any kind of real change and constructive criticism. Just in the area of improving service reliability there is this addiction to maintaining run times instead of headways. Any changes, like the Queen, are met with resistance. To actually act on complaints and improving the situation they are going to have to listen, act, and review any new system to see that it is actually working and improving the situation. This area has not been one of the TTC’s strong suits.

    Steve: I’m concerned that the TTC will concentrate on window dressing, and will do whatever they announce half-heartedly.


  9. I think the root of customer service complaints is the extremely poor communications the TTC has with the public (garbled speakers, no one know what is going on, lousy new maps etc). Time and time again it is communications letting people down and causing people to be late for work. I think that a greatly improved/streamlined communications strategy would reduce the amount of complaints greatly. We can’t control how much things cost but we can control how satisfied our customers (riders) are.

    Steve: One big problem within the TTC is the fragmented responsibility for “communications”. Just as on the St. Clair project we saw a “nobody’s in charge” situation, within the TTC there are different departments who think either that some aspects of public info are their exclusive turf (whether they actually do them well or not), or that good chunks definitely are not (whether anyone else picks up the ball or not).


  10. The TTC needs a 24 hour customer service line; more than 1 customer service person; easy instructions on how to call, mail, or e-mail in complaints (if they want bonus points, text as well). In lieu of this they need to pull their “if you don’t hear the announcements on the subway, call us” messages during non-office hours. The TTC also needs to teach their employees how to properly treat a customer – of course the union won’t allow this, so I guess we (the customers) are just awful awful people who don’t deserve fair treatment.

    Steve: There are two aspects to employee/customer interactions. First is the question of basic politeness. That’s necessary, but the TTC doesn’t make it any easier for their staff by the general lack of info about what is happening on the system. The staff on the front lines have, at best, the same info given to the public, and probably tire of being yelled at for not knowing what that garbled announcement said, or that there is a delay on the subway whose notice they cannot read two levels away on the subway platform on a monitor that isn’t working.


  11. Doesn’t it seem rather improper to have a Bombardier lobbyist on this show and then not mention their affiliation with that company? The last time I checked, Bombardier was doing a considerable amount of business with the TTC and the optics of something such as this are not good. This is all too indicative of the cozy, behind-the-scenes relationship that Bombardier has built with the TTC, Metrolinx and other public agencies. If only there were a media type in this city who would crack open this can of worms and expose it to the public’s full glare.


  12. My brother worked one summer at Ontario Place. At the start of the season all the staff were gathered to hear a presentation (more like a lecture) by a consultant from Disney’s amusement park division. It was complete bs and nobody took it seriously. Basically the message was to treat all the customers with a fantasy-land respect they haven’t earned. When a ‘smiling face’ is really ‘grinning and bearing it’ any customer will see right through it and all concerned on both sides will feel insulted. This is a completely separate issue from good or bad operations. While done with good intentions perhaps, the “Transit Ambassador” program likely left TTC staff feeling like those in the above example.

    Any process involving consultants is likely to result in something like this and I’m afraid that is exactly what we’re going to get with a “Blue-ribbon Panel”. Everything boils down to believable actions – if staff are pressed into building a façade then everyone will see through it.

    There are critical fundamental changes in operations and mentality that need to occur at every level in the TTC, changes which they often don’t even see as related to “Customer Service”. Eliminate most of the organizational ‘gridlock’ that ripples and compounds into indirect and larger problems leading to complaints and it will be the customer stepping aboard with a smile. That brings the true power of change.


  13. I was in Port Credit Last Tuesday January 19 when CN lost all signalling and radio communication on the Lake Shore lines both east and west. GO has message boards in each station and these were constantly updated with the status of the situation and when they though service might return. There were also constant updates by the speaker system for passenger who were on the platforms and they were easily understood. When service resumed at about 4:30 the screens told you when the next train for that station would arrive and the speaker system gave updates for each station individually. “The next westbound train running local only to Oakville has just left Long Branch and should be in your station in 2 minutes.” They did this for every train that ran as the schedule was all screwed up. All in all GO’s communications seemed first rate and none of the passengers complained out loud. Maybe GO has learned from its past mistakes and can teach the TTC a lesson. Below is a copy of an email that I sent to James Bow on Wednesday morning.

    “GO actually had some service running at about 4:30. Lots of trains were cancelled and some Lake Shore locals were extended and some expresses had more stops added. I happened to be in Port Credit just after 4:00 p.m. and heard the delay notices over the station speakers. GO was very good and telling everybody what was happening (CN is having signal and communication problems.) and where there next train was. (the next west bound train is in Long Branch and will be here in a couple of minutes.) GO’s message boards in the stations were also well used in explaining the problem. GO seemed to run as much service as they could as fast as they could. The first westbound train through Port Credit, 12 cars, had a very large load but the rest seemed normal. At one time they had an east bound and a west bound loading in the station and a west bound express going through. GO seemed to be running a local or an express every 10 minutes westbound after that. I was listening to the CN RTC and the GO dispatchers and they were running trains where they needed them and switched them between lines to try to get some semblance of normality back.

    “As for GO bus substitution; GO has 404 buses and if every one was operating and carrying 70 passengers that is 28,280 passengers or about 14 trains worth, but what would happen to all the passengers who normally would ride the buses. There is no where at Union to load them and not enough road capacity to handle them. When the trains are down the service is down. GO actually seemed to handle this situation quite well and kept everyone informed.

    “GO has also figured out a way to get rid of the problem of escalator failure; remove the escalators. They are taking all of the escalators out of Port Credit Station and replacing them with low maintenance stairs.”

    Steve: Yes, GO seems to be learning, but more to the point the amount of detail suggests that they get the message that well-informed customers may be unhappy about the delays, but accept them if there’s a sense that everything is being done to fix them, and they don’t get the same story day after day.

    The only point about escalators is that for the volume of passengers the TTC deals with, and the large vertical rises in many stations, elevators simply are not an option. At one point when Rick Ducharme was CGM at the TTC, he mused about doing the same thing. I think the idea was quickly driven out of his mind by one word: accessibility.


  14. Nick J Boragina said:

    “The TTC also needs to teach their employees how to properly treat a customer – of course the union won’t allow this, so I guess we (the customers) are just awful awful people who don’t deserve fair treatment.”

    This statement is just plain offensive! This is the typical union-bashing that we front-line employees put up with constantly. This is the argument that the “right-wing types” always use. This statement drives me to want to launch a very personal attack against Nick, but I won’t because I truly believe that for the most part the front-line unionized employees are interested in serving the riders. We are hampered in our efforts by the lack of support from the management. Bus operators usually find out about a subway shut-down as we enter the stations (especially the ones where the turn-backs are occurring).

    Steve: There are two parts to Nick’s comment that run agound. First, the assumption that all TTC employees need some sort of re-education. This is insulting to the many employees who do a good, courteous job under trying circumstances. Second, the remark that “the union won’t allow it” is, as Gord says, classic union bashing. The underlying problem is that years of bad labour relations, including inconsistent approaches to what the TTC expects of its employees, lead to a less than satisfactory relationship. Yes, there are union staff who play the system to get away with whatever they can, but they’re not the majority.


  15. I’m sorry, but escalators do not qualify as an accessibility feature. Accessible means, in architectural standards, that it is usable by persons with disabilities, including persons in wheelchairs/scooters, which cannot use escalators for obvious reasons. Anybody with a large object in tow, including baby carriages, also experiences some degree of awkwardness on escalators, because of the fact that they are not accessible and the large object does not always fit on an escalator tread.

    I fully agree that escalators should remain in stations that do not yet have elevators. While escalators are not accessible, they are still better than nothing until elevators (or ramps) are provided.

    If it is physically feasible, a greater exploration of ramped access should be pursued. I fully realize that the application of this strategy may be limited (for example, stations in bored parts of the system would likely be out of the question), but it is worth looking at as it would, in my opinion (which is from an architectural background), deliver the best results in the areas it is feasible.

    Steve: When I use the word “accessible”, I do not do so with the capital-A legal sense of the word. There is a large and growing population who have mobility problems but who do not qualify for or need assisted transit. Elevators in stations (assuming that they even work) cannot provide the capacity needed, and escalators are essential. I say this as someone who had knee surgery in 2002, walked for a time with crutches and still has knees that complain about a lot of stairs. My experience is minor compared to many would-be TTC users. If people cannot get into and out of stations, they cannot use the system.


  16. The TTC just needs to look at GO Transit to see how to treat a rider right.

    Has anyone else noticed the great change in GO Transit Customer service and even view of the transit rider, over the past year or two?

    GO is really on top of treating riders like valued customers, which they actually are, instead of captives who are going to ride anyway.

    This new found look by GO I think has made a great change in customer service.

    Steve: This proves it can be done, but as other comments here have pointed out, this includes providing timely information to all locations so that riders know what is going on, and having the staff, the informatiom screens, etc. with which to do this. That does not happen as a “bottom up” initiative.


  17. Not sure if this is the place to mention it, but it looks like Spacing has ferreted out the long promised trip planner.

    Another example of something that should have been available years ago, but for the sheer ineptitude of management when it comes to customer relations.

    Steve: There are many problems with this version of the planner. The sample trip shown on the spacing site contains a number of oddities including an unnecessary long walk and the wrong choice of a stop where a vehicle would be boarded.

    As for ineptitude, I think the problem is the more a lack of focus and an awareness of the importance of online information access. One departed TTC senior official (although not that long gone) actually thought that the Internet wasn’t important.


  18. What about the trip planner here:

    I’ve used it to plan many trips in the city, mostly with no problems. If a couple people can create this on their spare time, why has it taken the TTC so long?

    Steve: In fact, myttc shamed the “real” TTC into getting on with the job. That said, myttc has its limitations, but for an amateur effort it’s not bad. My biggest concern with the official planner is that it will go live, and then all money and effort to fine-tune and improve it will stop. This is a classic problem with IT projects that “go live” with an unfinished product. We will hear lots of speeches about how wonderful it is, but meanwhile it will continue to make enough mistakes to provide an ongoing source of complaints. This is how to turn a potential success story into a millstone.


  19. Re Trip Planner:

    I hadn’t heard that this was implemented yet but I see that Google maps has TTC route info for directions by public transit. Interestingly, it may propose Viva for segments within Toronto (not likely for Metropass holders).

    Steve: Maybe Google knows something about regional integration nobody else has told us yet.


  20. Just so your readers know Steve, the TTC trip planner is now locked down. It requires a username and password to access.

    Steve: Ah security! What a novel idea! At least the TTC has not blamed me of “hacking their site” the way Metrolinx did when I went rummaging through their unsecured libraries after a reader of this blog alerted me to the situation. Metrolinx, of course, loves to attack its critics, something the TTC would never do. (Insert laugh track here.)


  21. When it comes to customer service and the TTC there are types of issues; all of which reflect in an unfortunate way on both the Commission and its staff.

    The first is management oriented; and is one of setting correct expectations; then almost always delivering on or exceeding those expectations. As an example, I was looking just this morning at the TTC’s construction page, at the Castle Frank second exit project. A project that the TTC, in print (and online) said would be complete by Nov 2009; then subsequently January 2010. The date is now listed as August 2010. Delayed twice; when most of people would have said the original amount of time allotted was on the bloated side. There is no scope creep here, this is not a large or complex project. It’s 3 stair cases and 1 short mezzanine tunnel. That this can’t be finished in six months and in fact will now take over a year is disgrace and one that falls squarely on the shoulders of management.

    Steve: Also, to add insult to injury, there are broken links on the TTC’s site. You can get to the project page from the page for Castle Frank Station, but not from the general “Construction” page. The problem is that the URLs are case sensitive, and if “frank_station” is all lower case, the link works. “Frank_Station” gets a not found error.

    The second customer service issues type is systemic or tool-based. This also falls on management. This means everything from keeping staff informed of problems (so they can in turn inform customers) to having clear PA systems and announcements to customers in delay situations.

    But the final one really falls on TTC staff (front line). I want to be clear that I’ve been a union member, I’m not anti-worker, and have no objection to paying TTC staff good wages and benefits.


    There is a systemic problem and it is wrong to dismiss it as one or two (or 20) bad apples.

    The problem, oversimplified, is attitude. It’s not just the 2 TTC staff caught napping, or the collector at a certain station taking a smoke break and leaving the booth un-staffed for 45min. Its not just the collector I saw treat a visible minority person in a very racist manner (and I don’t use that word lightly, but I specifically heard, several epithets).

    It’s not just the bus operator on New Year’s eve who pulled his bus into the station almost 14 minutes late; failed to apologize to customers or explain the delay (there were no accidents and it was clear on the roads), then proceeded to take a 10 minute break rather than getting back on schedule (to the point that several customers became quite militant w/said operator and while I was not one, I have every sympathy w/the customers and none for that operator).

    It isn’t any one of these. Nor any 2. But that all of the above have happened in the last 30 days.

    That consistently, when I kindly wish an operator a good morning, I rarely hear anything back, not a good morning or a thanks or a hi.

    It’s the collectors who seem to snarl when you politely arrive to buy tokens. No “Have a nice day” no “Thank you for riding”, not even a smile.

    There is an attitude which certainly does not affect every staffer (Gord may be one of many exceptions and I have met others) but it is all too common.

    And the excuse that labour relations are bad is not remotely valid.

    Nor is it reasonable to say because management doesn’t keep staff informed they can be rude when people inquire of them.

    Is it so hard to say “I’m sorry sir, I’m not sure what the delay is, I’ll let you know if I hear anything”.

    As an employee making far less in a front-line customer service job during my college days, working for a retailer who certainly cared less for their staff that the TTC does; I was always taught and always understood you don’t take that out on the customer. You are the face of the company and grateful to the public for shopping in your store, helping you get and keep a job.

    And if the customer feels wronged, you always apologize whether they were in fact wronged or not; and whether or not its your personal responsibility.

    ie. I’m sorry ma’am the return policy is 14 days, and I don’t have authority to change that; if you would like to speak to the manager or to head office, I’d be happy to get you their number.

    That’s how to treat a customer.

    And sadly, I don’t see many TTC staff exemplifying that. Gord is surely right in suggesting it’s insulting to assume staff should have to be re-educated or trained to be polite, but since en mass most staff I encounter are not being polite, I do have to ask how else you fix that; seeing as common sense or intuitive good behavior do seem in short supply.


  22. Actually people in wheelchairs CAN use escalators. My late friend Marc, who was paraplegic and in a wheelchair for the last 2 decades of his life, would use escalators as his preferred way of changing levels, as they were faster than elevators. For going up, he would simply wheel onto the step, and apply his brakes. The front wheels would go onto one step, the back wheels onto the next one, and up he would go. For going down, he would reverse the procedure, so the rear wheels would go first, on the first step, and the back wheels on the next one.

    Now having said that, it’s probably not a recommended way for wheelchair users to change levels, it took more than a small amount of skill to get the timing right, especially for down, but it did allow him to go to many places which would have been otherwise totally inaccessible.


  23. My Google search on how to get from my home in Richmond Hill to somewhere on Yonge Street with a subway station still has me walking from Finch south… If Google can ever get the TTC data into their searches I’d be thrilled.

    The YRT/Viva buses listed are schedule based as far as I know, not actual-location-based.


  24. I used Google Maps to find out the distance from Don Mills and Sheppard to McCowan and Sheppard and decided to use transit as my mode. It sent me south on McCowan to Kennedy, then west on the subway to Don Mills then north to Sheppard. I told it to try another route and it sent me north to highway 7 in Markham, west to Woodbine, then south to Don Mills and Sheppard. When I tried the route by auto it sent me along the 401. It wasn’t until I said I would walk that it sent me by the most direct route, Sheppard. The time to walk was half the best transit time by their dumb routings. If they can’t do any better than this then I have no hope for them.

    I have ridden many transit systems in the North America and in the rest of the world. While the TTC has many faults it really is one of the better systems that I have ridden in North America. I don’t know if that is a positive comment on the TTC or a comment on the lousy service to be expected in most North American Cities. As for all the cities that I have ridden it ranks in the middle.


  25. Doing the switcharoo on tickets is the smartest thing they can do from a business prospective. It forced customers to use as many as possible, so only the true surplus will be returned.

    Steve: It may be “good business”, but it was lousy customer relations.


  26. Jim Hoffman says:

    “I hadn’t heard that this was implemented yet but I see that Google maps has TTC route info for directions by public transit”

    Those are for YRT routes that are operated by TTC, and hence include a portion south of Steeles. (Example: in Google Maps, try “16th Ave and Warden avenue, Markham to Warden station”, then choose “by public transit” from the drop-down box).

    There is a BIG reason why TTC should supply data to Google, independent of its journey planner: you can plan cross-boundary journeys with Google. I agree with Steve that any IT project such as the journey planner requires continual refinement and improvement.

    Longer term, TTC should recruit transit operators and staff on the basis of their customer service experience.


  27. Hi Steve

    Now the TTC has concerns about “CUSTOMER SERVICE” needing improvements, I totally agree. I was on Facebook site called “You know you take the TTC when…” when I discovered not only one picture of a subway attendant asleep, now 2 more appeared. I think flags should be rasised with concerns of staff and public safety. Not sure why this is happening but something should be done.

    How can we all help with this?

    Steve: Given the current situation, the ball is in the employees’ court. TTC staff should, without the need for an immense amount of training and other time-wasting diversions, go out of their way to be nice to people. Yes, many do that already, but killing with kindness never hurt anyone.

    I’m not sure that snaps of dozing staff constitute a safety hazard, but a far worse challenge are operators who talk on the cell phones while driving sometimes to the point of missing stops (I have seen this a few times myself) and other behaviour that is flagrantly dangerous to riders. Everyone needs to answer calls of nature and pick up a coffee from time to time. I actually have no problem with collectors who need some way to entertain themselves through long, tedious shifts at quiet stations. The only issue would be if they treated the occasional customer as an annoyance.

    On management’s side, there needs to be a real responsiveness when issues are phoned in. Escalators that are not working. Incorrect or out of date notices. Dirty stations. The lack of good info for all front-line staff. As long as “nobody knows and nobody cares”, it’s very hard to deliver good front line service.

    There also needs to be serious, and I mean really serious, discussion between 113 and management about how to avoid the sort of work rules and management practices (some of which I think may be urban legends) that tend to annoy customers. For example, the ability to manage a route to a headway, not to a schedule, is, I know a challenging change in how work would be scheduled and managed on the street. It is possible that the “step forward” technique on Queen is the easiest way to achieve this, but it will probably require different approaches on routes where you don’t have two division offices conveniently located on the route.

    Once operators have a break built into their trip, the need for an extended layover at the terminal should vanish as should “coffee break” reliefs. It really doesn’t make sense to have a relief operator who is only handling shuttle trips at the end of the line take a long “recovery” layover. This would place more cars actually in service for passengers, and co-incidently would eliminate the annoyance of having people wait in the cold and bad weather while an operator takes a terminal layover.

    What will happen, however, is that the relief breaks from stepping forward will be longer on days with good weather and few traffic disruptions, and shorter on days when things go wrong. There needs to be a way to avoid having the longest time become the minimum.

    The idea is to maximize the amount and quality of service.


  28. I’ve made two deputations to the commission and the commissioners seemed to pay little attention to them. In both cases they ended up doing the opposite of what I was suggesting. I assumed it was because I was bad as public speaking, but if people as eminent Steve are ignored as well.

    I wonder what happens to deputations submitted in writing?

    Steve: They are almost always “received”, i.e. filed without comment or action. On rare occasion they are forwarded to management for a response, but it helps to have made contact with a Commissioner who will advocate on your behalf.


  29. I agree that most TTC employees are good. The problem is usually that of communication between the Commission and its customers. First the streetcar/bus is late bacuse of mismanagement of the route (think fo the 501) and then they want more money on top of it (i.e. the recent fare increase.) This makes people upset.

    I have seen drivers on the 501 sit on the streetcar in the driver’s seat and read their newspaper while on their break at Long Branch Loop. No problem with that, but when its raining, snowing, or is cold outside, it is nice to be able to board the car. The shelter may keep you out of the rain or snow, but it is not heated, so sitting on a warm streetcar would be nice. Again, this is an incident where people may complain – yet the driver is right on one hand that it is his/her break and should not have to deal with customers.

    I tried even to get to the TTC Trip Planner page for most of yesterday afternoon without success (the page would never load.) When I could access it, it did not even know what “Long Branch Loop” or “Humber Loop” were! Great idea, but it should not have been publically available if it was not ready to go public.


  30. Blue ribbon panel! With an airline representative yet. The only travel mode with a worse public relations reputation than the TTC. With the inbred mentality of the TTC this hasn’t a proverbial hope in Hell unless they clean house. Bring back David Gunn — he didn’t suffer fools kindly. That is why they got rid of him.

    David Carr writing in the Sunday Star called for a rebranding of the TTC to Toronto Transit Service. This is a good start. It would send a message that service is really what it is all about.

    Steve: A rose by any other name? Bovine effluvia smells the same regardless of what we call it. Rebranding is a great way to divert a lot of attention, money and staff time from the real issues. You can call it a “service” if you like, but if nothing else changes, all you’ve got is a lot of spiffy new signs and probably about 20% of the system completely missed.

    Actually, I believe that Gunn left because of ongoing battles with former TTC Chair Howard Moscoe about accessibility. Yes, Gunn didn’t suffer fools, but there were corners his broom didn’t touch while he was here.


  31. I think one of the biggest problems that the TTC faces is that it takes them so long to change that by the time they are done changing something we forget what it was like originally.

    When you go about a rebranding, or introducing a fantastic new feature you shouldn’t gradually release it…one day it should just appear and everyone is amazed…case in point – watch what happens after the Apple keynote later this week…

    Instead what the ttc does is install a “Next Subway” sign in one station, then after a month, it installs tv’s in a few more stations, they sit around for a month or two, and then somebody gets around to turning them on…then they do another few stations…by the time they are done the subway everyone has forgot that 4 years ago we didn’t have any tv’s in these stations…then they start on the streetcars, and eventually the busses…in a decade or two they’ll be done, and we’ll all have totally forgotten the great service improvement that took 15 years to accomplish…

    Likewise…if they want to show that they are cleaning all the stations…then next week, they should shut the entire system down for a day, clean every station from top to bottom, polish every subway seat, clean every window, remove every piece of grafitti and clean and press every single uniform…rather than what they do now, which seems to be that every week or two someone goes out with a broom and sweeps a station….

    If they are going to replace the signage, they should do the entire line in one day…if somebody says they can’t, then ask that the people in charge of “wrapping stations in advertising” do it instead…they seem to be able to change things fairly quickly…

    Creating excitement about the things that you are doing is part of good customer service…rather than a fare increase they should have had a “improve the cleanliness charge” that could be easily explained and benefit everyone in an obvious way.

    Steve: I strongly agree. The TTC is far too good at finding ways to not do things than just getting on with the job.

    A few points, though, about the video screens. When they were first proposed as replacements for the old text-based signs, there was a lot of opposition to the invasion of advertising and video technology into the subway system. It was also proposed for onboard displays on new subway cars. This led to a compromise arrangement where One Stop only installed screens on a one-for-one replacement basis of existing signs. This had the odd effect that some stations where there were no signs (notably the Sheppard line) also got no video screens.

    The underlying problem is the question of who pays for new technology like this, and what, exactly, is its purpose. We don’t want pervasive advertising, and yet that seems to be the way things like this are financed. (Part of me is rather suspicious that the advertising industry is more than happy to grab any chance to increase the real estate it occupies, and uses cash-strapped agencies like the TTC as fertile hunting grounds.) If we want information throughout stations, then we need more than a few screens only at platform level. This costs money to install and to maintain, and none of the funding agencies want to shell out money for that sort of thing. Equally important is to avoid the creation of technology-driven projects where the ultimate goal becomes secondary to implementing whatever Queen’s Park’s latest gizmo happens to be.

    The TTC is supposed to be working on improving subway cleanliness, and has a multi-year program. It is improving at a glacial pace, and even this year’s planned changes may not survive the budget crunch.


  32. Cleanliness of TTC vehicles leaves much to be desired. Every bus I ride is FILTHY! Discarded transfers are a big cause. Drivers long ago stopped taking transfers and litter containers don’t exist unlike Mississauga Transit buses. I suggest stationing cleaners at subway terminals and when a bus arrives it is parked and the driver takes out a clean bus. This can be repeated until all buses get a cleaning once in the shift. No extra drivers needed, no more vehicle miles operated. A good way to utilize workers on light duties for medical and other reasons. Redeploy such workers that might presently be working as ticket collectors at subway stations. Bet they won’t fall asleep!

    Steve: There is a problem developing with the new city trash bins installed on safety islands on St. Clair (and I suspect on other routes). Nobody seems to be emptying them. This will be a city problem, but I want to see the trucks that pick up garbage driving down the rights-of-way.

    As for the buses, a wash now and then so passengers can see out any of the windows would be nice.


  33. george Bell says:
    January 25, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    “Likewise…if they want to show that they are cleaning all the stations…then next week, they should shut the entire system down for a day, clean every station from top to bottom, polish every subway seat, clean every window, remove every piece of grafitti and clean and press every single uniform…rather than what they do now, which seems to be that every week or two someone goes out with a broom and sweeps a station….”

    During the really cold snap a graffiti artist (?) painted the new tunnel at Brampton and one of the walls of the entrance. During the warm snap last week a truck was out with a spray washer and completely removed any and all traces of the graffiti. It also appears that they sprayed a coating on the concrete to make it easier to clean in the future. As I drove around and looked at other GO stations I could not find any signs of Graffiti. Is GO transit lucky? I don’t think so; I think that they keep ahead of the problem so that it does not build up into something major. There is something to be said for staying ahead of the game rather than always playing catch up.


  34. Steve,

    I see you’ve found the new message board that Spacing highlighted, Trash Talk the TTC. It’s not that busy right now, but you do seem to be doing your part more as a defender and mythbuster to some of the more ignorant complaints so far. I think the lack of a proper complaint mechanism by the TTC has made people search out other methods, which is why we have hundred-comment threads on sites like this, Spacing, BlogTO, and the major newspapers. That makes it easier for TTC management to disregard concerns, because legitimate criticism of scheduling, cleanliness, or politeness of workers gets buried under an avalanche of anti-union, anti-politician, right wing vitriol coupled with absurd comparisons to subway systems in (insert Asian metropolis here). Do you think this is a deliberate effort on the part of management or another example of their blindness when it comes to the power of the internet and the way people now communicate? I’ve thought of writing letters the old-fashioned way to them about some local concerns (i.e. St. Clair) but it just seems so inefficient.

    Steve: One thing I will say about the “Trash Talk” site is that it is moderated. Other sites (which shall remain nameless) let anything pile up in their threads, and I wouldn’t blame TTC management for ignoring them. Finding the gold amid all that dross is difficult. Moderation takes a lot of time, especially when there is a hot topic.

    As for the TTC being unaware of this method of feedback and complaints, I suspect that there are a few who follow the issues, but not many. That organization has been more or less immune to criticism for decades, and the situation is not helped by having Commissioners who see their public jobs not as leaders, but as cheerleaders.


  35. This is not to the topic, so I won’t be hurt if you don’t post it, but is about a comment you made above: “We don’t want pervasive advertising.” Well, I want it. First of all, it would keep fares down (or enable the TTC to buy some training in customer service for its management staff). Secondly, I haven’t heard many complaints about pervasive advertising in the London Underground. The advertising is part of its attraction. TTC stations are largely dull, and more often than not any attempts to enliven the stations with “art” have been unsuccessful (take a look at that mural on the mezzanine at St. Clair West). I realize that in Toronto the bland is still often identified with the dignified, and the dignified with the desirable, but some of us would like (especially in weather like we’ve been having recently) to have some colour in our lives.

    Steve: By “pervasive”, I mean advertising so overwhelming it makes finding the directional signage in the station difficult. This happened recently at Bloor Station, and has happened at Union. At Bloor, there were many places where there were small cutouts in the ads which were themself quite “busy” visually, and the station signage disappeared. If the TTC can reject a proposed vehicle wrap because they object to an ad for an adultery dating service, but approve an ad that makes a major station illegible to unfamiliar users, something is badly out of whack.


  36. David Gunn exited early from his TTC contract because of three people: Howard Moscoe, Mel Lastman and Mike Harris. As he was to say after his departure, managing the TTC was impossible with these three micro-managing the system and fiddling with the budget continuously.


  37. TTC signage (sigh). Previous discussion for another day?

    On the topic of the sleeping ticket collector. It is a major issue on safety as they’re supposed to be watching the monitors for the DWAs! It’s not like someone at Davisville station can save someone who is being attacked in Lawrence station.

    Steve: There are very large areas of every station where someone can be attacked without being seen on the monitors, and I have always regarded the DWA as more of a security blanket than a real time monitor. Its primary intent is to position a rider so that they will be in the guard’s car when they board. A station with proper video monitoring (which would also include recording, something the DWAs cameras don’t do, I believe) would require a dedicated staffer to watch. As and when we convert collectors to station managers, they won’t be parked in front of a bank of video screens. We really need to decide what we expect people in this position to be able to do.

    One important point about having staff who would otherwise be on medical leave working in these positions: it substantially reduces sick benefit and workers’ compensation premiums for the TTC.


  38. If the comissioners, who are our elected officials brush us off and if management is so inbred that it cannot change then what hope is there? Situations like that call for some kind of a revoution.

    I would start with the commissioners. They’re the ones who are answerable to us and we need to put their feet to the fire. Will Adam Giambrone run for mayor? I can’t see his position as Chair of the TTC helping any mayoral bid.

    The comissioners, being politicians with one eye always looking to the next election should normally be coming down hard on the bureaucrats, not deferring to them or cozying up to them.

    We seem always to encounter a recalcitrant management be it with public relations, operations e.g. the refusal to try new methods of keeping streetcars from bunching and what not.

    There seems to be a lack of political will to solve the problem. So what’s wrong?

    Steve: At the political level, there is an unwillingness to become involved enough in an agency to be able to critique it, as well as a co-dependency where “good news” stories depend on what management can churn out. Years ago, the TTC created the position of Chief General Manager after a strike that was clearly seen by the public, politicians and media as being caused by management bargaining in bad faith. The idea was for the CGM to be “the Commission’s man”, but he quickly became part of the problem. As a non-transit person himself, he could do nothing without the management’s support and assistance, and became yet another defensive layer between the Commission and the organization.

    The TTC is particularly bad because of its self-perpetuated mythology as one of the finest systems in this part of the galaxy. They’ve been trading on that, as well as the success in building a big, growing system in a city with huge population growth, for decades. Now the system is rough around the edges, but analysis and self-criticism is something the TTC doesn’t seem to be very good at. There’s also interdepartmental rivalry that gets in the way of any change that spans more than one manager’s control. This is a classic problem of large organizations, public and private.


  39. I think customer service has to start from management, but it is also has to be actioned by frontline workers. There have been many times I have said good morning to a bus operator and have been told like wise. But there have been few, and that number has been growing that they do not acknowedge you at all, and even when asked for a transfer they do not even hand you it, you have to reach for their hand while it rests on the fare box, and take it out of his hand.

    Yes I think the TTC personnel do get a bad rap, but [is] it trully deserved? Ummm sometimes it is. But you have to look at it as an entire picture … not every TTC employee is a good employee as this in the norm in any company. There many TTC employees who deserve praise … but its kinda goes to the side when there has been so much fiscal waste by the TTC, and train delays etc … the public are the ones who foot the bill, and these are the customers that the TTC has to recognize … not the media.


  40. Tonight I was on bus 7016 on the 139E route. Due to an accident on the 404, the bus left Don Mills Station late. At Birchmount, transit control ordered the bus to short turn at McCowan. There was a supervisor on board and the bus driver made a call to transit control. The supervisor determined that there was another 139E bus at Warden. He ordered that the bus behind to meet the short turning bus at Sandhurst Circle (west). This way passengers can simply walk to the other bus without having to wait. There was nothing more he could have done. I do not expect an apology, but both the driver and supervisor did what they can to make a bad situation better. I respect them for taking the initiative.

    Are there room for improvement? Absoulutely. Since the last stop for the 139E bus is Cherokee, why didn’t transit control allow the bus to make the sounthbound trip via Don Mills as oppose to the 404. It would have made no difference in the route except that passengers would get there on time. Why did no one at transit control listen to 680 AM traffic to know that an accident has taken place. Why isn’t the police always in communication with the TTC to let them know where all the accidents are? These people are the ones who should be apologizing.

    The TTC’s job is to enforce fare collection, carrying passengers in a safe manner (i.e. no rapid acceleration or deceleration)and arrive at the destination on time. Just as we do not expect Fedex drivers to bow to us or sing to us when they deliver a package. Why should we expect the TTC to do things outside of this core?


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