Walking the Talk (2)

Today (February 9), Bob Kinnear, the President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, held a press conference to present the union’s response to recent events and statements on the TTC, in the media and from TTC management.

Note that the text linked here was scanned from the version distributed to the media before the briefing, and it may not exactly match Kinnear’s presentation.  However, the text doesn’t appear to be in a convenient online location and so I am posting it here.

The text reads fairly well and while it takes a firm stance, it does acknowledge that things need to change.  To that end, the ATU plans to organize a series of Town Halls where the public and union members can discuss issues related to the TTC and how they might be addressed.  Whether such events will be at all cordial I don’t know given the comments on various blogs and media sites, but at least the union is trying to go to the public with its story.

I wasn’t at the press conference, but received news of it later and saw a few clips on the evening news.  Unfortunately, what I saw showed Kinnear in the more familiar, combative mode that is the union’s public face.  Some of this was selective editing.  For example, there was a line “Who made you God?” which was directed at the TTC’s Brad Ross for implying that it is possible to take a washroom break in only 3 minutes, including the time it takes to get between the vehicle and the washroom.  This was forcefully (more than necessary) delivered, and used as a free-standing clip by Global TV.

Later, I was interviewed by Global, but they used only a snippet out of a longer conversation.  In that clip, I said, in effect, that the problem of rude staff isn’t a one-or-two-of thing because there are simply too many separate reports coming from reasonably credible sources.  I didn’t mention that I (and I’m sure anyone else who is even vaguely connected with the TTC) am getting notes and reports from friends about their experiences.

The larger context of the interview was first my pleasure that the union took the high road even though, as I understood things, Kinnear’s delivery of the message used a hard line that might have been counterproductive.  I talked about “TTC culture” and a management where, for anything that happens, the first reaction is to find something external to blame rather than looking inside for improvement.

I also talked about the need for some labour discussions to take place in public, and unusual move I know.  One of the big issues through the past weeks is the question of breaks — how long, how often, where.  Some operating shifts have breaks built in, but not all of them, and even the scheduled breaks can be thrown awry if service is always badly off kilter.  Fixing this will take much negotiation and probably changes in the way operators’ work is defined and scheduled.

Recent events are so public that at least the broad outline of the issues, positions and possible fixes must be visible so that even if everyone can’t agree (and I use a very broad definition of “everyone”), at least they will understand the options on the table.

(I am not going to get into a debate about the level of operators’ wages here as we have pounded that topic to death before.)

The joys of media coverage, whether you’re a union president, a politician or just a transit advocate, involve the chances one takes in the editing.  I said what I said, and I stand by that, but wanted those who might only see the five second clip to know the larger story.

Please note that comments on this item will be strongly monitored for intemperate language.  This is a complex issue and it deserves an informed, detailed discussion, not rants from either side of the political spectrum.

42 thoughts on “Walking the Talk (2)

  1. Hello Steve,

    The situation has gotten far too tense, to the point where I’m worried about what I might see during my daily commute. On my bus ride this evening, two drivers going in opposite directions stopped to chat for a minute about who-knows-what. It’s a two lane street, the bus was reasonably full, and all I could think was “who’s going to yell at the driver or take out a camera first”.

    There was another article in the Star today from “the Fixer” coming across an argument between a customer and collector over expired tickets. At this point we have four parties all contributing to this (employees/union, management, embittered customers, and the media), and I am concerned that the end game might be a wildcat strike, some serious assault on a TTC employee, or worse. If something doesn’t happen soon to defuse the situation, it may get a hell of a lot worse as we approach municipal elections.


  2. Riders have some major bones of contention with the current ATU 113 leadership, that date as far back as 2006. This is a leadership that is infamous for demonizing the very riders that pay the vast majority of ATU 113 members’ salaries. There is a very wide credibility gap of any attempted act of good will by the current ATU 113 leadership from riders’ point of view.


  3. With all due respect what exactly is complicated about this? The world outside the TTC manages interactions with customers if not easily certainly with less fuss than is possible in Toronto. I also believe salary is key to this debate as you pointed out in your discussion of the operating budget operators are now costing $100K a year, for that kind of money people would be restless with even the most exemplary service.

    Steve: Operators do not cost $100K a year, only those who work a lot of overtime. If you look at the “sunshine list”, you will find that the vast majority of people on it are in management or are senior technical staff on the engineering side of the house.

    I wish people would disentangle themselves from that $100K figure. It actually undermines the argument to pick out a small group of staff as representative of the whole, just as treating each hothead either in the public or the staff as if they are typical oversimplifies the debate.


  4. Thank you for printing the full text of Mr. Kinnear’s speech. At least two of the Toronto TV stations have done the TTC, its staff, and the commuting public a great disservice by airing only the small “Stop harrassing our people” section of a much more balanced presentation. It’s supposed to be the responsibility of the media to report the news, not seriously distort it. I can only hope that no unfortunate incidents arise from the media’s unfair cherry-picking this clip from Mr. Kinnear’s speech.


  5. Maybe it’s just my impression, but this is starting to look like the public perception of the NBRU (Dublin Bus) and ILDA (Irish Rail or Iarnrod Eireann) unions just before Light Rail was built in Dublin.

    For example, see this 2000 Irish Times editorial.

    This led to the Light Rail office being removed from Irish Rail into a separate entity (the Railway Procurement Agency), LUAS being built by a P3 and operated by contractor (Veolia) and the operators being represented by SIPTU and not one of the existing transit unions – and with a no-strike in the initial contract (since removed).


  6. This union leadership lost credibility with the midnight shutdown for the wildcat walkout. They put themselves before the safety of the riders. That memory stuck in people’s minds – what many consider an essential service to living in this city being shut down before people could get home.

    Then in the last few months there have been one issue after another where the TTC has seemed to people to be more caring about their policies then about serving people.

    The sticking to a schedule that fits drivers rather then passengers bugs people. The inability to see out a bus window from December to April bugs people. The inability to get a decent system of onboard subway announcements bugs people.

    People care about this city, but they don’t see anybody being a leader, acknowledging there are issues and attempting to deal with them. There is a general lack of knowledge about the mayoral candidates and with those who do have some knowledge, there is a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the current candidates, who have all been, with the exception of Adam Giambrone who has no choice, particularly silent on the current TTC publicity, as has been our current mayor.

    The public is frustrated, and the Canadian public has shown when they are frustrated, they tend to stick it to those who tell the public they know better. (Meech Lake comes to mind) The TTC, from management on down, and in the union, has a distinct air of the “we know better, so don’t bother us with your ideas” about them. Canadians in general do not like that attitude, and that’s why we are seeing this upheaval right now.

    Once the frustration is out, it is impossible to enclose it again. Business as usual, as promulgated by the grievance procedure discussion by the union and by the forming of an outside committee by management to study customer service issues, won’t solve this frustration.

    The town hall meetings aren’t what people want. They want a change in the culture of the TTC. They see businesses and charities and non-profit organizations change and have little sympathy for inter TTC squabbling, which is what the union’s complaints about management sound like.

    There is no appetite for talk now. People want action, promises of exact goals for change, and concrete steps to get there.

    Yes, its unrealistic, but people have had enough, and both management and the union would be wise to listen before somebody credible pulls this frustration together and proposes even more significant and unwelcome change.


  7. Steve said, in part “Please note that comments … will be strongly monitored. … (for) rants … .”

    I am going to split my comment in two, so that if my ‘Rant’ is edited out, the rest of my post will show.

    Firstly, the Union needs some serious public relations. TTC Management has major problems, and the fact that the public is not on the Union’s side tells of problems with how the Union sells itself. Take for example the issue of the Bathurst night bus. The bus turns around at Steeles and near the Waterfront. Neither of these two locations, to my knowledge, has an open washroom and/or coffee shop. Rather than telling the public to hush, the Union (and it’s employees) should explain that. The Public might be stupid at times, but they are not heartless.

    Secondly, if the Union wants to gain public support they have to stop these endless threats of strikes. A TTC strike is, in effect, both sides trying to hurt the most vulnerable so hard, SO hard, that the other side feels it. I cannot express in words how frustrated this makes me. I do intend to go to the town halls if I can make it, and I will bring a roll of duct tape. I plan to explain the above to the Union, and also how to tape up a farebox and keep the bus going at the same time.


  8. I have been building this up within me and its ready to explode. I have been using the TTC for over 25 years and as much as I appreciate their service, I truly believe that they do not at all deserve $75k a year in salary. Its absolutely pathetic that their Union can whine about all their troubles when ticket takers and bus drivers are making huge amounts of money. Its unfair to the entire city that an unnecessary union pushes TTC salaries to unheard of levels. I wish that union would dissolve so that the real worth of TTC workers would be pushed down to around $40k. This would allow us to not only use their services more often but it would get more people to drop their automobiles since it would lower the price of a ticket to $2.

    I see plenty of people working hard, cleaning toilets and doing the nastiest of jobs for $12-$14 and hour. How can anyone defend a bus driver earning $35+ an hour with benefits? Remove the union and let the fair market determine the real worth of these TTC workers. Maybe people wouldn’t be taking pictures of slacking TTC workers if this occured.

    Unions are absolutely a waste in the province of Ontario where we have laws to protect employees. Removing unions can only stimulate the economy.

    Steve: I have moved this comment to the thread about the ATU’s press conference so that it is in a current post.


  9. This is getting ridiculous; From my perspective the media is deliberately doing all that they can to piss people off about the TTC; headline after headline, misquote after misquote and useless article after useless article.

    In the Star recently there was an article entitled “Fixer: We catch TTC rider, fare taker in screaming match”; one line near the bottom noted “A passenger watching the showdown took the side of the TTC employee, saying the woman was verbally abusive, adding we should be careful about assuming the collector was to blame.” The title tells a different story.

    I’ve been in vehicles with operators who ruined my day, but also ones who have made my day. Generalizations based on the former group of operators are being used to demotivate and discourage. Operators are human beings and the amount of undeserved abuse and negativity that seems to be arising is getting to be unbearable. Not every employee is the sleeping collector from McCowan or the operator who pissed you off last week and it’s ridiculous to act that way.

    More than anything I pity the TTC’s operators. To have terrible hours, terrible management and a growing minority of ‘terrible customers’ must make for a crap job. The pay isn’t horrible, but I doubt getting up every morning is made any easier.

    The worst part is that those who are doing the sensationalizing know exactly what harm they’re causing. Hopefully an improved dedication to riders can come out of this, but from what I can tell a lot of it lies on management’s shoulders.

    One more thing, I understand how annoying it can be for the operator to go to the washroom in the middle of a run when you are in a rush.. but it’s a real issue of need that we can’t ignore. If the commission doesn’t schedule breaks or allow for one to buy a cup of coffee for operators at the line terminuses then they either need to provide a solution or stop demonizing their employees from acting on these impulses where they exist.


    Steve: I was not impressed with yesterday’s Star where the lead editorial talked about the need to deescalate the rhetoric while the cartoon, inches away, played to the common anti-union perception that TTC workers are layabouts.


  10. Steve wrote:

    “Operators do not cost $100K a year, only those who work a lot of overtime. If you look at the ‘sunshine list’…”

    Kevin’s comment:

    The “sunshine list” includes salaries only, not benefits. Since the benefits package is quite generous, there are a lot more operators who cost $100K a year than there are on the list.

    Nevertheless, I believe that operators should be well paid. Their jobs are critical for safety. Even a 10 second delay on a subway can delay thousands of people for those 10 seconds – the cost of their time is far, far more than even the most generous of TTC wages. I believe that the TTC should pay well to attract and retain smart, highly-skilled employees with advanced problem-solving capabilities and an abundance of common sense. In return for the high pay we should expect high standards of performance.

    My problem is not with the high pay, it is with the poor performance.

    Steve: I agree that the benefits do push effective wages higher, but if we’re going to count them, we need to recalibrate the comparative wages others are making. The people who are really at the short end of things have few benefits.


  11. I find it pathetic that the response to the fact that TTC workers make a livable wage is to point at underpaid workers who clean toilets for minimum wage and say “See how bad they have it? Those TTC workers should have it that bad too!” We should want everyone to make a decent wage with decent benefits, but people who don’t have them are content to tear down those who do and bring them down to their level. Instead they should be fighting to improve their pay. It’s sad.


  12. The ‘blame’ for the problems in the TTC can be pretty widely spread. There is a management culture that appears to be very hierarchal and quite rigid. There is a union leadership that reacts in ways that REALLY annoy their customers – the midnight strike – and there are customers who have unreasonable expectations and think that the rules only apply to others and that blaming a bus driver for a late bus is either fair or productive.

    That said, there are also excuses for all of them/us. The TTC is grossly underfunded and managers – who are subject to political pressures and the whims of other City departments – are trying to operate a system that needs newer, and more, equipment and higher priority – in all senses of the word. The union is trying to protect its members, who are caught in the middle between a harried – and not always competent – management and an impatient public and the public think that fares are too high for the service provided, without realising (or caring) that in other jurisdictions the rider pays far less that the 70% we pay here.

    One way to reduce conflicts between customers and staff is to look at the rules. Are they reasonable, can they be enforced and are they fair? Why can customers not continue to use old tickets plus cash for more than a month? Why do we not move to time-based transfers and avoid the constant conflicts I hear with customers who have walked to the next stop? Why are the microphones in the subway ticket booths so terrible – if one has to scream to be hear then it’s easier to become, or appear, angry!

    It is clearly not possible to fix everything at one go but maybe we could have ‘demonstration projects”, which then move into ‘production’. Some may fail but are still worth a try. Perhaps one streetcar line could be properly managed on headways and offer timed transfers (St Clair?), maybe one subway station could be properly cleaned and managed as a whole (a station manager) and …. The list is endless but if we wait until everything can be rolled out for the whole system it will never be done. (Of course, the NextBus system which has been in beta test for two streetcar lines since 2006 is not showing signs of ever being ‘finished’, but we live in hope!)


  13. I don’t know where to start with this mess.

    The union appears to have placed handling public relations in a very distant #2 position far behind dealing with management/unionized staff issues. Further, the ATU personified by the way Bob Kinnear’s public speaking comes across really aggravates this situation. If the public’s on the radar at all, it seems to be only when the public’s being criticized by the union/Kinnear. How does the Amalgamated Transit Union think they can defend employees who have been caught not doing their jobs properly to the public in an effective way, when the public is not on side? Does the Amalgamated Transit Union think they can take any issues to TTC management and deal with them in an effective manner, when they know the public is not on side? The ATU’s boxed themselves in between a general public that they’ve alienated and angered, and TTC management. This would have been less problematic had the union’s public relations not been so bad for so long.

    TTC management. Like the union, TTC management’s got a reputation the precedes them, although not as far. Several people have told me that the TTC spends six months training new employees after they’re hired and the next 30 years after that trying to fire them. Statements like that hint that there are big problems going on beneath the surface.

    More evidence comes to light if you get to read some of the internal communications from management to staff; management needs to keep in mind that sometimes outsiders like me see what they write to staff. I’ve seen a few of those memos and most of them were not well written with inexcusably poor grammar, and were condescending to the point of being insulting, if not openly hostile in some cases. Occasionally, outsiders overhear operators and others talking to each other and we hear some of the stories about working for the TTC. The point is, the employees know, the union knows, and a good number of public knows that TTC management has a particular distaste for the hourly employees.

    We also know that TTC management doesn’t particularly care for the passengers either. There’s a long list of choices made by TTC management that support this. Decisions about how routes should be scheduled. Decisions about how the fare increase was handled and how subsequent issues like how the token and temporary adult ticket messes have been handled. Decisions on how the TTC communicates with is passengers when things go wrong. Decisions how how things should be handled when they do go wrong. Decisions about how the infrastructure and the vehicles should be maintained. How they’ve handled these issues and more paints a pretty grim picture about their regard for the customers.

    We also know that TTC management doesn’t particularly care for the commissioners. In some ways it almost looks like outright contempt when you realize the TTC has been asked to provide reports on various things like vehicle availability and reliability, and transit priority signaling to name two that have been requested by the commission but, even as the deadlines passed long ago, have not been delivered by TTC management. What’s more surprising is that the commissioners haven’t taken anybody to task over this, which brings their sincerity in the whole thing into question. Back when TTC management were kids in school, their teachers wouldn’t let them get away with not doing their homework and letting it slide five years and counting past the due date like that transit priority report. So why is it ok for them to do it now at the Toronto Transit Commission?

    Taking care of the customers, the passengers who pay money into the fare box to receive a service, does not seem to be at the forefront of anybody’s concern at the TTC right now. Instead of dealing with bad press and publicity in a reactive manner, everybody involved needs to get their houses in order pronto.


  14. Steve,

    All sides are blowing this out of proportion. Each side is giving 100% blame to the other sides.

    Webster’s e-mail was blanketing ALL TTC operators which I think is wrong.

    Ross is doing some damage control.

    Kinnear put US RIDERS under one blanket.

    The majority of TTC operators are GOOD <— people read this a few hundred times please.

    The media is blowing this out of proportion for ratings.

    I just used the TTC trip planner to go from Bloor/Bathurst to Steeles/Bathurst at 11:05am February 10 2010. It takes 51 minutes.

    I am sure the 51 minutes will be different during rush hour where it will take a lot longer and a less time during the blue night time.

    1 hour and 42 minutes for a return trip. If there are any highschools along the route then it would take longer.

    Holding your bladder for 1 hour and 42 minutes is just wrong, this part I agree with Kinnear (I can't believe I just typed this). If the driver goes to a timmies for a minute or two then I am fine with it. You can't urinate and wash your hands in 60 seconds, what if there is someone else in the washroom too? How long does it take you to do #1 people? Count next time.

    Guess why I am using the Bathurst bus for this example? That one "rotten apple" is ruining it for the rest of staff. Am I happy he got suspended? YES.

    Why does the media/blogs always write when there is something bad like the Bathurst night bus 7 minute guy or when the McCowan guy fell asleep instead of calling his supervisor to get a replacement so he could go home? We are all human beings.

    Now that line between "appropriate" toilet time and way too long is not easily defined.

    I will have to give Bob Kinnear credit for saying there are things that could be fixed, he admitted there are people within his operators that have not been the best of operators.

    TTC Management has admitted there are some operators that have not been the best of operators. Have they taken blame for the management levels?

    Why does it take a twitter photo for this whole bla to shake up the TTC?

    Management was not doing their job, now everyone is blaming EVERY TTC operator. I have seen some bad drivers of course, but the majority of them are good. This whole vigilante thing has to stop. If you take a photo of a driver and you use flash, you will blind the driver for a few seconds, THAT IS DANGEROUS FOR THE DRIVER AND EVERYONE ELSE ON THE BUS.

    I am recovering from a car accident that happened in Nov. 09. I had to use a cane for a month or two, before I even asked the driver to lower the bus, they were lowering it. THANK YOU.

    Many times I am at work until 2am. I take the 301 Queen to Kingston and Queen, to catch the 322 Coxwell, which when it gets to Bingham Loop becomes the 324 Victoria Park and it takes me to Warden/Steeles, I get out in a small stop between McNicoll and Steeles. I have taken this route many many many times. I fell asleep. The driver stopped and woke me up with a "excuse me sir, isn't this your stop?" … Yes it was, I Thanked him. During that "break" at Bingham Loop before it turns to 324 we talk. He is not evil. THANK YOU for waking me up that night, I am sure you see hundreds if not thousands of people during your shifts.

    I asked him the other day how he remembered my stop from the hundreds if not thousands of people … he told me three things, one of them was the red vest I wear, the other is the fact that I always said thank you to him.

    There two stories of good TTC drivers.

    Hey Bob, I am not an evil rider. I say thank you when I leave a bus/streetcar (I can't really do it on the subways). I carry my photo camera with me always (if any of you have met me, that black bag I carry has my camera). I have been on buses where bus drivers have been assaulted. I have taken photos and called 911 then given my memory card to the cops. Just like you said, Webster blanketed all TTC operators as evil … I don't like your statement that blanketed all riders (that includes me, if you haven't noticed yet) as spitters, bashers and so forth.


  15. Everyone at TTC seems to be blaming everyone else… my overall impression is that everyone is to blame. The commission needs to be prepared to tell management that “it’s too difficult” is no longer a valid reason not to do something, management needs to stop ignoring plans they don’t like, and front-line staff need to remember that they work in customer service. (Actually, I think most (90%+) front-line staff are fine, but far too many (hundreds) aren’t).

    Even more importantly, I don’t want to hear bits of TTC blameing each other over problems of any sort, from rude drivers to subway shut-downs to the Queen streetcar issues. I want to hear solutions, and a plan to get things fixed.


  16. This morning on my way to work I was listening to CBC’s Metro Morning and there was a story about another SEPTA, Philadelphia’s transit system that was also trying to deal with ride complains over service. It’s been archived on the Metro Morning site.

    What was interesting was that SEPTA took an active approach to complaints, with a move to refocus the entire organisation, including upper management, to a customer service focus. Certainly an approach for us to consider here, rather than the usual “bunker” mentality.



  17. The media is sensationalizing all this, which is sad. Judging from the timing of this plus the report of Mr. Giamborne’s vibrant private life, I wonder who benefits from this. Let’s not forget who owns the media in Canada. If the Swift Boat association can cast doubt on John Kerry’s Purple Heart, making the TTC look bad is very easy.

    Why do people have so much problem with the TTC? It is because of fare collection enforcement. Who tells the public that their transfer is not usable? Who tells the rider that their Weekly Pass starts to work on Monday and not Sunday? The front line employee.

    With respect to their wages, it is reasonable given their duties. Every time a driver enforce a fare, he does not know whether the other person will assault him or not. It is no different than a police officer stopping a motorist for a traffic infraction. It is no different than a Canadian forces member stopping someone in Afghanistan for an inspection. The police officer and the Canadian forces member receives danger pay.

    If we have a IC card based fare collection, there will be no more disputes. Either the fare is accepted or not. We can reconfigurate the station collector to do something more useful. Keeping the station is clean and helping people get to their destination.

    Let’s end this madness once in for all. No one benefit from counting the clock when a driver visits mother nature. People get what they deserves. If Torontonians are obnoxious and rude, they deserve bad government and public service. Remember what Abraham Lincoln says, a Government for the people, by the people and of the people.


  18. I did not watch the press conference, but I read your link to the text. Did Kinnear really mention that bit about Urinary retention? If so, I thought that was a lame point. Did his internet research also reveal that drinking coffee is particularly bad if you have urinary problems? I know he was just trying to defend the washroom break thing, but all it does is highlight how buying coffee during an urgent washroom break makes little sense.

    But back to the real issue…how to solve this mess? I am not confident that these Town Hall meetings will yield concrete results. As others have mentioned, the problems between riders and TTC staff is already well documented in the thousands of phone, email complaints and blogs. Unless there is both a willingess to change and a plan of action to implement, then nothing will happen. It’s sad really, because many of the small things that are wrong with the TTC don’t cost millions of dollars to fix. For example, I have given up buying passes at the collector booth because I grew tired of the staff not flipping the “on sale” or “out of passes” sign over when they should. Why should I stand in a long line if what I’m buying is not even there? Small things like this cost nothing to fix but are never addressed (and yes, I have sent complaints to the TTC about this before with absolutely no results).


  19. I wish that some people from TTC and general public alike visit Praha (Prague). They will find that many streetcar loops are double-tracked mostly in the same direction but some are in reverse. The additional cost of the vehicles, rails and such gives the drivers an opportunity to “freshen-up” before going back to the streets.
    I live near St.Clair and Vic. PK and had to survive for many years the bunching of the 24 buses, which the drivers cannot control but for which they are probably penalized. The same “penalty” is given to them, if full bus overtakes an empty (or less full) bus, which is taking passengers. I do not know if the drivers can do anything on this long route. I was always thankful when a 24 bus arrived and was able to accept additional passengers.


  20. Steve, I’m not sure how you thought that Kinnear’s speech was “balanced”. His tone was extremely combative. He was grossly widening the definition of harassment to include any activity his people doesn’t like.

    And trying to educate us about urinary tract infections? Please…how stupid does he think we are? It wasn’t the fact that the driver went to the washroom, it’s the circumstances of how he did it and the fact that he grabbed a coffee as well (a diuretic by the way!).

    Steve: I read the text before I saw the video clips from the press conference, and parts of the text are quite open about the union acknowledging that they have problems and things must change. The delivery, on the other hand, was combative and sent the wrong message, especially thanks to editing for sound bites. Fully one third of the statement deals with the proposed town hall meetings, and ATU is brave to court what could be a very contentious setting for discussions.


  21. I think that Toronto Council should permit private, for-profit mini-bus operations (but do not subsidize them).

    That would have dual benefit. The Union will no longer feel that they hold the City by its throat. At the same time, those passengers who are arrogant and always unhappy, will quit the public system and stop spreading their negative attitude.

    Of course, this solution will not work everywhere – private operators will only serve most popular connections, and probably during peak hours only. But at least it will be a noticeable improvement, and is not so hard to implement.

    Steve: And the problem, basically, is that private operators will complain that they cannot compete against the highly subsidized TTC which, for example, gets its vehicles “free” in the sense that no part of your fare pays for them.


  22. David C, those are good ideas. Try changes out small, and expand if they work. Don’t wait to do it all at once, and don’t risk doing it all at once before you see how it works.


  23. Kinear is NOT tarring all TTC riders as bad apples. He prefaces the oft quoted rebuke of bad passengers with:

    “First of all, I want to thank the members of the public who have been voicing support for our members out there. It’s been expressed in many different ways but the general message has been:

    “Don’t pay any attention to all this noise. Most of you folks are terrific and it’s not fair that all of you are being blamed for the actions of a few.

    … But let me just briefly address another type of passenger. I know they’re in a distinct minority and we have to put up with them all the time.”

    Steve: That’s a good example of what’s in the text, but doesn’t come across in the tone and is lost in the soundbites.


  24. I get the impression that there is a basic economic problem underlying the TTC’s customer service issue. They don’t want more customers.

    For some reason, more customers means less money for the TTC. This was clear at the time of the fare hike when the agency talked about how it was losing millions of dollars despite a boom in ridership.

    Places like Disney World treat their customers well because they make a hell of a lot of money off them. Newspapers give away their content almost for free because more readers means more advertising dollars. But if your customers are an expense rather than benefit, why would you go out of your way to treat them well, except when you are temporarily pushed by politicians and the media?

    Steve – I must be misunderstanding something about the economics at the TTC. Can you clarify what is going on there, and whether or not they actually benefit economically from more customers?

    Steve: On average, the TTC only receives 70% of the cost of carrying each rider from farebox revenue. Some new rides can be handled at very low marginal cost because there is surplus capacity available, but others require more infrastructure (mainly more vehicles) or using existing infrastructure more intensely (better service outside the peak). The TTC has service standards dictating the point at which loads grow beyond an acceptable point. This is different in peak and off peak periods, but in either case, attracting new riders, on average generates a requirement for more service.

    As a matter of policy, the TTC has been improving its standards to provide better service in the off-peak, and there are plans to establish a core network of routes that run frequently at all times regardless of actual demand much as the subways do today.

    Finally, riders have migrated from token fares to monthly passes as their use of transit rises and the relative price of the pass falls. When Ottawa introduced a transit pass tax credit, this made passes attractive for riders who would otherwise buy tokens. For many of these, the revenue to the TTC actually fell, especially when expressed on an income per trip basis.


  25. Kevin Love says above that the Sunshine list includes only salary, and I wanted to write in that I don’t believe that’s true at all.

    The Sunshine list numbers include “salaries and total taxable benefits”. In fact, in some presentations of the numbers I’ve seen, these two items are separated out in the list into two columns.

    That said, I don’t know how extensive TTC non-taxable benefits may or may not be.

    Steve: Taxable benefits listed are things like expense allowances. They do not include health insurance and similar benefits, nor the employer portion of things like CPP and EI.


  26. You want to know what heart of the problem is? The problem is that the TTC has a pathetic record of dealing with customer complaints and incompetent employees. In both the sleeping fare booth collector and the driver that took an unscheduled break, if customers had called to complain NOTHING would have been done about it. Apparently it takes photographic evidence to ensure customer satisfaction.

    The blame can go on the union, but I am gonna put most of it with management. Ultimately, the union is doing their job: playing defense attorney to its members. It is management’s job to ensure their staff is doing the best job possible, and this is something they have failed to do for far too long. Mix this with Bob Kinnear, a man who is mentally disordered and would defend a TTC employee if he was beating his own mother to death and it is a recipe for disaster!

    This is a good way to look at the union/management situation: If a parent spoils their child rotten, while the child is responsible for his actions, it is the parents that let said child get away with so much and never taught him otherwise.

    If Mr. Kinnear doesn’t want customers taking photos of employees not doing their jobs, then he needs to accept that some of his members are not up to the job and need to be disciplined accordingly.

    Steve: Your characterization of Bob Kinnear is rather extreme, but he does not exactly radiate warmth. However, he has already stated publicly that some of his members leave something to be desired and work is needed. When we get to discipline, the question is appropriateness.


  27. I don’t want surface operators to get UTIs – but how come subway operators don’t get them? How do their shifts and break patterns compare?

    Steve: Subway operators have a few types of breaks. First, they do not work eight hour straight through shifts. Second, many (but not all) subway terminals and periods of operation use step back crewing where operators do not leave with the train they arrived on, but instead take one a few trains later. This gives them a short break at the terminal. The same scheme has been used on the SRT to get fast turnarounds at terminals during peak periods.


  28. “Taxable benefits” is the government closing a loophole so that employers do not give non-cash payments to their employees.

    It is highly unlikely that any TTC operator receives any such benefits.

    Note: expense allowances that cover work-related expenses (eg travel) are not taxable.

    Steve: Actually, as someone who received an allowance in his former job, the situation is not quite that clear cut. There are two ways to be reimbursed for expenses. In one, it’s done on a pay-as-you-play basis with employees trading receipts for payment. This is not reported as income. However, some organizations find it much simpler to avoid all this paperwork with a flat allowance. In that case, it must be reported as income, and the employee deducts business expenses in the tax return to offset this. Any surplus is taxable. The “sunshine list” reports the gross allowance value, not then net.


  29. There is a simple solution to deal with bus drivers stopping in the middle of the route for bathroom breaks: install portapotties at the end of some of the longer bus and streetcar routes (e.g. at Long Branch, Lawrence & Starspray Blvd, etc) so that operators can relieve themselves. Cheap and effective.


  30. Andrew;

    Actually, Long Branch Loop has a washroom for the drivers – however this is a valid point, install washrroms at Loops/endpoints where possible – even if they are just for the drivers. That way the driver can use the washroom.

    In general, I think a lot of this started with that 7:12 stop for the call of nature and a coffee. My understanding (please correct me if I am wrong) that the driver in question would stop for a coffee even if the bus was late. This does not make the TTC or the union look good. Also, a call of nature is totally different then grabbing a cup of coffee and should be seen as such. If the driver had only taken a pitstop, I doubt anything would have gotten out of hand.

    There are also situations where customers also may assume they are right, or where common sense would say so. For example, I have read that once a driver closes the front door at a stop, he/she is not supposed to re-open it at that stop for more customers. On one hand this makes sense (i.e. you technically have missed the bus, so now have to wait for the next one), but common sense says that if a driver sees a person running towards the bus, that it is better to wait and pick up that customer. That is what most customers would assume. Who is to blame in a situation like this? I’d go with management for not have a policy to that is fair on the customers as a whole.

    The paying customers want the best service possible – and sometime management policy (and not the employees) are to blame for black and white polcies, while we live in a world of colour. Things are not always black and white.

    I think it’s time everyone sits down and relaxes for five minutes – and then get back to everyday life.

    Steve: On the subject of policies, I suspect some of them are urban legends, or bastardized versions of rules that are interpreted as each member of staff sees fit. All of these need to be flushed out into the open and codified in a public place where there is no possibility of dispute. Of course, we know that lots of staff, both management and union, don’t know the rules about photos even though there are two web pages on the TTC site that explicitly say you can take photos for personal use.

    When it comes to photos you then send to the Sun, that stops being personal use.


  31. Steve: When it comes to photos you then send to the Sun, that stops being personal use.

    Personal use isn’t the term in question, the by-law says only commercial photography/video-recording requires TTC authorization, and commercial use means that the cameraman makes money off the photo. “Personal use” is not the wording used in the by-law and can have a different meaning (i.e. “personal use” implies “do not share it,” in this case). Sorry to nitpick, but wouldn’t a lawyer do the exact same thing?

    If you send any picture/video you took on the TTC to The Sun, The Star, The Globe, The Post, The Whatever, for free, then you aren’t making money off of it and it is not a commercial use. No receipt means no transaction, which means no commercial activity on the cameraman’s side. This is especially true if the media picks it up from a social networking/media site of any kind, as has been the case with some of the recent examples.

    The media companies’ use of such photos/videos would be for commercial purposes, but it’s not their cameraman that shot the image/video, so this is actually perfectly legal in the most technical interpretation. One can argue as much as they want that this is a loophole, but I’m not convinced it’s a loophole at all, since, based on the recent screaming match covered by The Star at Islington Station, the big media players apparently already have authorization to shoot on the TTC anyway. The only difference between a media staffer and the general public taking pictures/videos on TTC property is that media staffers can legally get paid for taking those pictures/videos, and I think that’s perfectly fine and the way it should be, so long as (and as the by-law itself states) it does not interfere with safe/orderly operation of TTC services.

    Steve: Yes, I suppose all is well provided the Sun doesn’t offer a bounty.


  32. Am I the only person who has observed that men and women are treated differently by TTC frontline staff? I see men get away with not paying fares, using old transfers, etc. because operators won’t confront them. If they are confronted, they are almost always called “sir” and treated with deference. Women, however, are challenged, bullied, and sometimes sworn at.

    I’ll give just one example of many: during the period when token purchases were limited a woman in front of me had not known she could only buy 5, not 10. As she stepped away from the booth and I stepped up, the seller told his booth companion that she was a “stupid f___ b___.” When I said I did not appreciate that language he told me I had no idea what they [TTC workers] put up with.

    As for Giambrone, just one month before declaring his candidacy for mayor I suggested to him that the TTC could diffuse the negative feelings about the fare increase and other problems at no cost by emphasizing customer service. He told me that it was “impossible” to train most current TTC employees to be courteous; we would just have to wait until smart cards replaced them.

    Steve: I have also heard a theory that TTC management problems can just be fixed by waiting for them all to retire. Fixing the problems we have today will take more than a bunch of fare machines.


  33. Aside from avoiding delays at the loops, back crewing could have another advantage. If the driver is waiting with the passengers for the next bus or streetcar and the vehicle is late arriving both driver and rider would share the wait. The shared experience could work wonders in mutual understanding. The driver would feel whatever discomfort the passengers are feeling and the passengers would know that s/he is sharing their discomfort. They may even chat a bit. Thus, when the vehicle pulls out of the loop driver and pasengers would both be more or less of one mind.

    That assumes of course that the driver stands with the waiting passengers.

    Steve: Actually, the step forward process does not take place at the terminal, but at a stop along the line where it is convenient to handle the crew changes. the passengers stay on board while the operators change over. On the subway, crews may drop back a few trains, but of course the passengers take the first train available.


  34. The problem lies with both management and the union. Neither fully grasps that that they are in the customer service business. They think their job is to deliver the passenger from point A to point B. Well, that’s true. However, customer service involves so much more than that. Until they grasp this, their attitude won’t change.

    In one other forum, an operator referred to riders as “freight that talks back.” That basically explains the opinion that some operators have of their passengers.


  35. Perhaps pay should be in the discussion. TTC employees are not underpaid. That token collector makes 3-4x what any grocery store cashier makes for half the workload. And most TTC bus drivers usually make 2-3x what school bus drivers make. So they aren’t underpaid. And because they are paid well, this is exactly why the public feels they are owed more than apathetic passenger delivery service.


  36. I assume that if you’re taking pictures for purposes of investigative reporting that you would be allowed to do that anyways (unless specifically asked not to, but a well hidden camera wouldn’t be noticed) … especially if it is being used by a news organization … but I think that would probably extend to blogging as well … how do news organizations get away with undercover reporting?

    It seems to me that the union doesn’t really like the idea of cameras … but it’s in their interest to weed out the bad eggs, the happier the public is with them the more willing we are to negotiate better deals, and put up with work stopages.

    I like the idea of a public “frequently asked questions” regarding operators’ roles/responsibilities … that way some of the urban legends can be put to rest once and for all.


  37. TorontoStreetcars said:

    For example, I have read that once a driver closes the front door at a stop, he/she is not supposed to re-open it at that stop for more customers. On one hand this makes sense (i.e. you technically have missed the bus, so now have to wait for the next one), but common sense says that if a driver sees a person running towards the bus, that it is better to wait and pick up that customer.

    I recall talking to a bus driver about this policy a while ago. I can’t recall exactly what was said, but as near as I can recall, I was told that, while that was the official policy, it was to be followed with discretion. Good customer service requires this to be ignored much of the time.

    However, once they start to move the policy is to be followed, and they should not stop. As I recall it, the idea was that the driver should now be focused strictly on the driving, and not distracted by trying to decide if they should stop for an approaching patron.


  38. The Globe and Mail has a copy of the Commission Report on customer service for the upcoming meeting.

    In the Globe’s copy (but not the one on the TTC site), I see a couple of pop-up comments from “bross” that read “Outlining what NOT to do may cause more photos and videos to appear… suggest we not issue a list.” It looks like Brad got his wish — there’s no such list in the report — though perhaps he’d also wish that his comment hadn’t been published.

    Steve: Yes, every so often, the TTC folks forget to “cleanse” reports before they post them, and stickies like this show up. This nowhere near as bad as the old days when they published Word-generated HTML in which all of the editing and deleted sections were still visible simply by pasting the report into a text editor that didn’t understand the macro blocking out the deleted portions. Then there was Metrolinx whose web folks screwed up basic security and left a bunch of reports sitting in plain sight. I was accused of “hacking” by their paranoid management.


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