In this final installment of the series, I will review proposals for improving customer service as they relate to payment of fares, the TTC’s role in the community and the responsibilities of the TTC and its customers.
Please note that some comments submitted to previous articles that dealt with primarily these issues have been moved to this thread.
Fare Media and Payment Systems
The advisory panel’s report begins by noting that the current fare system is “both inconsistent and inconvenient”, but they also observe that “many, if not all, of these issues will disappear when a new payment system is implemented”. This may be true, but it should be remembered that the biggest problems usually stem from bad policies rather than from technology.
For example, some systems (even the TTC on the 512 St. Clair route) use a time-based fare rather than depending on arcane transfer rules. If a transfer (which could be either the existing paper form or an electronic equilavent) is valid for two hours, then any consideration about stopovers, doubling back and other no-no’s of the current policy would disappear. The panel recommends that transfers be simplified so that their validity is easily apparent, but does not explain what scheme might be used to achieve this.
TTC management created a needless crisis during the last fare increase by failing to recognize the problems that token hoarding would create. Their response that people would just have to pay full cash fare showed a wanton disregard for good customer relations.
Why did they go down this path? The new Metropasses (complete with new preprinted prices) would not be available until a month after the fare increase was approved. Therefore no fares could go up until the new media were available. The idea that Metropass users might get one month at the cheaper rate while token fares went up immediately was not considered, even though there have been staggered increases like this in the past.
There will be at least one more fare increase before the system fully converts to smart card technology where these issues won’t apply, and TTC management need to provide a transition scheme that does not penalize riders for their own poor planning.
The panel recommends that passengers be able to pay with alternate media and give examples such as credit/debit cards. The larger question of fare policy is not touched.
The Day Pass come in for criticism because of its scratch coating, but with no recommendation about how it would actually work.
TTC “Spaces”, Volunteers and Communities
This is the weakest part of the report, by far. The advisory panel suggests that communities need to feel ownership of their stations with local artwork, maps with details of local points of interest, and participation in station audits.
One short paragraph is devoted to the issue of maintenance standards for stations, “healthy food options” and water fountains. The TTC, of course, already has a station cleaning blitz in progress, longer-term plans for additional, sustained maintenance efforts, and reconstruction projects to address the deterioration of station structures and finishes. The cleaning of trains is not mentioned.
Finally, there are suggestions about embracing the community including “Friends of the TTC” and using interested members of the community as TTC ambassadors. As someone who has spent decades on transit advocacy, I can only say that the best ad for the TTC is reliable service, politely delivered in vehicles and stations that look as if the system cares about itself.
Responsibilities of the TTC and its Customers
The panel proposes a service charter for TTC staff including 12 separate items, the last of which is actually an expectation that customers will behave appropriately onboard and let the TTC know how it can improve services. That leaves 11 items actually as TTC goals.
Nothing here is unusual, but also nothing addresses the need to look inward and find those organizational practices that are barriers to good customer service. TTC staff will smile a lot, and the many goals outlined in previous sections are recognized as an integral part of providing good service.
Customers, on the other hand have no fewer than 26 responsibilities listed, not including the 1 that was included under the staff’s list above. Right away, this tells me that “blaming the customer” has not vanished from TTC culture. It has even infected the advisory committee.
Most points address the occupancy of space by riders, and they are all common sense. Two points talk about food and drink asking riders not to use open containers or cans, nor to eat cooked or prepared foods. This issue came up years ago when the TTC attempted to ban “food” from the subway only shortly after opening a MacDonalds in Dundas West Station. Anyone who actually rode the TTC would know that there are many food vendors in the system who sell drinks in tins, and various forms of prepared food. If the TTC is really serious about banning this sort of item, they should stop trying to make money by leasing space to those who sell them.
Customers are warned not to run for buses or streetcars. Possibly if service were more reliable, people would not treat every vehicle as if it were the last one of the day.
Far too much of the list assumes that we are all hopeless dolts. This is rather like putting up a sign over the 401 saying “please don’t speed, and make lane changes with care”. Just as most drivers play “by the rules”, so most customers, most of the time, are well-behaved. We do not need a lecture in TTC behaviour, especially one that is over twice the length of the one for the TTC itself.
This entire section is insulting to passengers, and coming at the very end of the advisory committee’s report, shows just how out of touch that committee really is, or how badly their mandate might have been compromised by TTC management’s spin.
Amusingly, the panel hopes to find a way “to encourage … customers to read through and better comply with By-law No. 1.” They might start by ensuring that all copies of the by-law are current, and that staff are familiar with the contents. For example, despite two separate web pages on the TTC’s site that clearly state (as does the by-law) that photography for personal use is permitted, TTC staff routinely harass members of the public who try to use cameras on the system.
3.17 No person shall operate any camera, video recording device, movie camera or any similar device for commercial purposes upon the transit system without authorization.
An excellent example of problems with customer service arises when TTC staff (or, worse, supervisors or Special Constables) approach a patron who is taking pictures and, already ignorant of the by-law, start the conversation in an aggressive, negative way saying “You can’t take pictures here”. Some TTC staff claim that taking photos violates their privacy rights even though there is widespread legal precedent for situations where people appear in photos taken by others as “part of the scenery”. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for intemperate, hostile behaviour.
By-law No. 1 broadly covers the following areas:
- Definitions, all 20 of them. There will be test at the end.
- Fares. You have to pay. You must use fare media as intended. Did I mention you have to pay?
- No person shall do just about anything other than ride and behave. This goes on for 34 paragraphs and many sub-paragraphs. If you pass the test on definitions, we will move on to this section.
- Penalties. You will behave, or you will pay, and we will take away your Metropass even though you already bought it.
Possibly the TTC can install video screens with this information in a scrolling text, or a short instructional video (possibly with John Cleese) explaining how to behave on the TTC.
This report starts out with some good ideas and at least a recognition, if not a focus, that there are severe problems with the organization and with its inability to convey information to customers or to staff. Internal isolation begets turf wars and “it’s not my job” attitudes that have as much, if not more, to do with managerial inertia and ego than with any bars to improved practices by unionized staff (which is not even an issue for many items). However, the report peters out into a classic TTC pose of blaming external issues, in this case the very customers for whom service improvements are intended.
Yes, there are stupid, ignorant, boorish customers, but they are far from the majority. I should not be treated with disrespect or lectured on my behaviour for the sins of others. Every customer is a unique chance for the TTC to win over and improve its image with a rider, a concept basic to good service. An organization improves itself, shows it cares, and does not blame its clientele for the stale bread in the window, the unmade bed in the hotel.