City Ombudsman Slams TTC For Inexcusable Community Consultation

The City of Toronto’s Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, has issued a scathing report about the so-called public consultation regarding proposed second exits at stations on the Danforth subway.

For detailed reporting of events at the time, please see my earlier posting.  The Ombudsman’s report details events after July 2010 when the whole discussion and consultation, such as it was, disappeared into private meetings with few benefits.  Indeed, after neighbourhoods thought that the projects had been put on hold, design work actually continued unknown to anyone including the local Councillor.

The litany of “I thought someone else was responsible” communication foul-ups goes on and on, even after one might have thought the TTC had learned their processes were broken.  “Arrogance” does not begin to describe the attitude of TTC staff and their attitude to community input as an annoyance to be avoided.

The TTC has fully accepted the Ombudsman’s criticism and will implement new procedures and communication models for projects to ensure that everyone knows what is going on.  This frankly is an example of a situation where, at the time, neither senior TTC management nor Commissioners knocked heads together to fix a process that was clearly broken.  Just how broken shows up in the degree to which staff arguments defending their preferred design shifted as necessary to subvert any public input.  This is all documented in the report.

I could not help thinking of GO Transit and their appalling dealings with various communities in the Georgetown rail corridor notably at the West Toronto grade separation.  GO is now trying to improve, but the Georgetown project is plagued with the same problem of lost trust brought on by mistreatment of the public participation process that we see with the TTC.  It is easy to become an agency thought to be incompetent and untrustworthy, and far harder to win back respect.

This is a sad tale and an indictment of an organization whose reputation for fair dealing with the public has been less then ideal.  Things are improving, but lifting the rocks so that we can see all of the creepy-crawlies underneath rarely happens and the Ombudsman has done Toronto a good service here.  Other agencies would do well to read her report and see just how badly things can be screwed up, even with, on occasion, good intentions.

The TTC’s response to the Ombudsman’s report is on their website.

8 thoughts on “City Ombudsman Slams TTC For Inexcusable Community Consultation

  1. I’d like to contrast the responses of the TTC and of Rob Ford to the City Ombudsman’s latest reports. The TTC ‘fesses up, admits it did wrong, and promises to fix things. Rob Ford utters cries of political motivation. Guess who will get more respect as a consequence?

    Organisations get all sorts of things wrong for a variety of reasons. In my experience, those that admit fault get better, while those that deny there’s a problem get worse and worse until something so bad happens it can’t be denied. (Professionally, I’ve seen this in safety matters). The TTC’s attitude cheers me, and hopefully this is the start of a significant improvement.


  2. Wow, now the TTC will have a “…dedicated department responsible for managing communications.” So they will still ignore what we peasants have to say, but they will do a much better job of spinning the PR.

    Steve: I am sure Metrolinx is their shining example.


  3. Thanks for the commentary on this, Steve. Actually, if you read the full report, the Ombudsman’s comments on the TTC’s public consultation are the least damning. The Ombudsman actually hired a third party engineering firm to investigate the TTC’s fact base, and determined that they TTC had manipulated engineering standards to dupe the public and the media. The engineering firm also found that ALL of the public alternatives put forward are acceptable from a safety perspective.

    As well, the report details how the TTC has continued to work on this project secretly, again with no public consultation.

    So in essence the Ombudsman has confirmed what the public has been saying all along — that the TTC is playing dirty politics and there are no signs of improvement.

    Steve: My concern in writing this up was not to regurgitate the material in the report — my readers can browse that for themselves. However, it is ironic that thanks to the relative openness of Toronto’s process (at least until and if Mayor Ford dismantles it), we have a mechanism to investigate this sort of complaint. Compare this to the problems folks living in the West Toronto and Weston areas went through with GO Transit’s high-handed attitude to construction and consultation. Is that what we can expect from Metrolinx when the going gets rough on Eglinton?


  4. There is an on-going problem with proposals reaching the completed engineering and property acquisition stage years before they are announced as a proposal for community consultation. I don’t understand why there is such fear that the public will rail against a plan if it is well thought-out and fair-handed. If we can see all of the information, including the technical that they think we cannot understand or don’t need to know, we could actually potentially save them a lot of embarrassment. I’m sick and tired of the planners, engineers and managers acting like infallible gods.

    I can point to two clear examples of situations I caught myself that have had to be changed:

    – First was the corner of Caledonia and St. Clair which had to be rebuilt a second time because buses could no-longer make the north turn and ended up in a lengthy and at the time indefinite diversion. I caught this one at the drawing stage but it was not corrected until long after the error was cast in concrete. (The similar situation for the Keele Bus has still not been resolved.)

    – Second was the proposed at-grade connection to the Kodak lands yard. First we were told it was perfectly adequate and would not cause conflicting road usage timing issues. I was pooh-poohed for proposing an elevated crossing of the Black Creek valley and a fully isolated junction. Much later I found an update notice saying that ‘recent study data’ had changed their plan to something almost indistinguishable from what I had proposed due to “traffic conflicts and operational concerns” and that it was considered a necessity. I accept their round-about apology.

    Steve: My own experience with trying to save the TTC from itself was with the proposed “Don Mills LRT” street running through East York. They were adamant that it be on the surface even though this was totally impractical. On St. Clair, the original designs showed the eastbound stop at Keele as farside in the “standard” configuration because nobody had bothered to visit the site to see (a) there was no space and (b) it was on a grade. The centre poles are another example of designers running amuk and wasting one valuable metre of road space.


  5. “and determined that they TTC had manipulated engineering standards to dupe the public and the media.”

    Oh my, that’s serious. I must have got into a daze before I got to that bit.

    If that’s true, that’s grounds to file formal complaints against the TTC engineers in question with Professional Engineers Ontario. I wonder if those in the community have done this.

    Steve: I am sure that the engineers in question had good, credible reasons for doing what they did, even if they might have been off the mark. What you are likely to hear especially in situations where safety standards are at issue is that they are trying to take the most conservative position. However, applying standards inconsistently is a matter of misrepresentation that’s very hard for citizens and politicians to challenge. The experts are always right.


  6. Steve said: The centre poles are another example of designers running amuk and wasting one valuable metre of road space.

    Irony … the phrase ‘running amuk’ (or amuck) is actually from the Malaysian/Indonesian word “amok” which means “insane & running around crazily”

    Steve: Actually “amuk” is a spelling error (!!! horrors !!!) and it should have been “amok”, hence directly the word from the original language.

    Another phrase used in Canada is “like chickens with their heads cut off” although that metaphor is a bit bloody-minded & violent.

    The point? That organizations like the TTC & Metrolinx have grown too big and too far away from the people they serve, and this kind of attitude seems to permeate any over-large organization that is involved in public service.

    Metrolinx 2.0 already lost any political connection and moved further away from the public interest & scrutiny. TTC is dealing with lots of problems related to ‘perception’ (as well as some out and out crappy behaviour like the situation above). Andy Byford is talking about improving communications with the public but also says that the TTC is apologizing for anything & everything, some of which it is not responsible for.

    Based on this, I shudder to think what would happen if the TTC were merged with Metrolinx.

    Cheers, Moaz


  7. Steve, you are too kind to Metrolinx in terms of the Georgetown corridor. You forgot the part about presenting fabricated data to the public over and over again.

    Steve: I didn’t want to start that whole debate over again here, merely to observe that Metrolinx had not been the most forthright of agencies with accurate public information.


  8. Unfortunately, the new TPAP has even less public consultation requirements than that previously required under EA standards. Despite this, Metrolinx goes even further to follow the letter of the law, while actively trying to subvert the spirit of it, by holding public consultations at times and places less likely to be attended by unwanted critics.


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