I have finally received a reply from the TTC to my query about the Customer Liaison Panel. My original query went out on November 14, and I sent a follow-up on November 27. Here, slightly edited, is a reply from Chris Upfold.
I don’t think you’ll be surprised that I don’t think they need to meet in public / have a web presence / etc. to be an effective consultative and steering body.
The model for ACAT is quite different. They are representing a particular part of society that, by their very nature, can have higher instances of social exclusion. For that very reason of social exclusion it is critical that a body like ACAT (for which I’m also responsible) have a public voice that can ensure they are heard above the general demands / wants of customers. The majority of our customers don’t need that same voice given they have the ability to feed back to us on a plethora of items in a multitude of ways – not least of which are our Town Halls and Meet the Managers.
The CLP meet on at least a monthly basis and have broad authority to ask the TTC to present to them on any initiatives or services. They’ve looked at route management for surface and subway, our complaints procedure, our communications plans, PRESTO plans, wayfinding, fare policies etc. etc. We also use them to give strategic and tactical feedback into options that we are looking at. They review some TTC Board papers at an early consultative stage so that the recommendations we are making are strong and supportable for customers.
Given that they do these things before they reach the public eye (or indeed are ready for the public eye) I think it’s absolutely necessary that they happen in private. As I say there is plenty of opportunity for customers to feed back in public. All of the members have signed NDA’s [Non-disclosure agreements] specifically for this reason.
I don’t think they need to “earn their keep in public” to have huge value for the TTC.
That’s all very nice, but the operative word in this group’s title is “Liaison”, and they can’t do much of that by meeting in private and reviewing management proposals, a privilege that may exceed even what is extended to some members of the TTC Board. Without any public presence, they certainly cannot be spoken of as “representing” anyone.
When the Customer Service Advisory Panel proposed the formation of a liaison group, their recommendation was very heavily weighted to TTC management, unsurprising considering that the whole CSAP exercise was a big cheerleading session highjacked by management. This is the same process that gave us more things riders had to do for the TTC, than the TTC had to do for its riders.
The site on which it was originally posted (ttcpanel.ca) no longer exists, but the report is available through an archive site.
Recommendation 1C: Customer Service Advisory Group
The TTC should institute a governance structure in order to ensure that the recommendations made by the CSAP, as well as future initiatives, are considered, implemented, and followed through to completion.
It is recommended that a Customer Service Advisory Group be created, consisting of:
- 2-3 TTC Commissioners
- 1-2 outside customer service specialists
- The Chief General Manager of the TTC [now styled as the CEO]
- The new Chief Customer Service Officer
Plus other appropriate members of the senior management staff.
In addition, this committee could include TTC employees and members of the public.
Quite clearly, the intent was for an internal panel to monitor and support the rollout of customer service improvements, and the public was very much an afterthought.
By the time the CLP was actually constituted, the balance was completely changed with the majority of members coming from the public through an appointment process. This might suggest a more public presence, but that’s not what we actually see.
The original article from November 29 follows the break below.
With much fanfare, the TTC launched its Customer Liaison Panel (CLP) as part of its corporate plan and goals for 2013-2015. According to the TTC’s website, this group, headed by TTC Chair Karen Stintz,
has been offering valuable advice for close to six months, and that ultimately will result in better decisions for all our customers.
I am thrilled and delighted that the CLP has been so productive, but would have more faith in them if there were notices of meetings, minutes and the occasional appearance by a panel member (who is not a member of TTC management) at a Board meeting offering comment on what the TTC is doing.
An excellent point of comparison is ACAT (Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit) which has existed for many years. Their meetings are public with agendas and minutes sitting on the TTC’s website for anyone wanting to see what they are doing. ACAT members are always at Board meetings, they depute on issues of interest, and there is a real sense that they have some input in the TTC’s consideration of matters affecting the disabled community. I have yet to see one member of the CLP at a Board meeting unless they attend incognito, let alone hear a deputation or read correspondence commenting on the panel’s behalf of TTC affairs.
What does this panel do? How often does it meet? Why doesn’t it tell the public via a website what it’s up to and invite participation?
Or, like the Customer Service Advisory Panel that spawned it, is the CLP one of those things done for show, not for substance? An item on a “to do” list that can be ticked off and bragged about?
I have asked the TTC twice for information about the CLP’s activities – a deafening silence ensued.
It is not enough for an organization to claim an interest in “customer service” – it must be seen to do so. If a “customer” panel is so low-key that it never makes a public appearance or contributes to the debate about transit in Toronto, who is it representing? Why, indeed, does the TTC partner with the advocacy group TTCriders when they could be using their own liaison panel?
“Service” touches on much more than clean washrooms, polite operators, and signage that provides somewhat accurate information. It is a matter of corporate attitude, and of the political will to demand, not ask, demand better transit. This means routes that run on some semblance of reliable headways with room for passengers to board, and better funding from City Council who have been such pikers under the Ford administration with the open support of Chair Stintz.
The Customer Liaison Panel is missing in action, and I will presume that it is defunct in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
Steve it’s probably just a panel in name only designed to placate the masses. With all the town halls the feedback is there already without the need for a customer liason panel.
All in all..its one of those things that’s created to look good but not do anything. if it does something then it becomes public which means following through on it in some fashion. Not following through looks bad… especially in an election year.
Advisory groups are always a bit of a two-edged sword. If they offer those being advised welcome – and expected – advice or praise they are encouraged and supported If they point out (or might point out) that the emperor is actually wearing no clothes or start asking awkward questions they are ignored and left to wither away. A hierarchal organization like the TTC tends to react badly to any criticism or suggestions that they have not thought of 25 years earlier so I would bet the Panel has been given no staff support and is in hibernation. Too bad because it was a good idea but it is, I am afraid, a further indication that the Byford-Upfold-Stintz regime is not much different from those that preceded it.
Steve: I think the fundamental difference between ACAT and the CLP is that the whole issue of “customer relations” was always treated as management-heavy. The CLP is chaired by the TTC chair, and it has several management reps. How such a body could ever produce visible criticism and an alternate view is hard to fathom. The review process that preceded it was notable for producing a report skewed more to telling riders how they should behave than addressing issues in the service and attitudes of TTC management and staff.
Kind of like Metrolinx!
Steve, I think you’ll find them meeting well after midnight in hooded cloaks in the Lower Bay Subway station. There they meet on nights with a full moon and sacrifice the TTC’s future in bloody Satanic rituals.
Steve: But they clean up the station afterwards so that it will be bright and shiny the next day!
It would be all too typical of the TTC to spend $$ and effort on something as important as removing satanic symbols from a non-public area!
As I said before the commission is concerned with saving face. If the CLP is allowed to talk openly then the TTC runs the risk of being held to account.
The commission talks the talk but as the saying goes… you can put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig.
The CLP is a joke and always was.. the “citizen” members are business professionals who probably never even use the system.. for it to be credible it has to be public and consist of people who use the system… average people.
I was going to ask how it was possible for Chris Upfold to say these things with a straight face but then it occurred to me he was able to communicate it only in writing so his face may very well have been all screwy while he did it. There are only two things you need to read in his response to know something is fishy:
But what of the customers?
What on earth for?!? I can think of virtually nothing that would require this unless it directly relates to the financial details of contract negotiations with a vendor.
This is clearly just another case of the TTC pushing through plans for their own benefit and without external scrutiny until it’s too late to do anything about it. Mr. Upfold can claim all he wants that the end results are always the best outcome but how would we ever know? We can’t be sure if a particular topic or angle was ever even discussed without some sort of record. Why so secretive? Chris, we don’t want your opinion, we want details.
Would any of this be available via a freedom of information request, or has it been carefully kept just out of reach?
Steve: An FOI request would be interesting. I suspect that some material could be withheld if it really did apply to matters that would not be on the public agenda. However, by analogy to current practice for the private session of the Board, the fact that a topic was discussed in private is a matter of public record even if the details are not.
The fundamental problem here is the degree to which a private body, well-intentioned though it may be, is influencing the development of TTC policy possibly before matters are even brought to the Board for general guidance. When the “citizen” member positions on the Board were created, this was one of the things they were expected to do — provide an external view and input — but the CLP seems to have taken on some of that function. Possibly they are doing great work, but we will never know, and this violates the basic principle of open government.
The contents of the old ttcpanel.ca website can be accessed through archive.org.
For example, the main page and the PDF final report.
Steve: Thanks for these links.
So Chris Upfold is basically saying “the Customer Liasion Panel does not actually have to liase with the customers, and customers must never, never know what the Customer Liasion Panel is actually doing”.
The icing is a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Every time Stinz or Byford or Upfold stands up to tell us about the wonderfulness of the TTC’s new customer service initiatives, remember that their liasion panel’s thoughts about customer service are treated as a trade secret. The secret of customer service, I will assume until demonstrated otherwise, is that there is actually no there there.
Chris Upfold speaks of the great value to the TTC of the Customer Liaison Panel. I would like to know _one_ thing that has been put forth AND put into practice. (I would normally ask for say, three things but I doubt that would be reasonable, so I will settle for just one). I am NOT referring to recommendations, studies, consultants, committees, panels or any non-result. I will bet a day’s pay it doesn’t exist.