By PAT WATSON
What is 6.5 kilometres long, and at a cost of $105 million – or approximately $16.2 million per kilometre ($25.9 million per mile) – and five years on, is still not ready for complete use?
Two years past its due date and at more than twice its original budget here’s what you get on a public transit ride along St. Clair Ave. West:
First you board a street car which will take you only as far as Lansdowne, but you will be kindly advised by the driver that if you wish to go further west you had best get off at the first stop west of Dufferin St. and wait for the bus going west.
Along the way there, you will pass a significant number of vacant commercial spaces. Is it the recession that has left them empty or are empty stores remnants of businesses that failed as a result of the construction that ate up space and discouraged vehicular traffic along the route? Off the streetcar, you will have an inevitable wait on a windy unsheltered corner.
Once on the 512 bus, the driver kindly announces that the bus will not go any further than Old Weston Rd. When questioned as to the reason for the bus not continuing on to Gunn’s Loop which is the western terminus of the route, he gently explains that the run has to be curtailed because buses are running behind schedule. The reason the schedule is off, he says, is all the vehicular traffic. Somehow the schedule of the 512-bus route has been interfered with by traffic.
Perhaps route managers didn’t factor cars into the plan for how often buses are to run but, as the crowd of people standing on the curb waiting for the bus merges with the 20 or so passengers who have to leave the bus, all that can be heard from the disgruntled group are complaints about having to pay more for less, and worse, service. So, in order to maintain a schedule, which seemingly serves the TTC’s needs, but not that of the shivering public, people find themselves literally out in the cold again. The walk to Gunn’s Loop proves faster than the arrival of the next bus.
The TTC has been suffering an image problem because of the myriad glitches and declining customer service that is now its norm. There is also a sense that there is an in-house respect and morale problem that filters out to the public.
A significant factor in the decline of the once award-winning transit service stems from the “Common Sense Revolution” when the Harris government cut provincial funding for operations at the TTC. The TTC has not recovered. Some would also argue that since the departure, in 1999, of David Gunn, as Chief General Manager (he held the position from 1995-’99), there has been a marked decline.
Now the TTC has announced that a consultant will be hired to help improve customer service. But is it necessary to spend more money to identify what everyone already knows? Is there not already enough anecdotal information to know what needs to be done to improve service and morale between riders and TTC frontline workers?
To begin with, it is obvious that there are some frontline workers who are not really meant to work with the public. The TTC needs to do an assessment especially of staff who have to interact with the public to see if they are suited for that type of position.
The police do psychological tests to determine whether those they are considering hiring are up to the stress of the job. It would be well if the TTC followed a similar kind of selection process because, whatever the various other aspects of the jobs are, daily interaction with large numbers of persons is a major element.
In-house there has to be a recalibrating of the respect factor all the way through the system. Further, there has to be more communication between every area of the system when there is the inevitable breakdown. There has to be staff whose job it is to inform commuters of these breakdowns as soon as they happen.
Ticket takers must also have that information so they can inform commuters. Ticket takers should also be able to accurately inform commuters about the routes that are attached to the particular station they are servicing. Oh, and, no sleeping on the job.
This vital service can and must be rehabilitated.
On a note of salvation…
While rushing in to save Haiti, a new approach is absolutely essential; neocolonialism is not an option.