By PAT WATSON
Travelling around Toronto on public transit can be a great way to get to know this city if you are a newcomer or if, for financial reasons, you cannot afford to take your vacation out of town. The city has many fascinating neighbourhoods, which, if you can overlook the winter weather, can be much fun to explore. For a $3 cash fare you can have a great adventure right here in the city.
But if you are pressed to get to work on time or have a medical appointment and all you can afford is public transit then, given the current troubled climate in the Toronto Transit Commission, your trip could go either way.
You might find yourself pleasantly surprised that you did not have what seemed like an interminable wait; you might encounter a courteous, even helpful TTC driver. But that you would be surprised suggests such an experience is not the expected norm. In fact, that is the standard, but the relationship between TTC workers and commuters has soured lately. So that, even if you don’t use the TTC like the 300,000 or so daily commuters in Toronto, you know people who do and have heard their pain.
Let us not lose heart. People who care, and that includes politicians, are actively seeking solutions to the ongoing customer service problem. Here then is a compendium of solutions that have surfaced recently.
Solution number 1: The TTC has engaged the voluntary services of Steve O’Brien, General Manager of the One King West condo-hotel, as the volunteer head of the TTC’s brand new customer service advisory panel. The panel’s task will be to transform what TTC chief general manager Gary Webster has described as the “culture of complacency and malaise that has seeped into the (TTC) organization.”
The all-volunteer panel will also include TTC employees and riders.
Solution number 2: This week, Ontario Liberal backbencher and former minister of health, MPP David Caplan has presented a private member’s bill to make the TTC an essential service, similar to the police and fire fighters. This is aimed at preventing strikes or lockouts at the TTC. Supposedly, rendering the TTC an essential service would pre-empt any repetition of last April’s strike, which occurred with only one hour’s notice from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, and left thousands stranded at midnight.
Opponents of the bill argue that making the TTC an essential service would end up costing the city more when it comes time for contract negotiations in the absence of the pressure that is an essential element in the bargaining process between unions and management.
It has also been pointed out that as in British Columbia where teachers are not allowed to strike, TTC workers, being in a monopoly position might still decide to walk off the job given a perfect storm of circumstances.
Solution number 3: Since his fall from grace following the revelation of sexual impropriety and his subsequent withdrawal for his bid for mayor there continues to be a call for TTC Chair Adam Giambrone to step down. Those calling for his resignation insist that he has lost the moral authority to head the TTC board, especially as it faces troubled times. A further reason for the call for Giambrone’s resignation is that it is felt that the attitude of frontline staff is symptomatic of an organizational attitude problem that is seeping down from the executive to staff and showing itself among drivers and ticket-takers.
Solution number 4: It is time to follow other major cities and end the stranglehold that a TTC monopoly has created. Privatizing or otherwise contracting out the various components of public transit would thwart the effect of the entire unionized body going on strike all at once.
The other issue looming on the public transit horizon is the pressing need to expand and in some cases repair the public transit infrastructure. If Spain can expand its urban transportation network in three years why are we still waiting for a subway line to York University for instance?
A note on a National Post editorial…
Here is a quote from an editorial in the National Post this week that provides a glimpse into the kind of external factor that contributes to Haiti’s devastatingly slow economic development: “Many in the foreign press seemed almost shocked at the lack of violence in the aftermath of the earthquake.” The editorial goes on to explain that there was “none of the pervasive violence…by various gangs.”
Not sure what this tangent has to do with an editorial under the headline, “How we can best help Haiti”.