By PAT WATSON
Toronto Transit Commission drivers expressed a surprising tone of regret at the first of three promised town hall meetings hosted by the Amalgamated Transit Union in the wake of an ongoing downward spiral in customer relations.
Driver Anthony Wallace and three other TTC drivers who volunteered to meet riders last Sunday apologized a number of times in response to the comments being made by public transit users who came out to Downsview Secondary School to make their concerns heard. Even union head, Bob Kinnear, who issued a very combative statement in February following the much-publicized photo of a TTC worker caught napping on the job in a ticket taker booth, appeared to be more contrite this time around.
The drivers admitted that many of their co-workers are lacking in an attitude of customer service and that they “should do better”.
There was frequent repetition of the idea of peer-to-peer monitoring and support, which the drivers admitted is currently lacking.
At the meeting, moderated by radio host and former Ontario Conservative party leader John Tory, members of the audience were also surprisingly civil given the level of tension that has developed between drivers and transit users on TTC vehicles in the past few months.
All the well-known problems were brought out: unhelpful and discourteous TTC drivers and ticket-takers; too many delays; buses arriving in a convoy; ill-mannered passengers, and more.
While a number of TTC executives, including TTC Chair Adam Giambrone, attended the meeting, they did not participate in responding to the host of comments and suggestions for improvement since it was the union that called the meeting. The question has even been raised as to whether it is appropriate for the union to be holding these meetings, rather than TTC management, a lapse that seems symptomatic of the current systemic dysfunction within the company.
Kinnear made a point of deconstructing how the lack of communication and validation between workers and management filters to the front lines and then on to passengers.
In fact, TTC Chief General Manager Gary Webster has admitted, for example, that management was out of touch with how much of a public backlash would result from the recent fare increase, at a time as this when public opinion of the service is at an all time low.
In early February, Webster made public his memo to workers which berated them, stating that the company had drifted into “a culture of unacceptable operating discipline … complacency and malaise.” Interestingly, the statement showed little acceptance of responsibility by management for the atmosphere within the company. Still, TTC management has promised to hold their own public consultations.
At a mid-February commission board meeting, despite months of growing tension and some 30,000 complaints amassed in the previous year, Giambrone and the eight other board members finally adopted a motion to set up an advisory panel on customer service.
The TTC Board itself should also be made up of persons from different walks of life, as had previously been the case. Currently, all nine board members are from Toronto City Council, with Giambrone as Chair and Joe Mihevc as Vice Chair.
Howard Moscoe who, during his tenure as board chair was a strong voice on behalf of transit users, has disagreed with this, suggesting that politicians, rather than private citizens, would be more accountable. However, given our sense that TTC management is not in touch enough with the mood of the transit using public, ongoing input from the ground level must be considered. The other matter is that, based on the tensions within the company, it seems it is not only the frontline workers who need training in good consumer and corporate relations; management also needs to get on the bus.
The second town hall meeting takes place on Sunday in Scarborough and the final one is on May 2 at Ryerson University.
For details see www.wemovetoronto.ca.
On a note on golf and TV ratings…
As expected, Tiger Woods’ return to the golf course via the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, was a TV ratings winner. Woods did not take home the coveted green jacket this time, but his participation satisfied the interest of golf enthusiasts and curiosity seekers in the wake of the sex scandal he is still trying to live down.