Laudable recommendations for the TTC


Perhaps you were there to witness the transformation at the Yonge and Bloor subway exchange on Monday morning ahead of the announcement of the Toronto Transit Commission’s Customer Service Advisory Panel’s (CSAP) recommendations for solving the problem of declining customer service.

Bad blood between TTC frontline workers and customers had simmered for months before it boiled over into a public relations mess. To top it off, a few months ago, just ahead of the formation of the CSAP, TTC workers were called to task after one of their members was filmed while taking a nap on the job in a ticket taker’s booth and another was caught taking a 12-minute coffee break during a late night route run. There was also that driver who left the streetcar he was driving, which had quite a number of passengers on board, to do his banking at an ATM. Not to mention the long delayed and budget busting St. Clair Ave. W. streetcar right-of-way rebuild, described as a ‘fiasco’, that left area residents and businesses more than a little frustrated.

But on Monday morning the flow of passengers from the east-west Bloor-Danforth line to the north-south Yonge-University-Spadina line was facilitated by cordoned off areas that resulted in arriving and departing passengers not bunching up in a confused mass pushing against each other to get to their respective subway levels. There were highly visible TTC staff, easily identified by their brightly coloured vests worn over their uniforms, making sure riders got into cars smoothly and quickly. At the top of one escalator TTC maps were neatly laid out in a row.

Let’s be charitable and call it a good start.

The advisory committee has laid out 78 recommendations aimed at improving customer service. Much of it focuses on better communication, including more electronic signs on buses as well as at the entrance to subway stations to inform about delays and other pertinent advisories.

Along the same lines is the recommendation that frontline staff must be better informed about delays or changes. It makes absolutely no sense to anyone, including TTC staff at ticket booths, that they have no information about delays. The same goes for surface route drivers.

One of the pointed comments repeated throughout the CSAP report is the TTC’s absence of a coordinated, universal customer service policy across the system. This disjointed structure suggests the need for an assessment of the entire internal culture of the TTC.

What the TTC is fastidious about is training regarding safe operation of its vehicles, as it rightly should be. But the commission has no provision anywhere near the same level regarding customer service. The outcome of which is no surprise to anyone who uses the TTC with any regularity.

The report is thorough and all the recommendations are reasonable. In response to it, TTC union head Bob Kinnear, who hosted a series of town hall meetings in the wake of the customer service uproar, questioned where the TTC would find the financial resources to improve communication tools and training. A fair question since the report makes no comment on funding for its recommendations.

One aspect of the report that won’t cost any money is the recommendation that TTC staff take pride in their jobs, because that attitude will have a ripple effect on customers.

By the way, customers were not left out of the report in terms of the conduct that is expected of them. A 26-point list of rules and etiquette makes it pretty clear that settling in to eat your roti or any other “cooked or prepared foods” during a bus ride is not good etiquette; snacks only, please. And, the usual all-too-audible cell phone conversation is not advised. They would also like to see baby strollers folded before a passenger boards a bus or streetcar.

Oh, wouldn’t it be lovely… but a few hours after the beauty of the early morning commute with its promise of what the TTC could be, the old reality made an appearance when a TTC passenger, hurrying to get to a stop to catch a streetcar, waved to the driver hoping he would wait. Being the new friendlier TTC, the driver waved back as he zoomed past the stop.

A note on making a tricky decision…

It costs only 25 cents for what in some people’s opinion is the best ride at the Ex, that is, the totally exhilarating two-minute foot massage from those machines designed for that purpose posted all over the grounds. But it costs $12 to get into the Ex, or for bargain hunters $5 after 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. What would you do?

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