Building a reputation one action at a time


To the mother visiting from Ottawa, and her young son who was carried away on a TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) bus, although both you – on the outside of the bus – and your son – on the inside – frantically signaled to the driver to stop, those of us at the station who observed your tremendous distress that your son, a stranger to this city, would not know where the bus was taking him, want to extend our apologies on behalf of Torontonians.

Despite appearances, we do know how to make visitors welcome. Unfortunately, you’ve caught us in a bad cycle. We are having quite the challenge to rehabilitate the malaise that has seeped into our public transit service – shiny new subway trains and streetcars notwithstanding.

We know that this may not help matters, but believe us, you are not alone. Countless ‘customers’ of the TTC have been on the receiving end of discourteous behaviour from public transit frontline workers.

Have you heard the one about the woman at the Bathurst station who, after asking a streetcar driver why it was 40 minutes late, was ordered off the streetcar by the driver?

It may be of little comfort to you to be informed that most TTC frontline workers are pleasant and professional, since the frequency with which the matter of discourtesy arises may seem to contradict that fact. Hopefully, the help you received from the ticket collector and the supervisor on site will go some way toward forgiving the sudden, shocking departure of the bus carrying away your son.

If not, Torontonians will just have to chalk it up to one more reason this city fails the popularity contest among other Canadian urbanites.

And to the TTC bus driver who saw that frantic mother but waived her off and drove away: How is it that such a situation did not register as one in which common sense should overrule whatever schedule imperative you are otherwise required to follow? Where does customer service take priority in the daily carrying out of assigned duties?

Such callous actions are fodder for people who are contemptuous of unions. The argument is that, as unionized workers, TTC employees do not have to uphold standards of public service since they will likely not be penalized and their union will protect them no matter what.

You may know differently, but public perception carries a lot of sway. So, in that moment, when you drove off with that visiting woman’s son, even though you saw her gesturing for you to stop and even though her son also asked for your help, your decision has likely cost the city just that much more in lost reputation.

When she returns to Ottawa, what story will she have to tell friends, neighbours and co-workers about what made her trip to Toronto memorable? Picture the ripple effect.

We have one of the most unpopular mayors in Canada; traffic is among the worse in North America and our once proud public transit system is suffering a customer service deficit. And then you added to it.

We have less than four years to put a shine on this city for the Pan-American Games and every small discourtesy takes a little away from what we hope to show the world.

To borrow from that popular advertisement: Annual cost to run the TTC – $1.4 billion; projected spending in preparation for the Pan Am Games by all three levels of government –  $1.4 billion; impeccable customer service – priceless.

A note on occupation versus trespassing…

Everywhere you turn, there are opinions on what the Occupy movement is or isn’t doing, should be doing or should not be doing. Some people want them gone, others want them to stay, but Justice David Brown’s ruling that the Occupy protesters are trespassing, which allowed authorities to issue trespass notices, seems a case of all-or-nothing. He could have ruled that the protesters could remain in a part of the park as opposed to completely making a case for having them altogether evicted, especially because there is that larger Charter right to peacefully assemble to take into consideration.

In a culture of haste, the plodding movement of a group of mainly young people seems somewhat at odds. However, given time, this movement will make its mark.

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