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Coruscanti Cognoscente

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Here's an article from the Star today:

Rebranding TTC as a service would be a truly Better Way

Published On Sun Jan 24 2010

Toronto can trace the six weeks before the Toronto Transit Commission's fare increase came into play as the time customer service broke down completely on the public transit system. TTC management was not prepared for its own fare hike.

Boxed in by its resistance to smart cards and obsessed with stopping customers from delaying the fare increase even a week or two longer by stocking up on tokens, TTC management had no choice but to suspend tokens and reintroduce pre-subway technology: paper tickets.

Soon, the Better Way became the Longer Wait with customers lining up at subway entrances to buy or drop tickets in the fare box during the busy holiday season. Now that it's over, the TTC doesn't want its paper tickets back.

Tickets were always intended as a use 'em or lose 'em business transaction set to expire on Jan. 31, with no refund or exchange. As of Feb. 1, the TTC will refuse to honour paper tickets. The commission will argue that the value of expired tickets will be nominal, but that is hardly the point. Whether it is 100 or 100,000, these tickets were purchased in good faith, many by low-income families who can barely afford a fare increase let alone the cost of a dishonoured ticket. It is an odd position to take for an organization that went to such lengths to prevent riders from pocketing a few extra tokens because the transit system could not afford it.

Store gift cards by law do not carry an expiration date. How does the TTC get away with it? Whether it can or not, the episode is an unsettling sign of the contempt TTC commissioners have for their customers.

In the past, the commission has gone to court – twice – to prevent the most basic of transit service courtesies: instructing drivers to call out street names en route (a function since taken over by automation). Subways shut down half an hour before bars do. Management has a tin ear when it comes to complaints and doesn't even have a system in place to alert riders to service disruptions or when trains stop running.

While transit systems around the world have raced forward with innovative smart cards and other electronic payment options, the TTC plods along with a fare purchase and collection system that has not changed much since the ribbon was cut on the Yonge subway in 1954. Debit and credit payments are available only for a Metropass and not at all stations. Those bulky Soviet-era token dispensers are out of service as often as they are in. Need a receipt for tokens? It's handwritten, resulting in longer lines.

City Councillor and mayoral hopeful Joe Pantalone recently criticized the TTC for failing to jump on the automated bus (although, he was strangely silent on the subject over the past four years). Not so fast, counters fellow Councillor Howard Moscoe. Today's technology will be obsolete by the time the TTC gets around to implementing it. Besides, according to the former chair, the TTC does not do innovation well, citing the hybrid bus fiasco. Remember, this is the same gang charged with delivering the multi-billion-dollar Transit City light rail expansion.

How do we return a rusting windup toy back to the award-winning transit service it once was? A financial and service audit would be a good start, but council is reluctant to order one because commissioners don't want it. Clearly smaller steps are necessary.

There has been debate without agreement since the last TTC walkout whether transit should be designated an essential service. Why not split the difference? Drop "essential" and rebrand the TTC the Toronto Transit Service (TTS).

The Toronto Police was renamed the Toronto Police Service in 1995 to reflect its community mandate. More recently, fire followed suit. As TTC management likes to remind us, approximately 80 per cent of its operating costs are funded through the fare box. That should give riders more not less say in how the system is operated. A new name won't change the TTC overnight. But it should jump-start a long overdue culture change. And finally remind commissioners and managers that they are in the service industry.

David Carr is a transport writer, columnist and former editor of Wings Magazine.

First of all, I'm against a name change. But the other points brought up by the article are on-point. The fare media is ancient, the customer service is terrible, and the arrogance of TTC commissioners and staff is embarrassing.
 

kEiThZ

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I am at the point where I believe they need to take a time-out from expansion and get their customer service issues fixed. Put in smart cards, run the subway an hour past last call, etc. Get all that in place. It'll do more for demand than expansion ever will. And I fully agree on the rebranding. The TTC needs reminding that service should be at its core.
 

DSC

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One serious problem at the TTC is that it is run by Engineers and the TTC does not even have a "Customer Services Department". Customer service / relations is split between many parts of the organisation. If the Commissioners and the senior management are serious about customer relations they need to put ONE person in charge of it and give them power to change things. As the senior management and the Commissioners have, up to now anyway, not shown that customers are important it is not surprising that SOME TTC front-line staff are surlier or sleepier than we would like. One thing needed is for front-line staff (and customers) to have accurate and up-to-date information so that they (and we) can make decisions or offer advice based on current facts. For example, collectors or customers cannot see the TV screens when one enters a station as none are at subway station entrances and I have never yet seen info on them dealing with surface routes anyway.
 

RedRocket191

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I am at the point where I believe they need to take a time-out from expansion and get their customer service issues fixed. Put in smart cards, run the subway an hour past last call, etc. Get all that in place. It'll do more for demand than expansion ever will. And I fully agree on the rebranding. The TTC needs reminding that service should be at its core.

No question they need to fix customer service, but I can't agree with an expansion time-out for two reasons. One being that we shouldn't kill the momentum we have going now, and two being that there is no objective point at which customer service will be "fixed". Will it take six months? Five years? How many people have to be satisfied before we can begin expanding again?

The principle's very similar to the whole "no road tolls until public transit is better" argument. I've always had a funny feeling that the definition of "better" was something far beyond what was reasonable.
 

kEiThZ

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Sure some complaints are unreasonable. But there are some very basic things they could pull off in a year. How about a smart card system to start with? Or working on getting the subway and streetcar network to run at least 1.5 hours past last call (since most bars close an hour after last call). Combine that with the Transit City Bus plan and you've got a real winner.
 

TTC12

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Agram mentioned something about fare box heads are going to be replaced with card scanning ones, this might be and indication towards the card system.
 

Northern Light

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The failings in TTC customer service are both those at the front line level and management; and both must bare responsibility.

There is clearly a culture throughout the TTC that there is no consequence to failure.

I'm thinking here of the many projects that fail to meet their own TTC chosen and published deadlines.

The Cumberland exit at Bay Stn was classic. A project already allotted a bloated 4 months, for something that needn't have taken 1/2 that long; was delayed again, and again, and again, to the point that it too 1 year 3 months to finish!

It was a tiny box, with windows, sitting over an existing stair case, little or no plumbing, no HVAC, no electronics. I have seen entire houses built in less than 8 weeks, including curing time for a concrete foundation; and this with workers doing 1 shift x 5 days per week. Never mind what could be done with double/triple shifts.

But to be clear, its not really the obscene length of time allotted to this project that was the bad customer service; it was the the failure meet the TTC stated expectation (completion in 4 months or so); and repeated failure to meet deadlines thereafter.
As well as the inability of TTC management to say "Sorry, we screwed up"; instead a litany of excuses is offered, and that just looks sad.

***

This type of thinking is clearly tolerated and perhaps even encouraged in too many staff throughout the organization.

I've often thought why can't a collector bring themselves to apologize for a delay or for not knowing some important detail about the routes at their station. It doesn't matter than its not their fault, as a front-line staffer you ARE the face of the organization, and you ought, as matter of courtesy to accept responsibility and say 'sorry' for whatever is bothering the customer. Its just good PR and common sense.

***

On the front line, I'm inclined to think a lot of this has to do with separating staff from customers; drivers hiding behind shields and collectors in high-walled booths aren't connected to customers as operators certainly once were.

I'm thinking of TD bank in New York which has fought local regulation to require bullet-proof glass in front of its tellers on the grounds that it actually increases the likelihood of their being robbed and leaves the customer and staff feeling much more impersonal.

I'm reminded of how friendly TTC staff seemed when I was little. As a child in the early 80's I recall subway drivers having their cab doors open, and letting me into the cab so I could see it, and explaining the controls to me; I learned the name of the subway driver whose train I usually caught in the morning on my way to school (Fred); and I knew his run number and when to expect him. His smile was great as was his patience w/me. He fostered my interest in transit, and I have to tell you I caught his train almost every weekday for 4 years.

If anyone had ever given lip to Fred, I would have been in their face.

That TTC staff now lack defenders, and feel more vulnerable is directly related to the lack of 'Freds' among them. That's a shame.
 

nfitz

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One serious problem at the TTC is that it is run by Engineers ...
I don't think there's a single Engineer on the commission. The current CGM is an engineer, and perhaps even his predecessor; but most haven't been.

And as big as the problems are, I thought communication, etc., has improved somewhat in the last few years.

I don't see the need to start making unfounded, prejudicial comments.
 

ITcomputer

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if there is a bright side to this, more people may decide to bike or walk.

I know that's what I did when I worked at Spadina and King and had to commute from Dufferin and King.
After quite a few times of being able to walk faster than the streetcar service and buying a suitable hybrid bike for downtown
I found that my stress level was way down and I actually had control over whether I would get to work on time or not.

To boot, I lost 20 lbs! and saved about a $100 a month.

The TTC's attitude I believe comes from thinking that there is no other competition, but I know of alot of people that
have ditched the TTC in favour of alternatives, and there are many (bike, walk, scooter, car, Go Transit, ebike, rollerblades...you get the idea.).

The cultural attitude is that people take the TTC because that is there only option. Unlike Europe, Asia and some cities in North America (NYC).
 

noctis

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name change or not, i think the fare system is ttc's number one priority right now. if they can come up with a new fare system, like the one in new york city or hong kong or even taiwan where you buy tickets from the machine, then there is no need for ttc collectors working at the collector booths. these people can do other things then just sit there and collecting money all day long. i mean there's so many things that the ttc can do to improve. just travel around the world and take a look at various metro systems. every has their own unique way of operating it. the ttc is old fashioned and like the news said, "While transit systems around the world have raced forward with innovative smart cards and other electronic payment options, the TTC plods along with a fare purchase and collection system that has not changed much since the ribbon was cut on the Yonge subway in 1954." after reading that line, i was like: wow...unbelievable...after being in toronto for 14 years, honestly, nothing has changed...
 

DSC

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The Commission itself is the Councillors, by the TTC I meant the 'employees' and Gary Webster the Chief General Manager, is, as you say, an engineer. Many other senior TTC staff are also engineers. However, 'engineer' is not a perjorative term, I simply mean that for most engineers the ENGINEERING comes first. Of course the TTC needs engineers but we need someone high up in the organization who understands and is vocal about customer service. This person could, in fact, have engineering qualifications.
 

GraphicMatt

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I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think the fact that the sleeping TTC worker apparently lives in Cobourg, Ontario is indicative of where some of the TTC's customer service problems lie.
 

fiendishlibrarian

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I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think the fact that the sleeping TTC worker apparently lives in Cobourg, Ontario is indicative of where some of the TTC's customer service problems lie.

This, I think, is a major issue. At least 80% of all the operators at the TTC don't live in the city. When my dad was still a driver, he used to tell me that when he worked at Wilson division, out of a complement of a couple of thousand drivers and mechanics, he was one of a handful that lived in the city. I truly think the fact that a lot drivers and collectors, especially the senior ones, don't live in the city, and don't have a stake in it, is a big reason why their attitude is so bad. They don't live here, they don't care, and they don't like the kind of people that live in the city (draw your own conclusions). You can say it's because Toronto is too expensive, and that's true to an extent, but you take guys like that one who was caught sleeping, he said he had thirty years on the job? So that means that in 1980, when he started, he could have started living in the city as the city was much cheaper then. But the fact is that a lot of the boomer generation of operators that were hired around the time Sleeping Beauty was got out of the city as soon as they could, assuming they ever lived here. They also never left their sense of entitlement at home either.

Collectors at the TTC is an in-house welfare program for chronic assholes, drunks, and senior guys looking for an easy way to bump their pension, everyone there knows it, and it pisses a *lot* of the other drivers off, certainly it did my dad and many younger drivers. So normally I go to bat for TTC workers, but not for this loser. He should just retire, as he's pulling those shifts in order to get his pension rate as they take your best three years, which is why these old timers are sitting in a booth at McCowan at 9:30 at night.
 

DSC

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Quote: Collectors at the TTC is an in-house welfare program for chronic assholes, drunks, and senior guys looking for an easy way to bump their pension, everyone there knows it, and it pisses a *lot* of the other drivers off, certainly it did my dad and many younger drivers.

Whoa there! A high percentage of collectors are there because they are returning from sick-leave and cannot do their regular job. This seems like a good idea, as long as they get some customer service training first - and is surely better than them sitting around at home doing nothing.
 

Tacoma

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Quote: Collectors at the TTC is an in-house welfare program for chronic assholes, drunks, and senior guys looking for an easy way to bump their pension, everyone there knows it, and it pisses a *lot* of the other drivers off, certainly it did my dad and many younger drivers.

Whoa there! A high percentage of collectors are there because they are returning from sick-leave and cannot do their regular job. This seems like a good idea, as long as they get some customer service training first - and is surely better than them sitting around at home doing nothing.

If you're returning from sick leave, that means you're ready to return to your normal duties, as you'd be getting full pay no less than what you earned before going on sick leave. For example, if an experienced bus driver being paid $80K per year (or whatever they're being paid these days) returns from sick leave, I hope they're not being sent to cushy ticket collecting jobs (which, with all due respect, most anyone can do) at same pay.

And if you're "sitting around at home doing nothing," then you must still be on sick leave, so not understanding what you're saying.
 

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