TTC: The Bitter Way

August 25, 2010

Customer service has not been a top priority of the TTC in recent years

Followed by a chorus of “No shit, Sherlock.”

I come not to the praise the TTC but to bury it… under pages and pages of Customer Service Advisory Panel report.

Obviously an organization of the TTC’s size and importance in the functioning of the city should undergo occasional institutional scrutiny in both official and, let’s call it, PR capacities. The latter if for no other reason than to give the appearance of listening to the transit using public, those who feel that they are footing the bill. That this particular review was forced forth due to a series of embarrassing front line employee missteps, let’s call them, earlier this year makes me doubt its ultimate importance.

Yes, wouldn’t it be nice if every time we stepped up onto a bus or streetcar or dropped a token into the box before pushing through the turnstiles, we were greeted with a big smile and a hearty ‘Hey, how are ya!’? (Gestures, I’m sure, all us passengers make toward those taking our fares.) Setting such a tone would help make the TTC experience a more pleasant one.

But as has been noted extensively throughout the interwebs, it’s not the GAP we’re talking about here. Our interaction with public transit comes largely out of necessity as we go about our daily business, getting from point A to point B as needed. For most of us, time spent on public transit is that interminable period between where we’ve been and where we need to get to. Bubbly engagement and enthusiasm shouldn’t be what we’re demanding from TTC employees. Just get us where we’re going as quickly and efficiently as possible. Charm is entirely optional.

It’s that ‘quickly and efficiently’ expectation that is key here. Unless the TTC’s front liners are impeding that, everything else is mere window dressing. Immediately you’ll set upon me, pointing out that the bus driver who took an unauthorized break or the one driving while impaired both clearly impeded quick and efficient travel. Sure. Let’s factor that in. But is miscreant employee conduct the major reason that our transit system has fallen so far behind our needs? I defy you not only to answer that question with a ‘yes’ but to prove it with credible data.

I might argue, in fact, that such flare-ups of poor performance are symptomatic of a system under duress. We are placing great demands on the TTC without adequately giving it the tools to meet them. Of course, I’m talking financially. For more than a decade now, the TTC has had to exist without the traditional funding for its operational budget from the province. Do more with less. That fact is so obvious and often talked about that it barely receives notice anymore.

At least as significant as that, the TTC also suffers mightily from overlapping jurisdictions and perpetual shifting sands of competing visions and ideologies. The grand plan of bringing accessible transit to more people and neighbourhoods in Toronto, Transit City, is now under threat from our slew of front running candidates who, sensing the political winds blowing around them, are declaring that subways are now the way to go. With varying degrees of believable detail, they would replace much of the current plan with more crowd pleasing subways. So, once more, we’re back to the drawing board of transit planning.

Of course, the real knife in the back for Transit City was the province reneging on a big chunk of its commitments earlier this year. Just like the province killed the plan to build an Eglinton subway back in the `90s by pulling funding after they’d already agreed to it. Until Queen’s Park ceases drawing more money from this city than it puts back in, transit planning here will always be subject to their whims and changes of mind.

Moreover, until our federal level of government gets involved in the issue of public transit, we’ll all be simply spinning our wheels. Hiding behind the smoke screen of municipal transit being within the provincial domain, the feds have sat on their hands as this country’s transportation infrastructure has fallen further and further behind the rest of the world. Unless we have some big event that shines an international light upon us (like, say, the Olympics), our representatives in Ottawa have been non-players in the public transit portfolio.

Embarrassingly, we are the only so-called developed nation not to have, and never have had, an official national transit strategy. You don’t think that matters? Go and take transit around other cities that do. Paris. Tokyo. Madrid. New York City. A national focus on transit is integral to having a fully functioning, viable system.

Until we have that (and I’m not holding my breath, waiting for it to happen), we can conduct all the customer satisfaction surveys and Advisory Panel reports we want. Nothing much is going to change. We will continue to fuss and fret, bitch and moan, and point accusatory fingers at all the wrong people.

dismayedly submitted by Cityslikr