When the TTC announced it would set up a special panel to examine the quality of customer service at the transit authority, my reaction was, “At last!” followed by, “Let’s not get our hopes up.” Massive, decades-old institutions do not change easily.

 

As usual, it takes a crisis or other significant event to highlight fundamental weakness — and the TTC is having its moment. After a fare hike that far outstripped the general rate of inflation, many riders are asking why they are paying more to get the same service.

 

Actually, improvements have been made in recent years — for example, many more buses have been put on the streets throughout the day and two transit-only routes just opened.

 

But Toronto’s need for transit capacity surpasses what the TTC is providing. The system is inadequate and yet it is up to society to provide sufficient funds to make it adequate. Our governments chose not to do so, and now we’re all paying the price.


Many of us are tired of uneven service and continued crowding. And we notice when the organization or its employees seem to take us for granted.


The strong public reaction to images of sleeping workers amplifies a sense that this service, which is vital to the functioning of the city, has lost track of how to actually serve. After an 11 per cent fare increase, our expectations are suddenly much higher. And how will the TTC respond?


As the commission engages outside help in identifying the causes of weak customer relations and looks for ways to increase the percentage of staff who put riders first, managers must not avoid examining their own attitudes.


The unions that represent transit workers also have a crucial choice. Will they focus on protecting members from “the company” and a potentially unsympathetic public, or recognize that a key part of job satisfaction means treating customers as well as possible — including the rude ones who don’t seem to deserve it.


And what about riders? We pay a lot of money to get around Toronto, but if we begin to anticipate bad or indifferent treatment from employees, that could be all we see.


Toronto-based transport writer Ed Drass covers transit issues every Monday; transit@eddrass.com.