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Humiliation again for TTC after driver suspended for allegedly driving impaired

TORONTO - Toronto commuters took to the Internet on Tuesday declaring their transit system the "boozer way" after a driver was suspended without pay for allegedly drinking and driving a bus erratically.

TORONTO - Toronto commuters took to the Internet on Tuesday declaring their transit system the "boozer way" after a driver was suspended without pay for allegedly drinking and driving a bus erratically.

It's the latest debacle in series of humiliating incidents for the Toronto Transit Commission, which goes by the slogan, "The Better Way." First, photos surfaced of workers sleeping on the job, then video showed drivers taking extended coffee breaks as buses idled. Finally, a sex scandal involving the chair of the country's largest transit system saw the young politician abandon his mayoral campaign.

And now this.

"We have an expectation that our employees report to work fit for duty, which means not under the influence of alcohol or drugs," said commission spokesman Danny Nicholson.

"Obviously we're disappointed that this incident took place, but we're letting the investigation run its course."

The bus driver was suspended without pay after being pulled over by police Friday afternoon when passengers called 911 to report erratic driving. The woman was given a breathalyzer and lost her licence for three days.

Police said she did not fail the breath test, but there were reports that the driver blew in the warning range of .05 to .08 per cent blood alcohol.

The transit commission would not comment on what additional disciplinary actions would be taken.

Calls to the Amalgamated Transit Union 113 were not immediately returned.

But reaction was all a-twitter Tuesday, as social networking sites highlighted the frustration riders feel towards the transit system.

"The stunning story Toronto is talking about today: Another stagger step for the TTC," one person posted on Twitter.

Another mockingly empathized with the transit commission.

"Doing the TTC's PR will soon rival doing the Calgary Zoo's for title of Worst Job in Canada" - a reference to the zoo's controversy over animal care.

"TTC bus driver caught driving under the influence. Big scandal? or the elephant in the room Torontonians have known about for while?" another wrote.

One said: "I need a TTC job. Where else can you sleep, take arbitrary breaks, be rude to your clients and show up to work after drinking?"

Another simply read: "Take the TTC: The Boozer Way."

The latest trouble comes in the midst of a public relations blitz to improve relations with commuters, with consultations being held throughout the city to give transit users a chance to complain about the service.

Public discontent came to a head in January after a subway ticket collector was photographed napping on the job. The picture, which showed the man leaning back on his chair with his eyes closed, caused a flurry of reaction.

Soon after, transit riders already enraged by a fare hike surreptitiously began using cell phone cameras to catch workers relaxing on the job.

YouTube hosted a slew of videos of operators taking unauthorized breaks, and photos on websites showed workers stopping mid-route to conduct some personal banking at ATMs.

In late January, a grainy video showed a driver leaving a bus, its engine idling, to take a coffee break for seven minutes.

This prompted the chief general manager to send two notices to TTC employees stating he's tired of "unacceptable behaviour" and a "culture of complacency."

The union shot back by creating a Facebook group, posting its own evidence of "public harassment," which included photos of litter, beer bottles, graffiti and window etching left behind by passengers.

All of this came as TTC chairman Adam Giambrone bailed out of a bid to become Toronto mayor over a sex scandal. A 20-year-old university student came forward saying she had been having an affair with the councillor. She further alleged he discussed a fare hike with her before the news was made public.

Meanwhile, the commission quietly rolled out its "Fitness for Duty Policy" last month, after a 2008 study found that there were 39 TTC employees under the influence of alcohol since 2006.

Since February, all new employees who will be operating buses, streetcars or subways undergo a drug test.

Operators can also be tested for drugs or alcohol if there is reasonable cause or after an accident. Transit staff recommended random drug testing, but the commissioners struck that out of the policy.

According to the TTC, an operator of a bus, subway or streetcar will make $28.20 per hour after 12 months of service - $51,324 yearly based on a 35-hour work week. The rate increases to $29.05 per hour as of April 1.