After holding three town halls for rider input, the TTC’s main union should have a pretty good idea of how customer service must improve. President Bob Kinnear says ATU local 113 will take a few months to work on key strategies, but he’s already indicated the union may push for greater funding to address underlying causes of overcrowding and unreliable service.
The ATU is also likely to ask TTC management to make changes — possibly around the tricky issue of enforcing fares as well as better communication technology to inform customers of delays.
However, union members need to focus on problems they have more control over. If a minority of employees are treating riders with indifference or disrespect, then their colleagues must show this is no longer acceptable. When some drivers or maintenance workers don’t do their job or take advantage of lax supervision, their peers can’t look the other way.
As for communication, Kinnear admits it’s one of the TTC’s biggest failings. The union has to recognize those situations where its own members keep silent and leave customers fuming.
To be fair, sometimes employees simply do not know why a subway delay has occurred or when service will resume. Likewise, bus and streetcar drivers may not have much control over short turns or bunching, but too many seem to offer little notice or apology.
Sometimes, just acknowledging the inconvenience can reduce frustration. There also has to be a way to inform riders when a vehicle is ahead of schedule and is required to wait — which can explain why the driver is killing time at a green light or running into a doughnut shop.
Better technology will improve communications somewhat, but it’s going to be individual employees who fill the gaps — and who have to keep their cool when riders demand more details than are available.
The ATU and TTC should continuously meet and discuss communication protocols for both subway and surface disruptions.