Frontline transit workers are the most visible villains in the uproar over TTC customer service. They can be rude, unhelpful and resentful of the very passengers whose fares pay most of their wages.
But TTC workers aren’t the only bad guys in this story. Much of what makes the public angry about the transit system can be traced to decisions made higher up in the chain of command. The St. Clair streetcar project was a costly fiasco that undermined public confidence in the transit commission’s ability to run its own show. The mishandling of the latest fare hike enraged passengers faced with token rationing and bungled attempts to deal with left-over tickets. The garbled subway announcements that do nothing to explain train delays fuel commuter frustration. And the TTC’s failure to make transit system maps readily available in trains and subway stations is pathetically inept. Subway systems the world over manage this most basic task.
Gary Webster, the TTC’s chief general manager, ignored all such irritants in his recent memo lambasting transit workers for a “culture of unacceptable operating discipline.” Scapegoating your employees while ignoring your own part in the imbroglio does not inspire the team.
Then there’s TTC chair Adam Giambrone. In between strategizing for his now-defunct mayoralty bid and pursuing a string of “inappropriate relationships,” when did the man have time to ensure the transit system worked for the people who depend on it? The answer is he didn’t, at least not in the minds of transit riders: Giambrone, if he lasts as commission chair, is about as popular as that snoozing fare collector.
Finally, passengers’ disenchantment with the TTC is also rooted in Toronto’s love affair with the car. Devotees who howl at the prospect of left-turn bans, protest the elimination of on-street parking and cry foul over construction disruptions on new transit routes undermine the system as surely as the bus driver who left passengers stranded while he went for coffee.
In a bid to lower the temperature, Giambrone promised an outside advisory panel on service issues and the TTC workers’ union plans to hold public meetings to hear complaints and present employees’ side of the story. Voters, however, should concentrate on what really counts, and that’s grilling municipal election candidates about their plans for restoring the TTC to public favour. Real change, it’s worth remembering, starts at the top.
– April Lindgren teaches at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, where she specializes in local news and urban affairs reporting; email@example.com.