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A chorus of commuter grief at TTC union town hall

“We here as individuals to apologize. We want to fix this problem,”
said collector Anthony Wallace.

By Sarah Boesveld

Lina Veri walks 45 minutes to the closest bus stop each day so she can make it to work on time.

Her voice quivering with frustration, she told an auditorium of Toronto Transit Commission users, transit workers and politicians how she routinely misses that bus, sometimes by as little as two minutes. She then misses her next connecting bus, making her chronically late.

Why can’t they just be on time, she demanded to know.

Her story was woven with many similar tales of commuter grief at the first of three public meetings held to help strengthen the relationship between commuters and the embattled TTC.

Yesterday’s town hall was the first of three organized by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113.

On stage with moderator, former mayoral hopeful and radio host John Tory, four TTC workers answered questions from a 250 person crowd that only half filled the auditorium at Downsview Secondary School near Wilson Avenue and Keele Street.

Still the overwhelming refrain was this: We’re sorry.

“We here as individuals apologize. We want to fix this problem,” said collector Anthony Wallace, who made the admission that there are many TTC employees who “slack off.” He urged those in attendance and others tuning into the live TV and radio broadcasts to be understanding of the challenges workers face and that many of them do want to provide the best service they can.

Many positive suggestions were made to improve service, for example creating little certificates pregnant or disabled people can flash to ensure they get priority seating. Many of the gripes were related to poor scheduling, long waits for service and outdated technology.

Resident Sue Weller encapsulated many of the complaints in an eloquent rant that first thanked the TTC workers for doing their jobs, but adding that she doesn’t appreciate the rudeness many of them display.

Queries from the crowd were as specific as complaints about the Dufferin bus, and as large as concerns about paying more for transit parking and fares while receiving poor service in return.

The tension between customers and drivers was perhaps one of the hottest topics, with tales of abuse bubbling to the surface. A poll taken during the town hall found that 75 per cent of those in attendance said they’d seen an employee being treated abusively by a customer.

Courtesy is a two-way street, said union president Bob Kinnear, who also sat up on stage.

“Customers can help us do our jobs by telling us what we’re doing right.”

TTC Chair Adam Giambrone was also at the meeting, listening to the concerns of TTC users. He said it was frustrating to sit tight without entering the conversation because many asked questions he could have answered from the management perspective. He also did not confirm or deny whether he was re-entering the mayoral race.

But Mr. Kinnear said he does not think there will be a joint meeting with management and union members in the future.

The often combative style of the ATU president was nowhere to be seen at the meetings, designed to help please the public. In February, he lashed out at the media, which homed in on the problems with the TTC. Controversy erupted in January when a TTC rider snapped a picture of a worker napping at a collection booth.

“We recognize, and quite frankly by my statements as well, that [union members] were not helping the situation,” Mr. Kinnear told reporters. “I make no apologies for defending my membership, but we do recognize it was not helping the situation.”

He acknowledged a bit of disappointment in the turnout at the meeting, saying it might have been better attended if it didn’t coincide with the Masters golf tournament and spectacular weather.

He also noted there has been a bit of time and distance away from the hoopla surrounding TTC service.

The next scheduled meeting is April 18 at Stephen Leacock Collegiate, and the third is May 2 at Ryerson University’s library.

The TTC plans to hold its own town halls separately.