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The Fixer:
TTC workers have good ideas, but will anyone listen?

By Jack Lakey
Staff Reporter

Good ideas can come from the bottom up, including front-line TTC staff, on improving customer service.

We asked TTC employees in late March to email us their suggestions after talking to several who wondered why management created a blue-ribbon panel of citizens to come up with ways to improve service, but didn’t ask the people who deliver it.

Their comments came amid the outrage over employee misbehaviour and service complaints, which prodded the TTC into a forming a highly publicized panel to consult the public and report on how to make things better.

While we didn’t get as many responses as we hoped, the ones that came in were reasoned, thoughtful and revealed a detailed understanding of problems and a desire to contribute solutions.

“The TTC should make more of an effort to explain why we do things,” said streetcar operator John McElwain, adding he takes “a lot of verbal abuse for simply following procedures.

“Waiting for people who are running to the stop makes you late for people further down the line. Yet this is a source of complaints, either not waiting or being late. You can’t win.”

Scheduling of buses and streetcars “should allow extra time for courtesy,” said McElwain. “Navigating for tourists or explaining transfer rules slow things down. We don’t have time.”

A woman writing on behalf of her bus driver husband, who asked to remain anonymous, said lineups of passengers waiting at stations are not evenly spread among the arriving buses. “The result is you have senior drivers holding back at stations and waiting for the junior drivers to pick up passengers and go first.

“This way the senior drivers have buses that are virtually empty while the others are full. It means buses are not going out on time and people are waiting longer than they should.”

Shirley Hicks, who auditioned to become a bus driver in 2007 but “didn’t make it out of probation,” emailed from the United States, where she’s in school, to say new bus drivers are “started out on the least desirable (and often most difficult) routes, due to a seniority system that allows senior operators to pick routes first.

“Some sort of weighting system, tying route difficulty, hazards and time of day to compensation, might get senior operators, best able to deal with those situations, to select those routes more often.”

Gary Doherty, a collector at a fare booth, says the system “is just not user-friendly,” noting that signs directing riders to trains or buses are “not clearly understandable or in eyesight,” and that a better public address system in stations would improve communication with the public.

Brad Ross, who’s in charge of communications for the TTC, pointed out an employee was among those named to the blue-ribbon panel, and that workers have long been encouraged to make suggestions.

An “employee suggestion plan” allows workers to offer ideas for improvement by filling out a form, said Ross. If the idea is adopted, the employee earns a financial reward.

Still, we think the TTC is missing the bus by not working more closely with employees to solve service problems.