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Despite study, The Better Way isn't

by Sue-Ann Levy

Last Thursday evening when I entered the Queen St. subway station on the Yonge line, the collector was nowhere to be found.

Instead a crudely written sign was posted on the glass inside the collector’s booth informing passengers he or she would be back in “a few minutes” and to leave any cash fares in his or her box.

I watched, somewhat captivated, as those “few minutes” stretched into nearly 10 and commuters came and went, some using the automated token machine, others breezing through without paying.

True the collector in my experience wasn’t actually sleeping on the job but he or she was, for all intents and purposes, asleep at the switch.

A kinder gentler TTC?

I’m still waiting.

It’s been three months since the highly touted independent customer service panel — headed up by hotelier Steve O’Brien — delivered its report chock full of 78 recommendations on how to make The Better Way much, much better.

It should come as no surprise that very little has been done on this file — as evidenced by the lackadaisical attitude of the station collectors, the filthy subway cars and buses and a general feeling I have as a user that the TTC is very much still on autopilot.

A report from the blue-suits to the Sept. 30 TTC meeting — on what they plan to do or not do with the 78 recommendations — gave me the distinct impression either their hearts are not in it or that the current management is really not up to a complete sea change in the way they do business.

TTC spokesman Brad Ross said they plan to come back to the commission with a “formal status update” in March.

The one item they have jumped on — which is so typical — is the proposal to hire yet another senior manager to act as a chief customer service officer.

Ross told me Wednesday a recruitment firm is currently searching for someone to fill the job, which will pay anywhere from $117,000 to $147,000 a year.

That recruitment firm will make 20% of the salary negotiated for their work — anywhere from $22,000 to $28,000.

The other change has been the “redeployment” of supervisors to act as station managers, responsible and accountable for the collectors, custodians and for station affairs, Ross said.

Only problem is, the eight station managers, who cover 11 (all downtown) stations in total, only work from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Ross said a plan to assign station managers to longer hours and weekends will be “part of the budget process next year.”

As for customer service training, Ross said all frontline employees already receive it.

“That curriculum is under review but we want the chief customer service officer to be part of that,” he told me. “The expectation of course is that all TTC employees are courteous and helpful to all riders.”

Ross suggested some operational issues will also be fixed that will result in improved capacity on the subway trains, fewer delays and the ability to move people through the system more quickly.

“That adds to the customer satisfaction,” he said.

He added that once they have some sort of Presto or Smart fare card in place ­— within the next three years — that will free up the collector to “engage with the customer.”

“As a whole (all of) this won’t happen overnight but incrementally people will begin to see improvements,” he said.

Now Ross is a decent fellow and always helpful.

But for heaven’s sake, I swear an ancient battleship could turn around faster than the TTC.

If the collectors aren’t warm and fuzzy now, why would they be any more helpful once a Presto or Smart card is introduced?

Why would they be needed at all once the fare system is automated? I certainly managed last Thursday without one.

It strikes me that the chief customer service officer is mere window dressing — a feeble attempt to show they care about customer service.

I beg to differ.

The only way the Better Way will get better is if there’s a giant shakeup from the top down at the TTC.