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TTC customer complaints up 15 per cent

by Kelly Grant
City Hall Bureau Chief

Despite the Toronto Transit Commission’s renewed focus on customer service, rider complaints are up 15 per cent so far this year.

New TTC figures show the transit authority has received 28,360 complaints as of the end of October, up from 24,672 in the same period last year.

The TTC expects complaints to top 34,000 for 2010, about 11 per cent more than in 2009, when a pending fare increase and token-hoarding fiasco at the end of the year drove a spike in complaints.

The top five reasons customers complained in the first six months of 2010 were: bus and streetcar delays; rude employees; vehicle troubles; bypassing customers at stops; and fare enforcement issues.

“The culture has to be changed and that hasn’t happened yet. The first steps on that road are starting,” said Councillor Peter Milczyn, a TTC commissioner considered one of the top contenders to replace outgoing chair Adam Giambrone.

“It really has to be at the core of what TTC employees do every day. … That has to really be instilled forcefully.”

The TTC was the subject of intense criticism this year when a picture of a dozing collector went viral right after a fare hike that lifted adult cash fares to $3 from $2.75.

In response, the TTC vowed to improve customer service. The TTC workers’ union promised to do better too, holding town halls to gather ideas and feedback directly from riders.

The TTC also commissioned a blue-ribbon panel, which in the summer presented a slew of recommendations to improve customer service on the red rocket.

Most of those suggestions have yet to be implemented. However, the TTC has hired temporary cleaners to muck out all 69 subway stations before year’s end.

The agency has also added eight “station managers” in six zones that cover 11 stations in hopes of instilling “ownership and pride,” in the employees who oversee particular stops, according to TTC spokesman Brad Ross.

The transit authority is promising to roll out electronic information screens outside the turnstiles at all subway stations in 2011 and to hire a chief customer service officer, among other initiatives.

“This will go down as the year when the city was seized by the question of customer service at the TTC,” said Joe Mihevc, outgoing vice-chair of the commission. “I think, frankly, that drove a lot of complaints. We welcomed customers telling us how to improve the system and what needed to change.”

Mr. Mihevc, Mr. Milczyn and others pointed out that the increase in complaints is modest given that use of the system continues to grow. The TTC is expecting to log 476 million rides this year, up from 471.2 million in 2009 and 466.7 million the year before.

“If you do the math, in context it’s pretty small,” said Mr. Ross, the TTC spokesman.

Mr. Giambrone said part of the increase in complaints stems from a fare-increase hangover at the start of this year.

“Certainly my office had huge numbers compared to normal in the first three months of 2010,” he said. “After that it began to quiet back down to normal levels.”

Another set of numbers suggests the TTC’s front-line employees took up the challenge to deliver friendlier service. Commendations - formal rider compliments for TTC employees - are up to 2,756 as of the end of October. That’s up 32 per cent from 2,088 commendations in all of 2009.

Top 10 complaints
  1. Surface delays 4,055
  2. Discourtesy 3,096
  3. Vehicle operations 1,733
  4. Bypassing customers at stops 1,378
  5. Fare enforcement 940
  6. Subway delays 774
  7. Vehicle ahead of schedule 565
  8. Problems with token vending machines 542
  9. Transfer disputes 466
  10. Station conditions 357

Source: Toronto Transit Commission