Friday, January 23, 2009

TTC Takes Baby Steps To Restoring Old-Time Goodwill

The TTC has had an unfriendly face for awhile now. From drivers not calling out stops -- not even knowing the stops on their route -- to subway booth attendants being as uninformed as riders about subway stoppages to terrible bus designs that make the inside feel like an anchovy can and that force a separation between driver and his/her regulars to so-called accessible buses now relying on weak arms instead of body weight to open the back doors to streetcar packs to drivers whizzing past people standing at stops in the dark of a cold night to buses no longer running at night to a confusing, amateurish website design to talk of further estranging drivers from the bulk of passengers who wish them no ill to...well, the list can go on and on.

But something happened. In the midst of decisions designed to treat all riders as potential driver muggers*, management decided they needed to actually provide customer service. According to the TTC's Chief General Manager Gary Webster, "Customer expectation is different today. (They) want all the bells and whistles that are everywhere in the world," he said. (, The Toronto Star, 15 January 2009)

First that amateurish website was revamped. It's much easier, for the most part, to find a route and its schedule. It's also much much easier on the eyes.

Next, apparently, the TTC launched subway and streetcar platform signs that "give riders real-time information on the arrival of the next vehicle." I say "apparently" because I haven't seen them, only dead clocks. I must be standing at the wrong end of the platform. These signs will eventually appear in transit shelters too.

Then just over a week ago, the TTC announced that through e-alerts, they will let customers know when the subway or SRT is going to be delayed or closed. It is planning on expanding that service to buses and streetcars. Riders can customize the e-alerts to a particular station as well, although I don't know how that will work when the stoppage is at a station not on your list yet your own station is affected.

But that "bells and whistles" attitude is probably why e-alerts will be issued only for delays of 15 minutes or longer, which means for 15 minutes you'll still be kept in the dark, worse if you leave your home thinking there is no problem on the line only to discover after getting to the subway and waiting around that there is one. The TTC never seems to know when a delay will hit the 15-minute mark until it does.

In a few months, e-alerts will be texted to those with cell phones. So when you're waiting in confusion and can't understand the overhead announcement, you'll at least be informed -- after 15 minutes.

The one truly useful aspect of this e-alert system is that they will inform you of out-of-service elevators and escalators. Hallelujah!

The TTC is learning from other systems, like putting next-vehicle-arrival screens on some platforms and some transit shelters, like allowing people to use text to find out when their own bus is going to arrive, like launching an on-line trip planner so you no longer has to sit on hold to get help. And they are restoring bus service to some routes and announcing that no rider has to wait for more than 30 minutes for a bus. The latter would be truly revolutionary if that was 15 minutes, but one can't expect everything.

All in all these are good baby steps. But with an entrenched culture of the rider is the enemy and not providing sufficient capacity for the population, and us riders feeling alienated for so very long, it's going to take awhile to restore the goodwill that used to exist between the TTC and its customers.

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*If the TTC wants to go the surly London driver path and put a shield between riders and drivers, the least they could do is add on a friendly conductor. I don't think further alienating riders is good for security. When riders see the driver as one of them, part of the pack, they are more likely to (a) not attack and (b) defend.

Although I can see a case being made for a driver shield for the wee-hour Vomit Express when most patrons are too drunk to care, I don't see the case for the rest of the day. It is informative that the 1 to 2 million people who packed Washington DC to watch the inauguration of Obama did not create a single fracas, as would be expected. When goodwill is fostered, it infects the people around and calms aggression down. Happy people don't attack. When alienation is fostered, as the TTC is bent on doing (despite these service improvements) subtly through recorded stop announcements -- cutting that human link between driver and riders -- bus designs that push riders back away from the driver, bus designs that create a feeling of being packed even when it's not even half full, and now overtly with shields, aggression increases and riders see the driver less as a fellow human being and more as the enemy. While Canadians hail the hope of Obama, they continue to make decisions, vote, and create an environment that promotes the exact opposite. If Canadians want change, then they need to create an environment that makes people happy and includes all.

4 comments:

CQ said...

BTW, Mississauga Transit's cash fare increases 25 cents to $3 - adults /students, children over five, and seniors - starting this Monday January 26th. Connecting Fares for ticket holding GO travellers remains at 60 cents.
Cheaper groups of five tickets are also available at varied prices of $12 /$11.25 or $8.25. MT's previous increase in Feb. 2008 went from $2.50 to $2.75

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

CQ, well, at least they're consistent in how much they raise fares, but that ain't cheap!

The TTC is supposed to keep fares the way they are...

Anonymous said...

It be good if TTC figured out a way to display why there are delays ...
car accident. medical emergency..

also TTC should outsource the design of the stations to home depot. let them them fix every single station - new stairs - new floors...new tiles.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Anon, that would be good. E-mail alerts don't help those in the station or on the train.

I vote for Rona -- an all-Canadian company. :D If the province and Feds coughed up more money, the TTC could fix and upgrade the stations faster, instead of working on them a few at a time.