Anger, animosity, tension, resentment, bitterness and a sense of understanding. These were the words to describe Thursday night’s Toronto Transit Commission town hall meeting
at city hall’s council chamber.
Before the event even began, there was already hostility in the room.
As proper procedure when entering council chamber, your bags are checked by security. One gentleman was upset by this and told one security guard, “You open it up if you want to look inside.” He then walked straight to a seat in the chamber.
Briefly after, another gentleman started to scream because he wanted to see a specific person. He uttered the words: “pig” and “that’s all I want.” The gentleman was escorted to a seat by a TTC officer.
After moments of strain, a festive air breezed through the room due to a gentleman, sporting a red cast on his arm, beginning to sing “The good old TTC.” He sang this tune a few times, which brought laughter to the TTC riders.
With minutes until the meeting began, there were discussions between fellow transit patrons. The talks primarily focused on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and the recent announcement that the TTC was going to cut services
to 56 bus routes and six streetcar routes.
One gentleman blamed the mayor for what has happened thus far. “He has been a damn disgrace.” The younger gentleman responded: “I voted for Ford, but I’ve been disappointed with his performance.”
The town hall finally began at exactly 7 p.m., in which the evening’s professional facilitator, Dan Tisch, asked everyone: how many people use the bus, subway or streetcar at least once per day. Everyone raised their hand.
When asked how many own a Metropass, once again, everyone raised their hand.
TTC Staff Speak
“Tonight is the first of our town hall series. Our objective is to have quarterly town halls with you, the riding public, so we can hear from you how we’re doing,” said TTC Chair Karen Stintz, who received a response: “terrible.”
“So we know that about two years ago, there was a customer service panel that was struck and there were a number of recommendations coming out of that panel to help advise the TTC on the things we could do to improve customer service. One of those recommendations was that we establish a town hall, and we get regular feedback from our riders.”
Stintz concluded that one of her commitments to the riders was that customer service was going to be her priority. “So I’m very pleased about tonight and pleased for you to come down tonight and it’s wonderful for me to see so much commitment and so much enthusiasm from our riding public.”
TTC General Manager Gary Webster spoke for nearly 20 minutes regarding the system’s financial picture, its successes and failures, the service reductions and a possible 10-cent fare hike in 2012.
He iterated the sentiments of Stintz by explaining that customer service needs to be a higher priority and that customers have “raised the bar for us.” Webster explained that the transit system doesn’t make money and that for every $3 fare, the TTC only gets $2 back and $1 is left in subsidy.
Webster repeated some remarks from experts who say “our success is killing us.” They realize that they have to reduce staff, reduce service to pre-2004 levels and possibly increase fares to meet the budget demand by the Ford administration
“More fares and less service is the short-term reality we face,” said Webster. He ended, though, on a positive note on what the TTC has accomplished, such as the new Red Rocket trains
, a social media presence
As soon as the general manager finished his address, individuals were asked to line up if they had any remarks, feedback, suggestions or criticisms. Large groups of people immediately swarmed to the aisle to speak for one minute.
There were a variety of complaints that customers had, including:
- the old system of fare payments
- a paucity of accountability
- some of the bus or streetcar routes
- the Tuesday night subway service incident
- dirty stations
- lack of proper wheelchair accessibility
- allegations of abuse
- rudeness and indifferences from TTC operators
- packed buses
- better schedules and maps
- some buses are unreliable, such as the 97 Yonge bus
- Transit City cancellation
- bike safety
- the town hall meeting not giving enough time to speak and not enough promotion. One lady praised the mayor for holding a 24-hour meeting over public libraries.
A Transit Revolution
The gentleman who sang was the first to speak who said it was “time to revolutionize the TTC.”
“Close down the ticket booths, remove the turnstiles and put ticket machines in each of the stations,” said Jim MacMillan, the gentleman who entertained the crowd with his singing. “Reappoint ticket takers with a partner from the security force we have already to check proof of payment on the buses, on the subways and on the streetcars.
“Those caught to be given fines of $100 for first offence, $200 for the second offence and a total ban from TTC property for any further offences with a letter prohibiting them getting on TTC property.”
He then corrected Webster by saying that when the TTC was owned by the City in the 1930s and 1940s, the transit agency “made so much money” and profit from the fare box.
Happiness & Dirt
Another gentleman came up and said that he might be in the minority because he is a happy customer, which garnered a loud applause and “wahoos” from the audience.
“The TTC is a best investment I make on a daily basis,” said Samuel Getachew. “It’s the safest way to travel anywhere I want. I came from Ottawa, and it’s a big change. But every time I take the bus, I see young kids throwing stuff and I see a lot of others leaving their papers and all kinds of garbage, and young kids’ gum and stuff. It’s not because they want to make our buses dirty, it’s because we don’t seem to have garbage bins in our buses.”
Steven Scott, who sat at the top row, asked why they would cut routes now when the 2015 Pan-Am Games are coming to Toronto soon. He asked how they will handle it when the tourists come from all over the world and they are overloaded with passengers.
“We are going to have a higher influx of people coming into the city, and you’re going to have routes and your system is overloaded with the people you have, what are you going to do in 2015?” explained the TTC rider. “You’re going to need the experience now to help you in 2015 so the tourists will be able to get point to point. If you think you have a problem now, wait until the tourists come to town.”
‘Delinquents’ and Suggestions
Ryan Endo, a representative of Scarborough, who came up twice to list his complaints and suggestions, talked about his experiences with the student discount card when he was in high school. Although he always used the card, his friends “were delinquents” and given a hard time by the bus driver.
“I want my friends in Scarborough to know that if you get onto a bus and there is a discrepancy over your fare, you are entitled to a fare receipt,” said the young gentleman. “No one is supposed to kick you off a bus and no one is supposed to give you a $425 ticket because you demand a fare receipt and refused to get off the bus like I did.”
He added that he fought his case in court, and the TTC bus driver didn’t show up. In the end, he won his case.
Endo added that when he called customer service, they had no idea of a fare receipt.
His list of recommendations: deal with the customer service staff properly and address absences.
After listening to the concerns addressed by the riders thus far, the panel responded to a couple of their issues.
Following this, a gentleman named David went to the microphone and complained about Councillor Norm Kelly.
“Since the last election, up until three months ago, I attended the commission meetings and at that time, I was told by Councillor Kelly, one of our elected officials, that he has 35 years of elected service, he is overworked and underpaid and he doesn’t have to listen to uninformed customers who all they want to do is whine.”
“That has been the attitude of this commission since this commission was elected and I’m sick of it. I’m fed up with the arrogance and the abuse that has been subjected to the people of this city and the TTC users by this commission, including Councillor Stintz, and I expect better by our elected officials.”
He received a roaring applause from the crowd, and added: “It’s time for an attitude change at city hall, and I’m tired of this councillor and I expect better from you.”
Please note: if you’re one of the TTC customers who issued a public complaint and your name is spelled incorrectly, please contact me right away for immediate correction.