Customer service a sea change for TTC
It seems almost too easy these days to find fault with the TTC, and this latest embarrassment concerning the state of repair and cleanliness of the stations should prompt us to take a closer look at the root causes.
Iit wasn’t always this way and I remember as a child in the 1960s how exciting it was to travel downtown from Scarborough on the subway. The cars and stations were shiny and clean, and the drivers were polished and professional. It was a different era, of course, but something more than the passing of time and age have led us to our current situation.
Today, at the helm of the TTC are accountants, planners and engineers and the board of directors and its leadership are politicians. The public face of the corporation had been its general manager up until June of 2006, when as was stated, “political interference” from his commission overlords prompted Rick Ducharme to quit as chief general manager of the public transit commission.
So who is running the TTC today? The chairman, a politician is still there but in obvious turmoil so we’ll give him a pass. The general manager is a civil engineer who joined the commission early in his career and is the only GM to have been promoted to the position from within. He’s a company man, appears to understand the union culture and as far as we can tell (no wildcat strikes lately) labour unrest is in check under his leadership.
Recently, recognizing that the commission was experiencing public relations challenges he struck a "blue ribbon" panel led by a local hotelier to examine the problems and recommend solutions.
In my mind, this action of TTC brass reaching out for help from its customer base, the hospitality industry and private sector, to focus their attention on customer service was an important first step in admitting they don’t have the expertise to effectively address these important concerns.
Further, it appears the TTC may have lost sight of their reason for being – to provide quality service to its customers.
The TTC boasts one of the safest public transit systems in the world and the ratio of fare box revenue to operating costs is one of the best in North America -- if not the best.
For this we can thank the engineers and accountants, but we shouldn’t be surprised that a service led and managed by accountants and engineers isn’t customer focused. It’s not their fault; they don’t have the training nor are their brains wired to manage the complexities of operating a transit system from a customer perspective. This coupled with the fact that the TTC has been crying poor, and for good reason, for as long as I can remember.
Their corporate culture has lost the ability to dream.
Customer service challenges aside, what becomes really difficult to understand is how we could be investing billions of dollars expanding light rail across the city before we’ve addressed the state of repair of existing stations. I suspect the TTC has an answer for this and it will be interesting to learn how they respond to business leaders who are growing increasingly frustrated by an organization that seems to have forgotten they’re supposed to be the "Better Way."