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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Scarborough RT service is deplorable

On a typical weekday morning, people waiting at Lawrence East RT Station on the southbound platform to go one stop to Kennedy Stn.  will often stand there while one, two, three, four…trains enter the station full (or, semi-full, more on that later) and leave without those people being able to get on. At 8am, those people are not out gang-banging or slinking in the shadows targeting little old ladies; at that time of the morning, people are out using public transit because they must, to get on with a productive day either working for a living or going to school to better themselves and prepare for being able to contribute to society.
This is cruel and unusual torment and torture for people just trying to get on with their day.

A few days ago, I arrived at Lawrence East RT Stn. and watched three trains roll through. In times past, I have actually spoken out to people on the train conglomerating in the doorways to “move into the train so other people can get where they’re going too” and people respond, more often than not.
Down at Yonge and Bloor, there are “conductors” (for lack of knowledge of whatever the official title is, no disrespect to them) to direct riders to move southward on the southbound platform so that the northernmost cars are not slowed by the most traffic in the ingress/egress process.
If TTC is going to argue that it’s up to riders to move into trains so there’s more room, I’m going to argue “fine, then get rid of the conductors at Yonge/Bloor and let people do what they’re supposed to do on their own.” Of course the TTC would only respond “Yeah, but people are not doing what they’re supposed to do, so we’ve got to conduct them accordingly.” To which I would reply “Fine, exactly. As is the case at Yonge and Bloor, so is the case at Lawrence RT Stn., so put some conductors on the RT.”
Those few days ago, after the third train pulled out with having boarded any additional riders at Lawrence East, I went over to the northbound platform and took a train up to Ellesmere in order to attempt to get on the southbound one stop sooner. No dice. Another train came in full. So I went further east to Midland. Nope. Full. So I went east to the end, to McCowan, to start the westbound trek from the beginning of the line.
from TTC.ca
Can you see this? I got on the RT at Lawrence with intent to head WEST towards downtown. Instead, in order to get on the RT, I had to travel backwards the length of the system. Makes me want to swear.
So, I called TTC, on my mobile phone, and got information. I explained the ridiculous situation, and he said “well, it IS ‘rush hour’ but this is a customer service issue, I’ll transfer you.”
First of all, his statement “it’ IS rush hour” implies that I should expect delays. I tell you what – as far as I’m concerned, a transit service should be professional and a subject matter expert in the field of public transit and they should know that rush hour requires more service. Telling me “it IS rush hour” should have been interpreted as “dear customer, I’m very sorry we have inconvenienced you and not provided the sufficient level of service for the time of the day. I’ll make an official suggestion for the schedulers to address this, whether adding more trains or using longer trains or buying double-deck trains like the GO system uses or even just getting conductors to help out and move people into the the cars so the full capacity of the trains we have can be more productive. Thanks for calling TTC.”

After submitting my complaint, I got this reference number 80866.
I waited on hold. And waited. And waited. On a cell phone. Then I hung up, so I'm writing this post and contacting TTC by their website.
This disgusting situation of having to go backward and waste almost an hour trying to travel, what, 2km? is not some acute situation that happened that day. I will edit this post when I am able to shoot a video of the entire scenario, which I can guarantee is repeated daily. Watch TorontoMyWay’s Youtube channel for updates.
And that’s the other gripe. Even if they respond and add vehicles and the service improves, it took complaints rather than a systematic initiative from the TTC, who should be monitoring ridership to know when routes need more attention. I’ve spoken to TTC vehicle operators who say “we can’t advise TTC that we need more vehicles on the route. It’s up to passengers to call TTC and complain.”
The odd relationship between the union and the TTC is utterly inefficient and unacceptable. To Joe and Jane Commutta, a person operating a TTC vehicle is often the only “representative of TTC” within miles and, for all intents and purposes, the operator IS the TTC. Yet, TTC utilizes operators as “eyes on the street” painfully minimally, and often there’s no other way for a commuter to know what’s going on in any given situation.
I’ve previously suggested that TTC adopt the honour fare collection system, allowing operators to be less the targets of fare dispute violence and become more at east in communicating with riders in a helpful manner. At the same time, fare checkers with flak jackets/bulletproof vests and on foot without having to worry about operating the vehicle can give more attention to being of service to riders beyond just random checks for proof of payment and issuing fines for people thinking they can get lucky today.
Anyway, the notion of going backwards on the system should be a professional embarrassment to anyone associated with the management of the TTC who has any pride in their vocation.
For a city the size and national importance of Toronto, our standard acceptance of mediocrity needs to be killed an agonizing death to be true to the title of “world-class cities” – the real examples of which showcase getting big ideas done, not making excuses and accepting mediocrity.
Maybe the problem with TTC is the lack of diversity in management. Most people do not know that the first taxi service in Toronto was started by a Black man back in 1837, an ex-slave who took the Underground Railroad from Kentucky to freedom in Toronto. Thornton Blackburn became a member of high society at a time when Black folks actually had more representation in leadership than they do today. His taxi service corporate colours were actually adopted by the TTC – yes, the red and yellow of the TTC is a tribute to an ex-slave who had a vision that he could not just contribute but lead in a field. Toronto has a rich history of Black leadership that is under-taught, under-honoured, and we are, today, far less representative at leadership levels of the diversity on the street than we were 100 years ago.
Like my commute a few days ago, we’re not going forward, not getting ahead, we’re regressing, we’re going backwards. For shame.
Perhaps, in a true respect for what this city was, is, and could be, the TTC should revisit its hiring practices and start to tap into more talent – clearly, what they have is just not good enough.
And, please, I don’t mean “diversity” as in hire a token visible minority for public-facing roles that appease the optics and can be the face of TTC when things go wrong and public angst is looking for a model for the effigy to burn in the town square. I mean stakeholder, decision-making, vision-writing, day-to-day executive managing diversity.
One of the results I’d quickly expect is more respect for all TTC riders across the entire 416 – not just those who ride the Yonge line through the “beautiful neighbourhoods,” but especially those in areas that need transit most.


Anonymous said...

The diversity argument is a good one (though I don't think race has anything to do with it...). More analysis of the diversity of routes, transfers and ridership is certainly key to improving service. Rather than standing around with a clipboard and maroon jacket, the TTC managers need to ride along in the buses and interact with the public.

As for the overcrowding on the SRT, my guess is that this comes down to the sheepish attitude Torontonians have towards their fellow citizens. Everyone's afraid to open their mouths. For whatever reason, we need a person of authority to tell us what to do, which comes back to the TTC conductors and managers. One thing I loved about the LIRR in New York was that their conductors didn't give a f*#@ - they call out anyone on the train without a second thought.

Hopefully it'll get better with the new LRT line. In the meantime, I think the SRT needs to go cattle-car style and rip out all the seats.

DA said...

Hey "Anonymous at 6:24pm",

Thanks for the thought. Please visit often, I appreciate constructive, thoughtful dialogue.

There's a funny video on Youtube of how conductors in Japan go Flintstones style and two and three of them literally have to push and jam people in, in order to close the door, like packing a suitcase beyond its capacity and then sitting on it to get it closed! Perhaps we're heading in that direction...?

I've thought about longer cars, more frequency, double-decker...but ripping out the seats and going standing-room only would probably be the quickest and cheapest way to increase capacity...

However, I've already argued that Scarborough is under-served nay neglected; turning the RT into a cattle-car would be a gross indignity.

If you're in Toronto, you've already been riding the new trains on the Yonge-University-Spadina line - any reason why the new trains haven't graced the Bloor-Danforth yet?

And, yes, TTC managers riding along in buses and interacting with the public would be incredible. As I said, unfortunately, all-too-often the only "representatives" are unionized operators who have their own priority and have been positioned (exposed? left to twist?) to function at arms-length from TTC proper. TTC-union relations are a whole other conversation that needs to be had; it is, for example, why buying fare is so limited, in order to ensure fare collectors' jobs are protected by ensuring they must remain involved in the fare-selling transaction (why aren't there machines to dispense tokens outside the turnstyles at every station in the system?)