We are fans of a well-paid, organized public sector - but we're getting tired of catching flak from ornery TTC drivers. So as bargaining continues between the city and the union, we have to ask: are drivers just plain nasty, is the corp badly supervised or is crabbiness the cost of an underfunded system?
What the TTC lists as the most important qualifications for the job of driver
• Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
• Extensive customer service experience
The ugly truth
• Even though the training manual for drivers includes a code of conduct, complaints about driver behaviour consistently outnumber all others - a whopping 6,206 of the 16,773 complaints in 2004, 7,145 of 17,385 in 2003, and 6,268 of 16,942 in 2002.
• It's not late buses, streetcars and subways that have TTC patrons so rankled. Discourtesy (7,207), bypassing of patrons (3,164), failing to wait at stops (1,107) and disputes over transfers and fares (7,554) outnumbered total complaints about surface delays (6,640) by more than three to one between 2002 and 2004.
• By its own count, the TTC is at fault in more than 65 per cent of complaints lodged.
• An October 2003 Social Planning Council report, If Low-Income Women Of Colour Counted In Toronto, called for a Human Rights inquiry into discrimination faced by women, single mothers and older women on the TTC. The report identified "racism and discrimination by drivers and passengers on the transit system in all parts of the city" as a top concern of low-income riders.
• Complaints cited in the report include drivers humiliating riders "with mockery and verbal abuse," openly ridiculing non-English speakers' accents (sometimes encouraging passengers to join in), refusing help to mothers with young babies in strollers, and calling police to settle transfer disputes.
What the TTC's defenders say
• It's just a few bad apples. And what do you expect with 750,000 riders a day?
• Complaints are subjective. Is it discourteous for a driver to ask you to show your seniors pass or not to say "Good morning"?
• Chronic underfunding of the system ($100 million less since 1990) means fewer buses and streetcars on the road (a 10 and 20 per cent drop respectively since 1990), more delays and overcrowding and, as a consequence, more aggravation and conflict.
What the TTC's detractors say
• If an average of 50 people a day are taking the time to sit down and write out a complaint, you've got a problem.
• The complaints system is geared to smoothing over customer complaints, which are handled by the TTC's marketing department, rather than actually disciplining offending drivers, so problems persist. Only a handful of complaints against drivers have gone to any form of labour arbitration in the last 10 years.
"We're in the middle of contract negotiations right now, and it's just too sensitive a time to really get into how we discipline."
TTC spokesperson Marilyn Bolton
"There's incredible pressure on these folks to meet the precise schedules the TTC sets out. You're going to have situations where drivers are less courteous on some days than on others. It's a complex issue."
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 spokesperson Bill Reno
"We want the complaints system changed. Our objective is to make our customers love us, to take ownership of the system. And it's not simply a matter of providing excellent service. It's a matter of people feeling good about the system being there for them when they have legitimate concerns, rather than a system that says, 'Don't bother us.'"
Councillor Howard Moscoe, chair of the TTC
"The TTC is one of the most underfunded public transit systems in the world. That's what's creating the problems. I think drivers do a good job. We're still one of the safest systems in the world."
Rocket Riders founder Gord Perks