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2012 Hero: Andy Byford

Nominated for: bringing customer-focused change to the TTC.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Andy Byford entered Toronto’s public spotlight in early 2012 as the freshly minted interim chief general manager for the TTC. Byford took on the role after the man who hired him into the organization, Gary Webster, was fired from the position without cause (but actually because he wouldn’t fall in line with Rob Ford’s subway-or-no-way mantra). His appointment was quickly made permanent and Byford changed his title to CEO.

Since taking the reins, Byford has pushed hard for the TTC to value the people who ride it. Not everyone will agree that the fight for improved customer service is a terribly lionhearted one to take on, but at a public organization faced with two conflicting needs—controlling its budget while serving an ever-increasing numbers of riders—a lesser person could probably find countless reasons to let this stuff slide.

Over the course of 2012, Byford has announced a series of ideas and projects that should make the better way, um, way better. Of them, the customer charter is perhaps the biggest. The commission that Byford is helping reshape will use this charter to give riders a clearer idea of the quality of service that they can expect. He’s essentially giving riders a reason to raise their expectations.

For a while the TTC had been contending with some unfortunate incidents—a sleeping fare collector, a distracted subway driver—which shook the public’s already faltering confidence in the system. Byford has tackled this head-on: soon after becoming CEO he issued a public memo to all TTC staff, warning that those who showed such disregard for transit riders would face real consequences. Faith in Byford’s leadership increased again in June, when he went to the scene of a Union Station flood, and provided frequent updates while supervising the clean-up.

And though it seems like a minor detail, Byford also deserves praise for his stance on TTC fashion—the uniforms will be changing in 2014. He’s sweating the small stuff too, and he wants us all, riders and staff alike, to feel better about the transit system that forms the backbone of Toronto.

Byford’s leadership is refreshing. It is also a marked contrast to the past couple of years of transit discussions at City Hall, which have consisted of little more than gridlocked ideological squabbling. More substantial improvements might still be a ways down the tracks, but better customer service is something that anyone should be able to get behind. Andy Byford certainly has, and he’s won many Torontonians over in the process.

See the other nominees in the Cityscape category:

Adaptation of Maple Leaf Gardens, for giving our history new life.  

Ontario Place Revitalization Plans, for preserving and renewing where each are needed.  

David Mirvish, for ambition writ large.  

Astral Info Pillar Hackers, for taking Toronto’s sidewalks back.  

The Ryerson Image Centre, for living up to the university’s ambitions.  

Cast Your Ballot


  •!/gracingthestage Steve Fisher

    About two months ago, I was biking east along Queen Street between Victoria and Bond. The cyclist ahead of me was squeezed in between a streetcar and a parked armoured truck when he lost control, ping-ponging off the sides of both vehicles in a spectacular crash, with bike parts flying, and ended up under the truck.

    The streetcar kept going.

    I stopped my bike, put it across the lane to stop traffic, and went to help the cyclist. He was dazed, scraped up, and tangled in his bike, but didn’t appear to be seriously injured. I used my swiss army knife to cut his shoe laces (they’d become tangled in the gears) and with the help of several pedestrians, we untangled him and got him out from under the truck.

    As two pedestrians helped him limp across the street (with the parts of his bike) to St, Michael’s to get medical attention, I went to move my bike so traffic could resume (several cars were leaning on their horns.) About four car lengths back was another
    streetcar, and as it pulled up alongside me, just as I was about to leave, it stopped.

    A man hopped off the front steps and asked me what had happened. I told him, saying that while what the cyclist had done (trying to ride past the streetcar with so little space, instead of waiting until it opened up) wasn’t very smart, the streetcar should at least have stopped to make sure he was OK (I have a hard time believing the driver didn’t hear the thump as the cyclist hit the side, or see the crash in his mirror.)

    The man thanked me, shook my hand, and said, “My name’s Andy Byford. I’m going
    to make sure that driver is disciplined, and that this is fully investigated.”

    I believed him.