TTC CEO Andy Byford and chief customer service officer, Chris Upfold, answered questions from passengers at a TTCriders town hall.
People who ride the TTC regularly during rush hour might sometimes look around at their frowny, presumably gassy, generally beleaguered fellow passengers, pressed into each other’s armpit crevices, and wonder why there aren’t more emotional outbursts.
Town hall–style meetings, on the other hand, are usually not devoid of emotional outbursts, especially when they try to tackle issues as contentious as transit. But a town hall hosted by advocacy group TTCriders on Wednesday night was congenial, as two head honchos of the TTC—CEO Andy Byford and Chris Upfold, chief customer service officer—fielded questions from the approximately 50 people gathered in a Metro Hall meeting room, as well as from Twitter and email.
Before Upfold and Byford sat down for the 90-minute question-and-answer session, they circulated through the crowd, shaking hands and chatting with attendees. Throughout the evening they expressed their desire to overhaul the culture of Toronto’s transit in order to make it friendlier and more customer-service oriented. It was apparent that they’re serious.
Byford said this culture change is one of three main policy planks the TTC is focusing on, along with updating equipment and updating processes. He admitted that the commission has a long way to go.
This is where TTCriders comes in. The advocacy group wants passengers to have more say in transit decisions. As member and event organizer Luca De Franco told us, “These are the conversations that need to happen with the TTC brass so that they’re accountable to the public. And the public can feel like their opinion has a tangible influence.”
Upfold mentioned groups similar to TTCriders, like the Straphangers in New York City, which have helped transit agencies focus on customer needs. Both he and Byford touted the benefits of having more voices involved when it comes to changing how things are done, whether that means broader public consultation before rearranging streetcar stops to accommodate the TTC’s next-generation vehicles, or louder advocacy for federal transit funding.
Byford said more than once that he’d like to put the TTC in order so he can spend more time lobbying at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa for long-term, stable funding to improve transit.
Accessibility was another popular topic. There were questions about adding occasional buses to streetcar lines to accommodate users with accessibility needs (this is something the TTC won’t do, Upfold said, since that bus would better serve the system elsewhere). Another attendee asked what progress has been made in making stations more accessible (answer: Byford hopes the entire system will be fully accessible by 2025, with at least Pape Station ready this year).
On most issues, Byford and Upfold were direct and sympathetic. Byford agreed with an attendee who commented that any problems with front line staff being rude originate with management, something the CEO says he’s working hard to change. “The default message to staff should be to cherish them, believe them, and develop them. If you do the right thing, we’ll defend you the hilt. But if you’re reckless—we’re all adults here—we have to put you out.” Byford says this approach is something the unions agree with, too.
Almost every question got a nod or a thank you from the TTC bosses, and after the event Byford told the gathered press that he would take all the night’s questions and concerns back to his staff, so they could draw up an action plan.
TTCriders hopes to host three more town halls in Scarborough, Etobicoke, and North York.