A Million Little Pieces
Well, it’s that time of year again: time to hate the TTC! This time, it’s the threat of a distant strike and the Star‘s devotion of its usually excellent Fixer feature to all things TTC (and broken) leading the charge. When Eye‘s Dale Duncan recapped the past week, she remarked: “Maybe it’s just me, but rage against the TTC seems to be growing.”
It’s not just her. “Seems,” though, seems to be the key word, and the sense of universal vitriol for the TTC is all a matter of perception. Even though the TTC has spent the last month announcing and rolling out lots of massive and minor improvements system-wide, things like pigeons and a pro-union video with messy math are drawing contempt and derision, and seem to be getting more than their fair share of attention. Complaints about the TTC don’t accumulate so much as they snowball: people are always more happy to complain than to praise, and tend to focus on the bad more than the good anyway, especially when their money (or what feels like their money) is involved. The loudest and most vocal opinions are usually the angriest ones, and then rage begets rage, things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, etc. Hyperbole abounds: just look at one of the Star‘s Fixer articles, which—four days after promising not to “proffer outrageous quotes”—claimed that “Kipling was described in one email as a ‘war zone’ and it lived up to that billing.”
The last time public sentiment seemed this strongly against the TTC was last summer, when fears of service cuts, a shutdown of the Sheppard subway line, and increased fares ran rampant after the organization made it clear that they had to cut costs to balance their budget. The TTC announced a limited and underwhelming survey, the results of which would be used to make a decision about the next steps to take. Torontoist decided to expand on the TTC’s meager survey and conduct one of our own to measure both usage of and sentiment towards the TTC.
The data, from 2,212 respondents, came out differently than we’d expected. Even with tensions high, our numbers [PDF] uncovered a mixed but generally positive attitude towards the system and its staff. Of the 2,212 respondents, for instance, 50.6% said they had a mostly favourable or very favourable impression of the TTC, while 19.7% said they had a mostly unfavourable or very unfavourable impression. 49.5% said they had a mostly favourable or very favourable impression of the TTC’s employees, and 18.4% had an mostly unfavourable or very unfavourable one. And just about 30% of people felt neutral about both. (A caveat: though it did get linked on BoingBoing and many local blogs, our survey did not extend far outside of our readership. Still, it’s a decent metric, especially considering that the TTC’s official survey got only 17,400 respondents, which means we’re working with about 13% of the responses and a much fuller data set.)
Hiding in the torrent of comments that were filled out in the “any additional comments” field—most of them brief and having to do with the survey or the potential cuts—we received one really, really nice story:
Late in August, my elderly Mother had a mini-stroke while riding on a TTC bus. The driver not only noticed, but acted perfectly. He asked everyone to get off of the bus and called 911. He waited with her until the ambulance arrived, and described to the attendants what he had seen. She was taken to the Emergency Department of the local hospital and was well-taken care of. Thanks to the TTC, my Mother did not have complications from that!
Those are not the forged words of some card-carrying million-dollar union member—it’s my mom, talking about my grandma. The Star got one such similar response, which ended with a concession that “As long as the TTC has drivers as compassionate and decisive as [a driver who watched out for the letter writer’s safety], I am willing to put up with a leaking roof or two.” It’s not that we can’t or shouldn’t criticize or scrutinize the TTC—we absolutely should (and we, the Torontoist we, do quite often). But the TTC is not our enemy, and we are not theirs. It seems that we’re losing sight of that.
Photo by David Topping.