A few hundred riders gathered at City Hall to hear from TTC leadership and express their views about the state of transit in Toronto.
Angry members of the public are nothing new at City Hall. Committees of council regularly take verbal input from Toronto residents on all sorts of issues. On occasion, it is, let’s say, undiplomatic.
But last night’s three-hour TTC town hall—the first in a promised series—was a reminder that no interest group is as pissed off at municipal decision makers as people who ride transit.
The town hall took place in council chambers. TTC brass—including Chief Customer Service Officer Chris Upfold, Chief General Manager Gary Webster, and TTC Chair Karen Stintz—sat next to one another at a table, facing the gallery.
Alex Marciano, 33, took the microphone and began delivering a prepared harangue. “I’d like to start off with the worst news,” he said. “At this point in the year 2012, Stanley Kubrick envisioned space colonies, and we are still barely going faster than a horse’s gallop riding the TTC.”
The TTC had hired a professional facilitator named Dan Tisch, whose job was to limit speakers to about one minute each. He interrupted Marciano and told him to wrap up. “I spent two hours writing up this list,” said Marciano. “One more minute.”
Tisch denied Marciano his extra minute, so Marciano jogged to the back of the speakers’ line to await another turn at the mic.
Shanice Wilson, a 23-year-old woman from Don Mills, had come seeking justice against a TTC bus driver she said had slapped her hand, a year ago. She stepped up to one of two microphones that had been set up for the use of the crowd. “Something like this, this is totally unacceptable,” she said.
“What if something like this happens to us?” she asked, still referring to the slap. Her voice grew more insistent. “What should we do? What steps should be taken?” The crowd, which looked as though it was at least 250-strong, applauded.
At the beginning of the meeting, TTC Chief Webster had tried to set a reasonable tone. Standing in front of the room, he spoke about the flare-ups of rider dissatisfaction last year that led the TTC to embark on its customer-service experiment.
“That fall,” he said, “there was a lot of criticism, not only about the [25-cent] fare increase, but about a lot of other things. Some of that criticism was fair.”
Then he specifically addressed the TTC’s impending service cuts, the details of which had been leaked to the media just hours earlier. “The reality is we don’t have the money that we need to maintain the same quantity of service that we had,” he said.
Webster told the room that increasing wait times and crowding on bus routes across the city is not the TTC’s preferred solution. “That’s going to save us a lot of money,” he said. “It’s not going to have a positive impact from a customer point of view.”
As the cavalcade of speakers continued, a wide variety of grievances had their minute of fame (the meeting was being broadcast on Rogers TV). Some people had intricate ideas for changes to transit infrastructure, up to and including building an elevated railway on Steeles Avenue. A few people complained about the state of the bathrooms at Yonge-Bloor station. Almost everyone agreed that the new subway trains are awesome. Several people complained about instances of rudeness by TTC employees. One guy wanted TTC operators to smile at him more.
The last speaker of the night was a Finch bus rider. Finch was slated to have its buses replaced with a new LRT line before Mayor Ford summarily scuttled Transit City on his first day in office.
“I’ve emailed you numerous times about the Finch West bus,” said the rider. “I don’t even want to go into that. I think it’s just a nightmare. You maybe need double-decker buses on there, articulated buses, I don’t know what you need on there. But y’all need to get this looked after.”
Most of all, what everyone seemed to want was to be looked after.