On Saturday June 9, 2012 the Toronto Transit Commission held its third Town Hall meeting from 12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. at the Scarborough Civic Centre. Customers were given the opportunity to meet and greet senior management representatives from various departments.  They were also provided with the opportunity to speak about their experiences on the system, and to provide feedback, comments and other concerns to the Senior Management team which included Andy Byford, Chief Executive Officer, and Chris Upfold, Chief Customer Officer. Also in attendance were various TTC senior staff members and Chair Karen Stintz. TTC staff distributed comment cards and promoted participation via Twitter.

TTC CEO Andy Byford set the tone for the meeting with the following introductory comments.
"Today it is about you. We don’t have a monopoly on wisdom. We aren’t always right. You use the system day in and out and you rely on it so we want to hear what we can do better."

All relevant comment cards and tweets received were responded to directly. Below is a summary of the various issues raised during the meeting, as well as their responses.

Customer Information

Issues:

Several customers commented on in-vehicle communications with customers, first in terms of subway cars. One attendee suggested the announcement system has to be improved as when there is a disruption on the system, it is very difficult to discern the details due to the quality of the announcement.
Another customer said that they appreciate announcements updating passengers about the status of subway delays and they would also like to see bus and streetcar operators announce the reason behind a delay in service and how long the anticipated slowdown will be. On a related note, one customer praised the timeliness of the TTC website service alert notifications, but said there is a need to alert operators on the affected line with the same information as often they are often in the dark about what is going on along the route.


Continuing with surface vehicles, one customer said there are issues with both the automated stop announcement system and manual service announcements made by operators. He says that sometimes the automated system does not call out the proper street name or a street name is skipped altogether. Additionally, there are times when operators do not announce their intention to short turn or where the short turn will occur. The destination sign will say ‘S’ for short turn but customers do not know the short turn location.
In terms of bus stop information, one customer observed that many of the bus stops do not have schedules or timetables.  He went on to say that in many countries in Europe they have signs that indicate bus stop information and people can log in from their smart phone to find out when the next buses will be arriving.

Response:

Over the years we have made several enhancements to the subway PA. systems and we continue to address issues when we encounter them or they are brought to our attention by  customers. The announcement system in our latest subway car, the Toronto Rocket, is greatly improved in terms of sound quality and we continue to phase in more of these vehicles on our Yonge-University-Spadina line.

Ideally, we would like operators on surface routes to provide similar service delay information to their onboard customers when issues arise.  We are making progress in improving communications with our employees and we hope to equip them with more tools so that they have more up-to-date information about the system in terms of delays. This would include ensuring that they all have the capability of receiving the latest service alerts, so that they can be shared with customers.

The automated stop announcement system on each surface vehicle is regularly inspected by our garage personnel, who also take action when a defect, such as a street name not spoken or spoken in error, is brought to our attention. In terms of manual announcements, operators are expected to apprise customers of their short turning attentions and the location where the vehicle will be turned. This should be done on an ongoing basis as new customers board, and we will continue to remind our employees of their responsibilities.

With regard to bus stop information, every bus stop is listed on the TTC website (ttc.ca) where a customer can obtain a stop number, send a text and receive information back on the next arriving vehicles.  A plan is in place to roll out vehicle arrival screens to our bus stops similar to those on our streetcar network.

Customer Service

Issues:

This time out the issues were related more to fellow passengers as opposed to TTC employees, although in most cases it was suggested that the Commission plays a role in terms of making improvements.

One regular bus rider notes that there is often lot of room at the back of buses but because people won’t move to the rear, the entranceway becomes congested. At times the operator is unable to pick up any more passengers even though there would be room if people moved in.

Another attendee complained about customers who leave/spill coffee or food on the seats. He said this is not very conducive for the next person who occupies that space. On a related note, one person commented that we should consider signs for subway cars that read “Please keep feet off seats” and “Please occupy only one seat”.

On the employee front, one participant, a senior, mentioned an ongoing concern that he has when travelling on a bus. He said he has fallen in vehicles four times in the past and that operators should take more care when accelerating when seniors are on board, especially if they are standing.

Response:

The TTC realizes how frustrating it is for customers when buses become congested in the front and this can lead to a bus bypassing a stop even though the back of the bus is empty.  Operators have an important role in ensuring that all intending customers have an opportunity to access  service by instructing people via the on-board announcement system to move to the back of the vehicle.

We do consider considerate behaviour on the part of our customers toward their fellow travellers to be a large part of a positive transit experience. When people spill food and drinks, put their feet on seats or occupy seats with bags, it poses an inconvenience to other customers.   Through on-board announcements and posters, we do encourage transit customers to be considerate and to do their part to keep the transit system user-friendly and clean. We will continue to publicize customer courtesy issues that are brought to our attention.

Regarding vehicle operation, TTC operators receive extensive training at the commencement of their employment on the importance of providing a safe and comfortable ride.  Smooth acceleration and stopping is certainly key, especially when it comes to seniors who are standing in the vehicle.

Fares

Issue:

Comments and questions surrounding fares revolved around possible discounts for seniors, particularly low income seniors, and the benefits of Presto, with one participant mentioning the situation in Ottawa where customers are able to board the vehicle by the rear doors and tap their card on a reader at the back of the bus. Related to this, one customer questioning the continued use of paper transfers in light of more organizations moving toward electronic systems.

Response:

While we recognize that a case can be made for reduced fares for seniors, the TTC incurs a substantial cost in providing the reduced fare senior rate as it is not the subject of any special subsidy. The revenue shortfall from senior fares is largely made up from the fares of our adult riders. Any further reductions without additional subsidies would result in a revenue loss to the Commission and would be a matter of City Council policy.
With respect to Presto, we will have readers throughout the buses and streetcars so, for example, on streetcars there will be rear door readers which means that dwell times at stops will be reduced. Presto will also allow us to do far more in terms of transfers, such as considering further use of time based transfers, while at the same time allow us to retain important components of our fare structure such as student and senior concession fares.

Subway System

Issues:

Only a few issues were touched upon in terms of the subway system. One customer wanted to know if anything can be done to alleviate or eliminate crowding at stairwells on subway station platforms, perhaps "designating stairs to be one-way up or down".

On the subject of the Toronto Rocket subway cars one customer suggested that the tinted windows should be replaced with clear windows.On the positive side, one person offered praise for the initiative of cleaning the subways at the end of the line noting that it makes a real difference.

Response:

Although it would not be feasible to ensure compliance with respect to one way systems they have been used on other metro systems and the TTC will consider their efficacy. That being said we do designate Subway Supervisors to known locations of peak period crowding to help facilitate passenger movement through the station. We will be increasing the presence of Station Managers/Assistants in the future to offer further assistance to our customers.

The use of tinted glass on the Toronto Rocket subway cars is to minimize the solar heat gain during the hot summer days in order to keep the cooling capacities at an acceptable level. This is one of the example to make the new TR trains became far more energy efficient than the other vehicles.

Surface Network (Buses and Streetcars)

Issues:

Several people voiced concerns about driver shift changes and the length of time customers have to wait for a relief drive (Bayview and Lawrence was a particular sore point).  System delays continue to be top of mind for some attendees with one person suggesting that the problem with streetcars is that they tend to bunch up because of large passenger volumes at stops. One customer suggested the use of articulated streetcars may help reduce the number of cars needed and also speed up loading. A suggestion we have received at past Town Hals was again raised with respect to changing all bus route end times to coincide with the subway closing.

Some suggestions were offered in connection with Express buses, such as introducing additional Express routes in order to give more customers the option of offboarding at a stop that is in proximity of their intended destination and walking the remaining distance, or waiting for a local bus that will take them right to their stop.  Another thought was that there should be more stops introduced on Express services so that more riders can use them.

Finally, some attendees observed that there is much construction going on throughout the city, inconveniencing tourists and customers who are not familiar with such delays, and they asked what is being done to minimize the impact, particularly as it relates to major events.

Response:

Relief operators are scheduled to be at the relief point prior to a vehicle’s arrival and there should certainly be no reason for customers to be subjected to lengthy waits. We will continue to take action when such discrepancies are brought to our attention.

Regarding streetcar loading, during the peak period route supervisors are assigned to busy stops to facilitate loading.  When the new LRT lines are introduced they will travel on a right-of-way with fewer stops. This will make them more efficient because you can load a large number of people at fewer stops and move them very rapidly. We will also be revisiting the possibility of purchasing articulated streetcars in the future.

While it would be ideal to have the last run on all surface routes coincide with the last run on the subway, it is not feasible. Service is dictated by customer demand and on some routes it is simply not economically justifiable to run trips until 2:00 a.m. Similarly, express services can only be introduced when there is sufficient ridership demand to support the operation. In terms of adding additional stops to express routes, express stops are located at points to serve the greatest number of passengers who can benefit from the express feature, typically at major stops that are distant from the subway. Long-distance riders receive the maximum benefit of the express feature and by adding more stops, these benefits would be reduced.

In terms of construction affecting service, we do try and co-ordinate the work with the city and we are mindful of large events that could be impacted by service disruptions.  Our objective is to ensure that essential work is completed while still accommodating customers to these event.     

Other Issues

Issues:

Some unique issues were brought up that were not the subject of previous Town Halls or comment cards.
One customer who is new to the country asked that Wheel Trans review and change their acceptance policy to include customers with visual disabilities.

One customer commented on TTC Performance Indicators, questioning how accurate or useful they are and that we may be allowing too much leeway in terms of their on-time performance.

Another person wanted to know if, legally, she is required to give up her seat to a person. She realizes there are obvious cases but would like to know if there is a set by-law.

Finally, one customer said he would like to see the TTC employ more visible minorities or people with disabilities.

Response:

The Wheel Trans service is presently running at capacity and we are simply unable to accommodate all customers with disabilities. As such, the current eligibility criteria must stay in place to accommodate those customers who need the service most.

In terms of TTC Performance Indicators, this is a relatively new initiative and some of the service targets were implemented as starting points only with the understanding there would be a need for refinement. We now have more data on customer expectations and will be adjusting our targets accordingly.

As the name implies, the Courtesy Seating program is voluntary in nature and customers are not obliged to give up their seats. We try and encourage customer co-operation in this area particularly as it relates to disabled and elderly customers, and pregnant women.1

Finally, when it comes to hiring, the TTC is a conscientious and committed equal opportunity employer with a very diverse workforce.

1. In August of 2013, this response has been revised to say:   

In accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005 (AODA), TTC now provides Priority Seating on all of its vehicles, designated for use by persons with disabilities. You must give up these seats for a person who is disabled or has a physical limitation requiring priority seating. A customer with a disability occupying a priority seat is not required to move for another customer with a disability. In this situation, use of these seats is on a first-come, first-served basis. You are not required to give up your seat that is not designated priority seating. TTC encourages customer co-operation particularly as it relates to giving up seating for people with disabilities, elderly customers, and pregnant women.

TTC By-Law No 1 requires that you obey signs posted by the TTC, including Priority Seating signs on TTC vehicles. Person who do not comply with Priority Seating signs may be subject to penalties under this By-Law and liable to a fine of up to $225.00.