On Thursday, November 24, 2011 the Toronto Transit Commission held its first town hall meeting from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. in the Council Chamber at Toronto City Hall. Customers were given the opportunity to speak about their experiences and provide feedback on services. More than 300 customers and other interested parties attended. In addition, TTC staff distributed comment cards and promoted participation via Twitter. Sixty comment cards were received and the Twittersphere attracted 1,000 tweets. All relevant comment cards and Tweets were responded to directly. Below is a summary of issues raised and their responses.

Customer Information/ Signage

Issue:

Customer information was an issue that received many comments. Getting accurate, real-time updates fast was a common concern. One comment card suggested that the TTC endorse/advertise external computer applications which they found to be helpful in determining when the next streetcar or bus would arrive. Another comment expressed discontent with the reliability of the TTC Trip Planner. Customers also found that the station signs at the subways were inadequate for wayfinding. Additionally, some people would like to see a return of the signs on escalators that read, “Stand right, walk left”.

Response:

Communicating information to our customers is very important and we constantly look at ways to improve. Recently, the TTC has been praised for using Twitter to stay connected with its customers. By following @TTCnotices, TTC riders can stay informed of all major delays and upcoming events. Riders can also check “Service Advisories” on the TTC’s website, or subscribe to My TTC e-alerts for real-time email notices for all major subway / RT, bus, and streetcar service disruptions. We have also begun the roll out of Station Information Screens at the concourse of our subway stations and Platform Screens. The Station Information Screens are designed to improve TTC customer communications by providing information on the status of the subway, surface routes at that station, and other important information needed before paying a fare and entering the system. All 69 subway stations will be equipped with this new customer information feature by the end of 2014. For more information please visit Station Information Screens.

With reference to endorsing external applications that inform customers of when the next streetcar or bus would arrive at a stop, TTC customers can now send an SMS text message to the TTC directly (898882) for a specific stop and receive a real-time reply with the expected arrival time of up to the next six buses and streetcars at that stop. For more information on TTC Customer Information Initiatives please visit our Customer Information Initiatives and Stay Informed pages for more information. We must improve on making customers aware that new features to make their commute easier are available through the TTC directly.

Some issues were raised about the reliability of the TTC Trip Planner compared to other available sources on the web. The trip planner is designed to assist customers with planning their trip using the TTC, whether by bus, streetcar, subway or a combination of modes. The departure and arrival times noted on the planned trip you make are based on schedules, not real-time vehicle locations. The trip planner is also available on the TTC’s mobile application – m.ttc.ca Information on accessing real-time information on the location of buses and streetcars can be found on the TTC website referenced above.

Wayfinding Signage

The TTC has attempted to make incremental improvements as we provide new entrances / exits or elevators for step-free access. One of the recommendations made by the Customer Service Advisory Panel in 2010 focuses on improving signs and other customer information. We are working on a plan to do this but re-signing a station is an expensive proposition both in terms of the planning required, the material cost and implementation. We need better understanding of what priority customers give to improved way finding when balanced against things like an increase in service levels.

Having said that, we must get much better at not degrading the look and feel of our stations and trains with visual clutter such as handwritten signs. Such improvements should have little cost impact but can be difficult to ensure consistency. We are experimenting with a new “wrap” on the Davisville collector booth that we hope will balance our operational and customer needs and control some of the clutter on and in our booths.

Finally, the TTC removed the “Stand right, walk left” signs sometime ago. A decision was made that encouraging customers to walk on escalators was not safe and could not be supported / encouraged with official TTC signs.

Customer Service Centre

Issue:

There were several comments about the Customer Service Centre. Customers felt that complaints were not answered in a timely manner. Some said that they never received a response at all. Comments about our email communications was another issue that came up a number of times, one comment card read: “I’ve sent emails to Customer Service and have heard nothing back – that’s a disappointment.”

Response:

Starting at the end of February, Customer Service Centre will be open 7 days a week, from 7:00am – 10:00pm for phone calls, web comments and to monitor the TTC Twitter account. Customer Service will now respond to all customer communications, and in a timely fashion. We believe our customers’ voice is valuable and the key in making our transit system one of the best.

Employee Customer Service

Issue:

Customers find that when they approach an employee for assistance or information, employees are often times rude and unhelpful. Some comments suggest solutions to this problem, such as, Customer Service Training and Secret Shoppers. Others said that employees are simply not kept informed of delays and the TTC should equip them with the tools to receive the information our customers’ request.

Response:

As part of the TTC’s new customer service initiative, TTC front-line employees have been receiving additional customer service training. For example, all of our collectors have recently participated in a one-day course focused on customer service. The training covered a variety of topics including providing information to customers, solving customer problems, and dealing with difficult situations. As part of the course, our collectors were also reminded that as front-line representatives of the TTC they are expected to meet high standards of customer service excellence. In addition to the on-site training, new details about customer service will be incorporated in training modules for all new collectors.

We are also embarking on a new program of “mystery shopping” to allow us to accurately measure the quality of the service we offer. A fundamental part of this program is to determine how well our employees meet the needs of our customers. We also believe that giving front-line staff the tools and information needed to assist our customers is important. In that regard, the TTC is looking at ways to improve communication with employees.

Fares

Issue:

We received a wide variety of comments about fares. Customers suggested we do away with collectors, paper tickets/tokens and adopt a Smart Card System as soon as possible. One customer suggested having a two hour time limit on all of our transfers. We also had a customer express frustration about the limitations of purchasing a Downtown Express Metropass sticker.
 
Response:

In June of this year the TTC agreed to adopt the Presto Smartcard Fare System. Instead of searching for tokens and change, riders will be able to tap onto any TTC vehicle or other transit system in the GTA. TTC riders will also be able to access their debit or credit card accounts with Presto because the TTC will be getting the next generation of the system that is designed to handle open payments. At this time, Metrolinx and the TTC are close to finalizing a Presto implementation deal. Having said that, we fully understand the importance of being fit for purpose between now and then, we must be as flexible as possible with our fare programs if we are to sell the service as a convenience. This includes finding ways to make travel easier for our customers. We are always willing to listen to customer ideas on how we can make using the TTC a better experience.

This leads into the comment about transfers. One of the major complications in adapting Presto for the TTC is Toronto’s unique transfer system. This aspect of our operation will be looked at very closely as we aim to make this change seamless. We will also review both the advantage and disadvantage time-based transfers would have on the TTC and make decisions with our customers’ best interest in mind.

The Premium Express Sticker is only available at two subway stations, King and St. Andrew Stations. Based on the routing of the Premium Express bus routes, we determined these were the two closest stations for riders of the Premium bus routes. An alternate option that is available to customers is receiving the Premium Sticker through the mail with their Metropass; please visit Metro Discount Plan for details.

Subway System

Issue:

The area of subway operation usually attracts plenty of comments from riders as it is an integral part of customers’ daily commute. Customers raised issues ranging from subway door operation, increasing number of subway delays, short-turned subway trains, request for earlier subway service and more trains on the Yonge line.
 
Response:

In 2011, the TTC set an all-time record of over 500 million rides, surpassing 2010’s record of 477.3 million. We also surpassed our one day record of 1.68 million rides (set in 2010) 27 times in 2011. This upward trend in ridership is proof that the TTC is central to Toronto and that we must continue to invest in transit so that we can accommodate the increase in ridership.

A huge portion of these rides will be on our subways. We recognize that with growing ridership we must make the necessary changes to maintain comfort levels and subway reliability. We have already begun the rollout of the new subway trains, which will continue throughout the next year. We are also introducing a new signal system on the Yonge-University-Spadina line that will substantially increase the capacity of the subway by allowing trains to operate more closely together. This project will take some time but will significantly improve service reliability, in addition to providing more capacity.

While we appreciate all the requests for earlier Sunday subway service, the cost of operating the system is very high and the lower passenger levels prior to 9 a.m. do not justify an earlier opening. In addition, most maintenance work can only be performed during periods of non-operation, and these hours are necessary to complete the many tasks that keep the subway running efficiently and safely. For the same reasons, we cannot consider 24 hour subway service, as some suggested. Subway systems that do offer 24 hour service, like New York, have two sets of tracks in each direction allowing them to close one for maintenance while working on the other. This is a lucky accident of history for New York and not something the TTC shares.

In response to comments about issues such as subway door operations, subway slowdowns and short-turns, we recognize that we must improve with our day-to-day operation of subway service. An example of how we are trying to improve is the southbound Bloor platform experiment. As some commuters may have noticed, during the morning rush hour, we have comprehensive crowd control measures at Bloor Station that have proven themselves very effective in decreasing the time a train stays in the platform and therefore allows more trains down the line and an increase in our peak capacity.

Surface Network (Buses and Streetcars)

Issue:

This area of our operation was talked about the most. For the most part, our customers expressed dissatisfaction with delays, vehicle bunching and short-turns. A customer suggested supervisors monitor bus routes without notice to operators. Streetcar routes, specifically the Queen 501 and the St. Clair 512, received plenty of criticism with respect to short-turning.

Response:

With a total of 10,872 TTC bus and streetcar stops in Toronto and the GTA, it is no surprise we received numerous comments in the area of surface network complaints. Keeping our 152 bus and streetcar routes on time everyday is challenging to say the least. Heavy road congestion, accidents, on-street construction etc. are just some of the uncontrollable factors our Operators and Routes Supervisors face every day. Senior managers will be closely reviewing statistics on all service routes and working with Route Supervisors and Operators to ensure everything possible is being done to provide an on-time reliable service.

Short-turns - The procedure of short-turning vehicles is designed to restore balance to the entire route. While the immediate inconvenience caused to customers on a short-turn vehicle is recognized, the adjustment often results in a better overall service for more customers over the long term. Based on the comments received on short-turns we understand there is a lot of customer frustration. We have renewed our focus on short-turns to ensure it not only works for us, but also the customer. We will work on ways to minimize the number of short-turns in the future by taking into account such factors as, how many short turns have taken place on that day/week, weather conditions, and most importantly, customer numbers. We will also carefully evaluate other options to restore service first.

We concede that there is plenty of room for improvement in this area and with the help of customer input we will continue to work at ways to better serve Toronto.

Service Planning

Issue:

We received several comments and questions regarding the upcoming service reductions. Customers were concerned that at a time when ridership is at its highest, service is going to be reduced. Many customers stressed the need for additional buses to reduce crowding and long waits. One card suggested better planning for bus routes is needed to accommodate the large crowds after school lets out.

Response:

The City of Toronto, the TTC’s primary funder for operating subsidy, indicated that for 2012 the TTC’s subsidy would be reduced by 10 per cent. To balance its 2012 operating budget without cutting routes or hours of operations, the TTC is generally reverting to pre-2004 crowding standards for surface vehicles. Effective February 12, 2012, the maximum planned average number of passengers per bus in the peak periods will change from an average of 48 to 51, an increase of approximately five per cent. At off-peak times on frequent streetcar and bus routes, the crowding standard will change so that instead of, on average there is a seat for every passenger, approximately 25 per cent of the passengers will have to stand.

With respect to planning our service around the time students get let out of school, the TTC makes an effort, where it can, to make accommodations at busy locations such as schools. One of the biggest problems we face is that there are hundreds of schools in Toronto and we simply do not have the resources to satisfy all.

Overall, the TTC recognizes that it needs to focus on route management as part of its commitment to improved customer service, and lessen the impact of these changes wherever possible. Customer service improvement remains as a key objective for the TTC in 2012 and beyond.

System Cleanliness

Issue:

Feedback made it clear that customers expect TTC Subway Stations (public washrooms included) and vehicles to be cleaner and maintained more often. Customers also put some blame on passengers for leaving garbage behind. Some also put blame on the free newspapers distributed to commuters, suggesting the free newspaper companies should pick up the tab for the clean-up.

Response:

Cleanliness is a key component of our customer service initiatives. Maintenance workers are assigned stations to clean. Although maintenance workers have a schedule they follow, we expect maintenance staff to prioritize obvious issues like spillage, litter and graffiti removal. Furthermore, we have special work crews that perform heavier maintenance work in the stations. This work usually takes place at night as they use heavy equipment and tools that can only be used after hours.

Public Washrooms- This year we have plans to rehabilitate all of the public washrooms in the subway system. As part of this rehabilitation, all washrooms will undergo a condition assessment to determine the scope of the work required. This project has already begun. Kipling and Finch Stations have been the first targets. Also, as of January 1 we enhanced the washroom cleaning schedules to improve the cleanliness of the washrooms. Together with the planned repair work, it is expected that the conditions and environment within the public washrooms will dramatically improve.

All of our vehicles are also cleaned regularly. Buses, streetcars and subways are cleaned when they go back to the garage or yard. Maintenance staff is assigned specific vehicles and are responsible to clean the vehicle before it returns in service. Aside from its daily cleaning, vehicles are also scheduled occasionally for special cleaning, which includes a more intense, thorough wash, inside and out. We will continue to work towards a cleaner transit system. At the beginning of February we also began end of line cleaning of subway trains at Kennedy station. This means that trains will be cleaned and litter picked at the end of a run before turning and heading back west. This will be expanded in early 2012 to cover the Yonge-University-Spadina line at Downsview station and to look at other termimus points in the future. Furthermore, we will explore in-service off-peak litter picking on trains through our busiest sections.

We appreciate the comments about the free newspapers and garbage left behind by customers, but the only control we have over this matter is to continue to encourage customers to take their newspapers and garbage with them and deposit them in our garbage/recycle bins as they are leaving the system. Messages to this effect are being broadcast via public address announcements and video display monitors in the subway. With reference to the comment about newspaper companies picking up the tab for cleaning, currently Metro does pay the TTC to distribute newspapers within TTC property. It is important we work together with Metro, as distributing newspapers off property is always an option they have and it would result in just as many newspapers on our system. The current arrangement we have allows the distribution on property, which is convenient for customer who enjoy reading the free newspaper and we generate some revenue at the same time.

Marketing

Issue:

Customers also feel that there is a need for the TTC to promote customer etiquette. Quite a few comments received were about passengers blocking subway/bus doorways, customers clogging the front of vehicles and not moving back, loud cell phone conversations, eating on TTC vehicles, removing knap sacks, smoking on TTC property etc.

Response:

The TTC has conducted multiple customer campaigns (on our vehicles, in our stations and in other media available to us) to attempt to influence our customers to consider their fellow riders. The TTC is a microcosm of society and our customers represent the diverse range of people that live in the city of Toronto. Although we would like all of our customers to act in a way that respects their fellow customers there is, in truth, very little the TTC can do, beyond what already we do, to influence people. It is hoped that the new Customer Liaison Panel will help us develop new strategies and tactics for doing this. That said, these are areas that every transit operator in the world struggles with.

Fare Enforcement/System Security

Issue

Customers also took the opportunity to bring attention to customers cheating the TTC. One customer asked that we control cheats entering the Sheppard Station illegally. Another comment card brought attention to fare cheaters that board buses/streetcars through the rear doors. They suggested plain clothes fare enforcement officers to address the issue.

Response

The collection of fares is critical to the TTC’s operation and we agree that we need to ensure that incidents of deliberate fare evasion are kept to a minimum. Our Transit Enforcement Unit has uniformed and plain clothed officers. Our uniformed officers’ presence alone influences customer behaviour, where as our plain clothed officers catch them in the act. Currently, both uniformed and plain clothed officers monitor the system for such infractions mentioned and educate, inform and, ultimately, lay charges against violators in an effort to curtail illegal activity.

Accessibility

Issue:

Accessibility was also a serious issue that was brought up more than once. Customers who use wheelchairs find it difficult to purchase fares in some of our stations. Signage about the status of elevators was also raised. Our customers would like to see signage in this area improved and posted at the entry points of subway stations.

Response:

We realize the importance of making all stations accessible, but we must operate within budget restrictions. In this regard, the TTC’s Easier Access project is currently underway and we continue to work closely with the Advisory Committee on Accessible Transportation (ACAT) on accessibility issues, such as prioritizing elevator installation and station accessibility.

Information Screens
As suggested by the Customer Service Advisory Panel in 2010, we are planning to install information screens outside station entrances or in unpaid areas. The purpose of the screens would be to highlight all of the delays across the system and provide information about issues surrounding the station. We will review the possibility of adding the status of the elevators in the station as well. In the interim, such information will be available through our website and our lift line 416-539-LIFT(5438). We will also be adding an “elevators” and “escalators” option to our e-alerts, this way riders can be notified via email/text when they go down.

Safety

Issue:

Customer also touched upon some serious safety issues. A cyclist made a point that operators need to be more considerate to cyclists. Another customer asked about the status of employee drug testing.

Response:

We agree that the safety of cyclists and other users of the road can never be compromised. Reports of this nature are taken very seriously and the importance of safe driving is continually stressed with all of our operating staff, this includes proper procedures for passing cyclists.

As a deterrent to substance abuse on the job that we believe will improve public safety, city councillors on the Toronto Transit Commission approved random drug and alcohol testing for TTC employees on October 19, 2011. A fitness for duty policy is in place at the TTC. Random alcohol and drug testing is being phased in as part of that policy. Rest assured, however, that the TTC takes safe operations and the fitness for duty of its employees extremely seriously.

Town Hall Meeting

Issue:

Many felt that we did not advertise the Town Hall Meeting enough. One customer pointed out that customers were not told about the “marketplace” before the meeting. Other comments were very positive and commended the TTC for showing commitment to improving customer service.

Response:

This was the first-ever TTC Town Hall Meeting and we too feel that there are a number of things we could have done differently. We view this as a learning experience and we plan to do a better job getting the word out the next time around. We plan to have TTC Town Hall Meetings quarterly.

Other Feedback

Issue

As most customers were focused on the future of the TTC some shined light on the history. A customer wanted to know how the TTC would preserve its history in the coming years so that future generations of Torontonians would know what transit looked like in years past. Another customer asked about the status of the selection process for the Customer Liaison Panel. One comment card even asked for support in developing a workshop in their community to walk new TTC users through their first trip.

Response:

Very encouraging comments that shows that the TTC is a central part of Toronto and that Torontonians not only care about the TTC, but are also willing to participate to make a positive change. Given the budgetary issues the City of Toronto and the TTC currently face with, investing in a museum at this time is not possible. However, we agree with the view on the importance of preserving our history for the future generations of Torontonians. As we begin retiring several older model buses and subways over the coming years, this issue is sure to come up and we will support the preservation of our rich history the best we can. At this time, TTC and the City of Toronto websites contain information on the history of the TTC. One can also visit the City of Toronto Archives in person. The City of Toronto Archives is located at 255 Spadina Road, and is open Monday to Friday, between the hours of 9:00 am to 4:30 pm and Saturdays between the hours of 10:00 am to 4:30 pm.

Customer Liaison Panel

First, we would like to thank every applicant for their time and the effort each took into applying to be part of the Toronto Transit Commission’s first Customer Liaison Panel. All applicants will have already received several emails regarding progress over the last few months. We hope to have the panel selected by the end of February.

Lastly, it was nice to hear from the customer who was interested in developing a workshop in their community to walk new TTC users through their first trip. The TTC offers telephone information on a variety of TTC related topics. A live Information Representative is available 7 days a week from 8:00am – 6:00pm. After hours, customer can also use the automated telephone line or our website, www.ttc.ca for support and information. With reference to supporting such a program with money/tokens, as you may appreciate, we receive a great many similar requests for assistance from various organizations. For financial reasons we cannot accommodate these requests.