Giambrone: ‘We owe our riders an apology’

Adam Giambrone took some time this afternoon to address the fast escalating criticism of customer service on the TTC. His message was one of commitment to a new focus at the commission. Acknowledging the ‘perfect storm’ of bad press that started with the botched fare hike and culminated last week with a slew of pictures of sleeping employees; the Chair stated that this is was an opportunity the commission could seize upon to refocus itself on the issue of customer service.

“Focus” was indeed the word of day, with little new to announce in terms of initiatives, other than a new customer charter, Giambrone stated that the TTC would accelerate items already in the capital budget and work to put customer service forefront in the minds of its employees. Included in the list of quick fixes was the online trip planner, which Giambrone said would be released in beta some time next week and would be complemented by the release of necessary data to Google Transit (a mobile version of the trip planner is to come out this summer). Also included is a program to put SMS numbers on all streetcar stops that will allow for instant next car information to be sent to your phone; Giambrone is confident this service will be implemented by July. This service was promised for bus stops by 2011.


The online trip planner will be released next week (above), the SMS numbers by July on streetcar stops (below)

More long-term technological improvements were also mentioned. These included items such as installing “next train” displays in the few subway stations that do not already have them (apparently the issue has been asbestos), and real-time, GPS based “next vehicle” information along streetcar routes. A time frame for which was set at 12 to 18 months with ‘Next Vehicle Arrival’ signs at subway stations under a similar time line. An acknowledgment of the need for better communication was followed up with a promise for new information displays at the entrance to stations and the establishment of a 24/7 call line, possibly tied into the city’s 311 system. Finally, the obvious step of providing direct communication between transit control and fare collectors will be implemented.

Next Vehicle information for streetcars at subway stations and outdoor stops within ‘this year and next’

While refusing to blame TTC staff, Giambrone did acknowledge that some TTC employees are disappointed that the commission is failing to meet expectations. He also noted that customer service would become an important part of the review and hiring process in the future.

Giambrone refused to answer questions about the upcoming blue ribbon panel, but did say that plenty of interest had been received. He also stressed that the panel would focus on finding new voices from other jurisdictions and industries that had similar problems with customer service in the past. Asked why this maelstrom of customer dissatisfaction arose in the first place Giambrone claimed that people today have far greater expectations of the public service than they used to. Engaged with planning a massive transit expansion project for the last the few years, Giambrone claimed that TTC had lost focus on customer service.

Despite the feel-good talk and the promise of shiny new improvements to come, one is left wondering if ‘focus’ will be enough to appease riders. Can discussing customer service make employees more in tune with rider needs or are these problems structural? Giambrone says he wants to “Take a good transit system and make it a great one.” Toronto will judge if he can do it.

Photo by Himy Syed

19 comments

  1. “We promise”…. is what the politician says when there is a screwup and and election year imminent. And that’s all this is so far… promises. He refuses to blame staff – did anyone expect the guy needing union support to get elected to say any different? All he is is flash and no judgement. Trying to wow communters with techo-crap when the most common complaint is rude staff makes no sense and just shows Giambrone still has a tin ear when it comes to listening to input. I have zero faith in this guy.

  2. Wow. How noble. Apologize now that you are trying to run for mayor.

    You know what have been better? ACTUALLY DOING A HALF DECENT JOB AS TTC CHAIR.

  3. I’m stunned by Giambrone’s ability to grasp the obvious after only years as the chair of the TTC. The chasm of disconnect between ridership and Commission is heartbreaking.

    Ugh.

  4. Have you noticed that the 504 car in the image showing the expected arrival time at a transit shelter is going to Dufferin? It is short turning, but the announcement system has no way of knowing this because a vehicle’s destination is not part of the info transmitted back to the central monitoring system.

  5. As people have already said, now that it’s election time HERE COME THE PROMISES! Meanwhile there’s still no smart card system($400 million?! assuming an average of 2 readers per bus/streetcar and 4 per station that works out to $90K/reader for a system that has the province taking care of the backend costs), TTC employees (even bad ones) are not held to account (how many employees lose their jobs? at any organization the size of the ttc, there has to be enough turnover as bad employees get canned. yes fired. there will be bad employees when you have that many of them), he priced tokens at less than what they were going to be worth and SURPRISE! there was a shortage. Economics 101, dude.

    The problem is that, outside of an election year, there’s little incentive to actually improve things. Sure transit city may be great, but the current system creaks by. If this is what Giambrone’s going to run as mayor on, he deserves to lose.

    Man, when did I get so jaded? I have to vote for him or people that want to rip up bike lanes? Jesus this sucks.

  6. “Asked why this maelstrom of customer dissatisfaction arose in the first place Giambrone claimed that people today have far greater expectations of the public service than they used to.”

    Since when has the public expected rude staff, dirty stations, crowded and uncomfortable transit vehicles, etc?

    In all fairness to Mr. Giambrone, many of these issues had not been dealt with for decades before he became Chair. But since he is an avid TTC rider, he should have looked to address these issues several years ago.

    On the plus side, nice to see the TTC getting with Google Maps and adding real time updates as to when the next vehicle will arrive. But like above, how come this wasn’t implemented 2 or 3 years ago?

  7. Short-turning buses are really an eyesore, especially when they don’t say it when I board them. Promise one thing and deliver another. That’s what short turning amounts to.

    And no, I am not having higher expectations than 9 or 10 years ago; in fact I might be having a lower expectation since it’s been so disappointing.

  8. You have to give the TTC some credit. The Ridership Growth Strategy, with decreased headways across the bus network and brought a cheaper Metropass, has dramatically increased ridership on the TTC resulting in a slight decrease in customer service as resources were stretched to deal with more people.

    TTC ridership is a record levels even after a recession and a decrease in employment. After a growth phase in any business comes a time for consolidation where gaps in customer service can be filled as the system catches up to the new load. Now is the time for consolidation, but we should recognize that TTC customer service is very much a victim of the TTC’s own huge success in getting people out of their cars and onto public transit.

  9. Chris wants to know why the TTC doesn’t occasionaly fire employees whose performance is inadequate. There’s really not that much the TTC can do – labour relations are governed by provincial law, and the TTC has to comply. If an employee does something really bad, like killing someone, it’s probably possible to fire them after a lengthy quasi-legal process. But sleeping on the job and being rude to customers aren’t enough to warrant dismissal or discipline. Short of getting the law changed at the provincial level, the only things the TTC can do to improve service are automate as much as possible and contract out jobs to the private sector for specific functions. The first option seems to be a non-starter for a system that appears to reject all technological or organizational change (look at the TTC’s response to automated payment systems). The second option is anathema to politicians on the left, who appear to be the only ones who actually care about transit in the first place.

  10. Why did they take down the Nextbus site which had all the streetcars in real-time?

    Oh, right, because it was embarassing. The problem is with their scheduling practices. It’s better to fix their schedules, as in, run streetcars on an average headway frequency, not impossible-to-meet schedules.

  11. People are ten times more likely to remember and report bad experiences than good ones. I’ve being riding the TTC for thirty something years, and can only remember one driver being rude to me. That’s one incident in about 20,000 trips. And I’ve often had drivers wait a few seconds to allow me to run and catch the streetcar. To the vast majority of polite drivers out there, thank you.

  12. Actually Nextbus had big problems because the original data feed they got was not based on GPS data. As I understand things, all that’s been fixed for the streetcar network, and only the usual management foot-dragging at the TTC is holding up a full rollout.

    How good the service will actually look when we see it is quite another matter.

  13. @pman Ontario labour law isn’t that strict. Love him or hate him, Mike Harris removed many of the onerous rules that prevented firing for cause. Sleeping on the job or ignoring me when I go to a booth would get most people rightly fired after more than a few violations at most companies (say a convenience store).

    The problem is the Union sticks up for these people.

  14. My suggestion: try a little reverse customer service and thank the operators when you’re leaving their vehicles. I figure that a little karma would probably help matters right about now.

  15. Mr. Giambrone, how could you allow your ticket booth officer to be so rude and disrespectful. This incident happened on the first day you increased the TTC fare. There was a long line up at the University Subway ticket booth at about 5 PM.
    The old lady in front of me gave the ticket officer some coins to buy a ticket. The officer got so mad because included in the fare that was given was 10 pennies. He berated the old lady and said that “we don’t accept pennies”. He did not want to accept the money but the lady said that that is her only money available. To add insult to injury, he returned the 10 pennies, 1 dime and 1 nickel and said that he will donate 25 cents so she could buy her ticket.

    He did not have to do that. The old lady has the exact money and why would he say that you don’t accept pennies. You know that you couldn’t have a $100 without a penny, etc. A penny is also money. I could understand if he would count 50 pennies at one time but it was just 10 pennies. I couldn’t help answer him back since when do you not accept pennies…maybe you should put a sign on your booth if that is the case. The more the officer got mad and berated me this time.

    This kind of people should not be tolerated. What a shame to have this kind of customer service. You keep on increasing your fares but you have to look first at the kind of customer service that you have been offering to your clients. This discourteous staff of yours should not be allowed to be dealing with customers at all. He is a treat to your company.

  16. Excellent points Marcus, I always enjoy reading your opinions

  17. Well, the “next train” arrival signs were installed under him, so I have to give him credit for that. And the automated stop announcements system is a vital part of customer service.

  18. Transity Cyclist – AG had nothing to do with stop announcements, that was David Lepofsky, private citizen.

    However (ezv), AG as a board chairman does not have operational responsibility for whether a booth person gives the right change. Those complaints are probably best addressed to Gary Webster, Chief General Manager.

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