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