A dysfunctional union and management dialogue has long plagued the Toronto Transit Commission, but as former mayoral candidate John Tory and the Let’s Talk initiative set up by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 recently revealed, communication is key for success.
On Sunday Tory mediated a panel discussion between TTC union chief Bob Kinnear, four TTC employees and a packed lecture hall at Downsview Secondary School.
The goal was to facilitate open discussion and feedback between TTC riders and operators. It gave riders the chance to ask questions, share their grievances and help rebuild the shattered relationship between Torontonians and their transit system.
Kinnear responded to many issues raised by the audience and encouraged honest commentary from the TTC panel. One operator admitted that “operators slack off a bit.”
What Kinnear hopes for in the future is an open-door policy between the front-line workers and the management team who make the decisions.
The issues brought to light were nothing new to the rank-and-file workers on the panel.
Complaints about waiting for buses, crowded streetcars with strollers, special accommodations for passengers with disabilities and drivers ignoring last-minute riders were few of many issues raised.
For nine-and-a-half year TTC employee Tracey Brown, the criticisms were nothing new. “Most of the things mentioned here today are things we talk about in the lunchroom,” she said.
Brown admitted she felt a personal connection with riders: “Those questions; they are our voices as well,” she said.
As the meeting progressed beyond the two hour mark one theme stayed in the spotlight, communication.
“The solution is to open the doors… (Operators) need that ability to talk with people who have the answers. That’s a huge part of the problem,” Brown said.
Because there is little communication between management and the operators, those front line employees absorb rider complaints but they cannot do anything about them.
“Try walking around with your hands behind your back, that’s what it feels like,” commented John Bethune, a subway operator.
Mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson was pleased to see members from TTC management attend the event.
She also felt some vindication for her transit platform, which calls for limited road tolls to raise money for subway expansion, after a majority of those at the forum voted anonymously, via electronic keypads, that they would be open to the measure.
“I was surprised, but it shows that (the people) want to do something,” she said. “Open communication is key, this works.”