Tuesday, 7 December 2010

An open letter to the Toronto Transit Commission

Dear TTC,

After years of defending you to to my friends and family, I think I've finally reached my limit. I don't normally use this blog to promote rants and thoughts that I know will lead no where. But I really need to get these feelings off my chest.

For the longest time I figured it was pointless for me to vent and complain about you because a.) There isn't an alternative form of public transportation in Toronto (and I depend on you far too much to go cold turkey), and b.) I thought it was wrong to let my feelings toward the misgivings of a few employees dominate the entire system.

But here I am... annoyed as hell. In the past two weeks I've experienced two incidents that I could have easily done without. Two bad experiences with the TTC in two weeks is two too much!

Let me enlighten you.

Every morning I catch the same bus to work. And for the most part, it has the same driver every time. Instead of walking to the subway station, I wait at the bus shelter by my house -- this is the first stop once the bus leaves the station. Last week, while caught in a downpour, I ran to the bus shelter and waited for my ride. I saw the bus coming down the street and walked out into the rain, only to have the bus drive past me, and stop beyond the intersection. I ran up to the bus and knocked on the door, which the driver opened -- much to his annoyance.

"When the weather gets like this, you cannot be in the bus shelter," he said, with an annoyed look. "You should walk to the station and wait there."

Really? I didn't see a sign up that said I needed to do that. And besides, another bus that went down a different route stopped at that same stop and picked up four people who were waiting with me. I conveyed this information to the driver, who just glared at me and repeated himself, warning me that if he saw me do this the next time, he wouldn't stop.

Wow. I didn't think they were allowed to make up their own rules. If he had simply let me in with a nod, I would have been fine. If he had let me in and apologized for overshooting the stop, I would have been better than fine. But he didn't do either of those things. Instead, he made it seem like it was somehow my fault. What? Waiting at a designated bus stop in the pouring rain became a crime while I was out of the country for the past year? News to me.

I was steaming from this incident, but I let it pass, chalking it up to a possible bad day for the driver. We all have those from time to time, and I figured he'd be nicer the next time I saw him.

Today I had the misfortune of having the same bus driver again. This time I wasn't the victim of his verbal aggression, but rather, a friendly older lady. The incident took place about 20 minutes into the bus ride. He pulled up to one of the bus stops and let a young man on. In fact, it might have been one of those 'rolling stops' where the bus is still moving while people get on and off.

The young man asked the bus driver to wait for a few seconds, because an elderly lady (with a cane) was scrambling to get to the front of the bus. (Keep in mind, this was during the first snowfall in December).

Once she boarded the bus, she casually joked with the driver and said, "Oh, you almost got away from me." It was cute, and I could tell she was trying to make light of the whole situation. His response to her was rude and absolutely uncalled for, and it's one of the reasons I'm writing this blog post tonight.

The driver turned to the lady who was trying to take out her bus fare and curtly said, "Pay your fare and take a seat." That's it. He could see her struggling to find her money (or tickets), and continued being mean to her. It seemed as if those few seconds he had to wait for her were so inconveniencing, he couldn't hold back his wrath.

The lady reacted kindly and said, "If you don't mind, I'm rather unsteady right now, please give me a few seconds..." Again, his reaction? "I said take a seat!"

The lady eventually paid her fare and wobbled over to one of the poles and stood for her journey -- which, as it turned out, was two stops down the road, so she didn't want to sit.

I wish I was the kind of person who could have gone up to that driver and given him a piece of my mind. I wish I had the nerve and courage to tell him what I really thought of him. Instead, all I did was sit there and fume over everything that had led up to these feelings. And I cursed him out in my mind.

When I came back to Toronto in September, I had to adjust to paying three dollars to simply enter TTC property. In Seoul, three dollars would get me from point A to point B and back. Actually, less than three dollars.

I understand that while I was away, the TTC decided they needed to revamp their whole attitude towards their riders, and began this campaign to focus on 'customer service'. Really? If this is what you call customer service, then I can't help but laugh in your face.

Again, there's this huge part of me that's screaming -- I shouldn't judge the entire Commission based on the actions of a few disgruntled employees. But really, when I see this same disgruntled employee day after day, driving the same route day after day, meeting the same patrons day after day, treating the same riders like scum... day after day, I can't help but feel that same spite towards the entire organization.

I don't think saying 'get your act together' will solve anything. All I know is this -- when Torontonians say they hate the TTC, there's a reason for it. Fares keep increasing, while employees sit with their unionized jobs, treating riders with such disdain and spite. And for what? Because we get upset when you treat us like we're not worthy of a hello (in return) or a legitimate pick up from a designated bus stop?

Perhaps if you start following your own rules, then your riders will follow suit. Perhaps if you stop threatening to go on strike and taking the city hostage every time you don't get your own way, then your riders will respect you and your work more. We know we can't live without you, and you know we can't live without you. The only difference is, you make sure to remind us of this every time you want something done your way (the better way?!).

That's all I have to say on that. For now.


P.s. To further justify my irritation, I just moved back to Toronto from Seoul, Korea. With all the problems they're having on that peninsula, they sure have one thing right -- their transportation.

-You can take a train from Seoul to Busan (respectively, from the north of SK to the south) in under four hours.
-With the Korean won and Canadian dollar almost at par, it still only costs approximately 90 cents to get on a train or a bus.
-You can get wi-fi AND use your cell phone while riding the subway (which, mind you, is much further underground than in Toronto).
-Seoul has nine (NINE) subway lines. And they're building more, as I write this.

So... perhaps increasing fares and not having anything valid to show for it is a good enough reason for people to be steaming mad at you.

Image courtesy of Google Images


  1. Well, said! My wife uses the TTC to get from Scarborough to Kipling every day for work and at LEAST twice a week, she's stuck in a train for 20 - 40 minutes due to some sort of "breakdown" What are we paying for?

    Last night, during rush hour, she and many others waited 20 minutes for a bus that is supposed to be running much more often. The result was a bus packed to the doors with passengers.

    The TTC has slid way downhill in terms of service of any kind.

  2. What's more amazing than assholeishness (Seoul's bus drivers are a fantastic mix of polite men who bow and assholes themselves) is how often the TTC breaks down. If you follow @ttcupdates you'll be amazed at how many breakdowns there are on the TTC, compared with the Seoul subway.

    In two years I haven't seen a single delay of more than a minute or two on one of the fourteen subway lines in the Seoul area. The TTC subway has to be replaced by shuttle buses more days than not, it seems. It's mind-boggling.

  3. Hi Jim,
    I agree. It's beyond frustrating. And it took me leaving the city to actually grasp just how bad our transit system actually is. It makes no sense, and somehow when we get upset, it's our own fault?

    And the worst part in all this is that feeling of helplessness -- we depend on it (and it's definitely NOT 'The Better Way').

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