Archives for posts with tag: TTC

Copenhagen metro: no driver, happy riders (Image: Pacsafe.com)

I used to travel a lot to Copenhagen. From the airport, you can take the metro to the city centre in about 15 minutes. The trains are fully automated; there are no drivers or similar staff. The trains run very well, and the system is efficient and safe. It’s called Automatic Train Control, and it helps to provide more frequent and reliable service in public transit systems in Barcelona, London, Paris, Washington, Hong Kong and Singapore – just to name a few.

So when I saw a newspaper story about how the TTC is moving toward this more automated approach, I thought it was an encouraging sign of progress. That was until I read a quote from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 leader Bob Kinnear (who represents TTC workers and in October was acclaimed to his fourth term). He said, “I have almost no concern that the TTC would to a fully automated system, cause I do not believe that the general public, never mind the pushback they’ll get from us, I do not believe that the public in Toronto would accept that.” The union will even oppose reducing the current two-man crews on each subway train.

Two bits of advice, Mr. Kinnear: First, don’t pretend you speak for transit riders. It’s quite clear by now that the average level of customer service provided by your members – mostly unfriendly, uncommunicative and generally resentful for having to deal with riders – is not acceptable to riders.  Second, if your union is so interested in being a credible and active advocate for transit in Toronto, then what kind of message does it send when your first response to a reasonable proposal is not to engage it, but to dismiss it?

Why does he make me think that he will fight against every suggestion that would make the TTC more efficient or more customer-friendly? Most certainly, he’s talking to his membership through the media – but that’s just union politics. He could have the union participate in public transit policy discussions, but maybe that’s too long-term for him. After all, he is an elected official accountable only to ATU members. I get the impression that the Kinnear is not too interested in improving transit or even transit policy. He’s only interested in his members’ jobs – right now.

That’s too bad, because the nature and number – and the future security – of those jobs is being shaped by debates about new transit technologies, new fare systems, new equipment, new approaches to transit and myriad other issues that will be with us much longer than this news cycle.

All this reminds me of last autumn’s Protecting What Matters campaign from ATU Local 113. Remember those transit ads profiling TTC maintenance workers? Or the slick video that played before movies? The campaign – which clearly wasn’t cheap – was meant to remind all of us about how ATU workers keep transit moving and convince City Hall and us that privatizing public transit is the wrong path.

The point, I admit, was lost on me. Ok, so your union members maintain buses, streetcars and subways? So what? I’m more interested in what the union thinks is the most sustainable approach to transit in Toronto.  If I were a union member, I would be asking what was that campaign meant to achieve? And was the goal achieved?

That money would have been better spent on promoting and sharing the voices and ideas of the people who know the TTC best – its employees – and being more actively involved in the bigger debates on public transit. That, to me, is a more practical and effective communications approach and a better way for the union to push for a future that will secure long-term jobs for its members.

I hope the members of the union think about how their president represents them in debates on transit. They should aim higher: to be seen as a modern, flexible and informed group of workers who care about public transit and where it’s going, if only because their jobs are on the line.

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Bathurst Station bakery, included in the recent sole-source contract (photo by Marium Matti, BlogTO)

When a political announcement arrives badly wounded, you have to wonder how it managed to get that far without being humanely put down. Here, I’m thinking about of the recent  announcement by TTC Chair Karen Stintz to go forward with a $50 million sole-source contract for the company that currently runs 65 newsstands in TTC stations.

How could the TTC Board have thought that it would be ok for a cash-strapped agency to give out a $50 million sole-source contract? For business reasons, maybe the contract is acceptable, or maybe not. These things can be complex and technical; who can easily understand the basics of the contract and assess whether it is a good and fair deal for the TTC and for Torontonians? On a first reading, it’s clear that there is something not quite right with the deal – but that’s not my point here. I’m suggesting that the contract should have been shot down from the start, but from a communications perspective, not a business perspective.

Why? Because:

  • The process to award the contract was not particularly transparent and lacking total credibility
  • Most people, on first reading, would think that the contract doesn’t pass the logic test (Huh? A $50 million contract, untendered? Doesn’t the TTC need money? Surely there is a rule that contracts that big have to be tendered?)
  • This is a clear “Gravy Train” issue for Rob and Doug Ford and allows them to play their favourite role of angry defender of taxpayers’ interests. Plus, they have a history of suggesting these types of deals are, ahem, kinda corrupt — all of which should have been easy to predict
  • The contract went against TTC staff advice – which naturally will be made public
  • It’s actually expected that the TTC would make a strange decision like this – it fits in with current public perceptions of the organization

How this issue traveled through the debate and announcement process is particularly relevant in the larger context of an ongoing and increasingly public debate over how to fund needed transit expansion in Toronto.

Any decent communications person would have flagged all of this while Stintz and TTC Board made their decision. Suggesting that it will be a very difficult deal to defend in the present context. In fact, this may have happened – but if so, the advice was ignored. Despite any possible merits of the contract, it is blindingly obvious that it would have the stuffing kicked out of it as soon as it was made public.

Sure enough, after it was announced, a competing newsstand company made an unconditional offer for the contract, worth an additional $4.5 million more than the sole-source contract – hardly a surprising development. Stintz continues to defend the decision, saying that critics, including Rob Ford, don’t understand the contract (I should add that being patronizing is also on the list of communications mistakes).

The way this issue was handled suggests that Karen Stintz is a poor decision-maker, has bad political radar and is maybe not the reliable and credible person we need right now as the city starts to have a big, badly-needed conversation about how we are going to pay for a decent public transit system.

It has since been announced that the deal its being “reviewed”. If it goes to an open tender, good; if it doesn’t, then Stintz and members of the TTC Board will have to spend more time and energy defending this decision when they could be making better use of their time and reputations to tackle the bigger issue of how to pay for the transit we need.

My advice? Involve communicators early in the process of debating and deciding on policy options and ensure those options are examined in the context of how they will be communicated. After all, you can’t sell what doesn’t work.

UPDATE, February 25: The review of the deal is out, and it recommends an RFP — which Stintz says she’ll support. So… that’s that.

It’s interesting that the announcement of the review’s findings and Stintz’s decision to accept it came on Sunday night. And not just any Sunday night, but Oscar night. I know most people don’t care about this, but putting out a press release/announcement at that time is sad an strange. Toronto reporters working Sunday night — particularly those who have no affection for the Oscars — likely saw this news as a ray of light on an otherwise dark night.