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TTC brass to operators: “Drive safe but be on schedule!”

Friday, Jan 30

So far as we can tell, Andy Byford never drove a bus. Almost all of his transit experience has been in rail, not in city street surface operations. This has become painfully obvious with his latest attempt to paint himself as a public hero by declaring that “Safety comes first” while reserving the power to discipline and harass operators who do not meet “on-time performance.” And we all know how important it is to Mr. Customer Service that you are “on-time.”

Who or what gave Mr. Byford the idea that any operator deliberately goes slower because he or she just loves being out on the street for a few extra minutes? Only someone who has never driven a mass transit bus would think that.

“Mr. Byford, we really prefer to be on time, so that we can have a bit of a mental health break from the hazard-filled streets, blizzards and rainstorms, clueless pedestrians who dart into traffic, angry motorists who hate streetcars and who just may be a little intoxicated or high (a certain former mayor comes to mind), AND the occasional passenger who thinks you should be their personal chauffeur or counsellor, or sounding board, or whatever.

“We'd like a reasonable washroom break, maybe have a little snack with our coffee, a call home to check on the kids, you know, normal human stuff.

"So where do you get this idea that we have to be “trained” to meet a schedule, be spy-cammed every second we are in that seat and be exposed to all these “motivational” posters for on-time performance? And why do you take every opportunity to publicly say you are going to whip the TTC workers into shape? You know, those workers who have one of the very best safety records in North America, according to your own figures?

Byford won't commit to “No discipline if delayed” policy

Last Wednesday, at the TTC Commission meeting, I publicly challenged Mr. Byford to commit to not disciplining operators who cannot meet schedule for reasons beyond their control. He ignored my challenge while insisting that he has done his job because he has personally told operators that safe driving is more important than meeting schedules. So why won’t he back up those “I’m Mr. Safety” boasts with a guarantee of no discipline for not meeting schedule? Is it just hypocrisy? Or does he fear getting blowback from front-line supervisors who love to bully operators?

I have heard from many members that they have been harassed by supervisors for arriving at their route’s end point a few minutes late, even though it was due (as it almost always is) to road conditions. There are even reports of hostility and disciplinary threats from supervisors if a late arrival results in a late departure for the next vehicle because the operator has to use the washroom to answer nature’s call.

I’ll bet if the TTC could afford it, they’d convert the driver’s seat into a port-a-potty so you’d never have to leave your vehicle. They’ll somehow find the money, however, for thousands of dash-cams and radar checks to keep us under tight surveillance and continue to blame us for every transit problem. WE, the people who maintain and operate the continent’s most economically efficient transit system, are the problem. We must be watched and monitored very closely. So says Mr. Byford, the rail guy.

The real problem still being ignored

We all know the real problem about meeting schedules. Most schedules are out of date by 20 years. Since 1995, Toronto’s population has grown by about 20 per cent (we’re now at 2.8 million people) and the number of cars in the city has jumped to 1.1 million, up by well over 200,000. These facts alone are the reason it is literally impossible for us to meet schedules and drive strictly according to the Highway Traffic Act. On top of that, the great growth in the whole GTA population means even more cars on Toronto’s roads from the 905 suburbs, especially during rush hours. We’re expected to handle all that, according to TTC management. While they push pencils and pass their days writing still more “Customer Service Accountability” reports.

Wait! I’m not done. You know the following from daily personal experience: The government’s underfunding of the TTC and the huge rise in ridership have resulted in intolerably crowded vehicles that take longer to load and unload. This adds a lot to the scheduling problem. Moreover, the roads did not get any wider and Toronto’s long construction boom has added to the congestion on several major routes.

With all the educated white collars at Davisville, you’d think they might have noticed these realities. But it’s only now, after we have been making so much noise about it, that management is doing a pilot project to study the schedule on one route. Excuse me for a moment while I celebrate this big breakthrough in TTC management consciousness.

Distract attention away from fare increase

Do you think it’s a coincidence that the announcement of the big safety program almost immediately follows Mayor Tory’s fare increase? I don’t think so. I think all the talk about safety was intended to take media attention away from the fare increase (which is needed to pay for more supervisors and more surveillance of us).

As usual, we will get the blame for the fare increase. The increase (3.7% for tokens and 6% for a Metropass) was not only higher than the 2014 increase in the cost of living (1.95%) but also much higher than Mr. Tory’s proposed property tax increase (2.25%). The fare is not fair.

The media seems to have been sucked in by this old political trick. The fare increase is no longer news. The media are also helping Tory and Byford by shamelessly exploiting the tragic accident of young Amaria Diljohn to paint the image of TTC drivers as speed demons who don’t care about public safety. How many times have you seen that beautiful child’s picture attached to news about Byford’s plan to get those uncaring drivers under control? The same drivers who, by the TTC’s own figures, have a better safety record than practically all comparable transit systems in North America. (I know I said this earlier, but it bears repeating.)

We will continue to challenge Mr. Byford to make good on his “Safety trumps schedule” declaration. We are tired of the double talk and the smears on our dedication to public service. If we have to, we will take whatever action we must to publicly expose TTC management’s hypocrisy on the scheduling issue and compel Mr. Byford to explain why operators who are delayed on the streets through no fault of their own continue to be subject to discipline and black marks on their record, at a supervisor’s whim.

Here's the solution

It’s very simple, Mr. Byford. Just publicly declare: “Vehicle operators who are off schedule for reasons not under their control will not be disciplined or harassed in any way and they will be given a reasonable “human needs” break before going out again.” Problem solved. Just do it.

The union has always urged its members to obey all traffic laws and make public and worker safety the first priority in any operational decision. We continue to do so. Please consult your Board representative if you are ever penalized, or threatened with discipline, or harassed in any way, because you are delayed for safety reasons or because you had to take care of bodily needs. We will defend you, not just because you are a union member but also because we care a lot more about public safety than some would have the public believe.