Monday, February 08, 2010

Canada’s Largest City’s Public Ambassador – A Thug?

Bus drivers in Canada’s largest city are pissed off, and they aren’t going to take it anymore. Problem is, much of what upsets them is caused by their own immature unruly behavior.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) which operates 150 bus and streetcar routes, three subway lines and the above-the-ground Scarborough Light Rail Train (LRT) has faced some very public gaffes.

A couple of weeks ago, a person took video of a TTC subway collector clearly sleeping in his collection booth – when he should have been collecting fares from passengers. The video made international headlines, thanks to the ‘viral’ media of the web, when it was posted on YouTube, and not only was an embarrassment to the transit operator but also the city.

Transit employees are often the first point of contact visitors to a big urban jungle like Toronto encounter, and so they represent not just their employer, but in a sense, the entire city.

Though you wouldn’t want to meet some of our city’s bus driver’s in a dark alley. Last week, a bus driver got off the bus in the middle of his route to make an unscheduled stop at a local donut shop. He left the door open on his midnight-run route, leaving passengers unprotected from both the elements and the world. Passengers complained they were cold, though in the wee hours of the morning, they could have easily been mugged, robbed, or worse.

Upon returning to the bus, a passenger confronted the driver, asking him not to delay the already late bus any further. The driver just snarled back his employee and bus route numbers and said go ahead and file a complaint “my union will protect me.”

Are labor unions in the business of protecting thugs and low-lifes now too? This bus driver certainly displayed thug-like behavior, threatening the passenger with “his transit badge” as a force to be reckoned with.

Testing this force, the passenger snapped some photos of the driverless bus while the person who should have been behind the wheel doing his job wasn’t, and these photos also ended up on the Internet for the world to see.

Media attention quickly narrowed in on the TTC and the city, as the largest public transit operator in Canada – and one of the largest in the world – was quickly gaining a bad reputation on the international stage.

TTC management issued a letter to all their drivers, reminding them that they are front-line employees, and customer service is of the utmost importance. In his letter to his drivers, TTC General Manager Gary Webster says he knows the recent problems are from a minority, most provide excellent customer service. However, he – rightly – points out that all it takes is for the minority slackers to create real public relations and customer relations issues for everyone else – which is what happened.

Not a harsh letter by any means, it was balanced with praise as well as condemnation. It wasn’t threatening, nor was it an angry letter. It was what it should have been – a communication from management to praise employees for their hard work, while providing some feedback and a solution to the recent public gaffes. Webster indicates that they are looking into resolving these issues, and he does mention that those caught doing things they shouldn’t on the job will be held accountable.

However, “the union will protect me” mentality runs deep at the TTC. The letter was sent out on Saturday, and today there are rumors about TTC operators working-to-rule in protest. The TTC’s union is stepping away publicly from the work-to-rule job action some drivers are claiming to be engaged in. The union has not mandated any public protest, so it would be wrong to work-to-rule.

Though the real issue isn’t working-to-rule (a work slowdown by union members used as a negotiation tactic to get what they want) or the content of the letter for that matter. The real issue which Toronto residents should be concerned with is the thug-like behavior of their unionized transit operators.

Yes, every time the city’s transit system goes on strike, Canada’s largest city practically shuts down. For many the TTC is their lifeline to the world – without it, millions of people are unable to get to work to make money to pay for their food, clothing and shelter.

However, instead of taking their importance with a sense of pride, TTC workers use it as a tool to hold the city hostage whenever they don’t like something about their jobs. Be it salary, back-pay, benefits, or most recently -- getting caught misbehaving on the job -- unionized TTC employees use their union and their importance in keeping the city functioning to get what they want.

Wish I was able to do that – like most people, if I don’t like something about my job, my only choices are either to quit or just deal with it.

And we aren’t exactly talking about life or death needs either – sleeping on the job or grabbing a donut in the middle of work aren’t serious enough to warrant the driver’s thug-like behavior.

Nobody wants to be made a fool of, especially in this era of cell phones with cameras, and high traffic websites to upload those images too such as YouTube.
But because of cell phone cameras and globally popular websites like YouTube, anyone can be made to look good or bad, anywhere, anytime and viewed by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

And if the TTC’s bus, streetcar, subway and light rail operators continue to act like thugs, bullying their customers, then they will constantly be under the media microscope from around the globe.

And worse than just a bit of bad press, as the tension grows between the city’s thugs – I mean bus drivers – and their customers, their non-unionized bosses and the city, potential visitors to Canada may stay away, because our city’s most visible public face isn’t one you’d want to meet in a dark alley – or even in a donut shop.

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