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TTC explains how it intends to improve service

Facing a barrage of criticism from the media and the public, the Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission, Councillor Adam Giambrone, and the TTC’s Chief General Manager, Gary Webster, today hosted a media conference to announce that the TTC intends to start immediately “to renew its commitment to excellence in customer service”.

As we reported last week, during its recent meeting, the Commission approved forming an advisory panel to help it again become “the better way”.

But, according to Giambrone and Webster, the panel is only one of several ways that the TTC hopes to dramatically improve service to passengers. While some of these methods are already under way, other proposals to improve service are new to most members of the public. These proposals include:

Better ways to plan trips on-line

Next week, the TTC will unveil the first phase of its on-line trip planner. As it continues to develop the planner — including a mobile application — it will also seek feedback from passengers at each phase of the project. It also will make its data available to organizations, such as Google - at no charge - so they can develop applications that TTC riders can use.

Better ways to buy fares

This year, the TTC will install as many as 50 more pass-vending machines, letting passengers buy Metropasses more easily. It also continues to work with the province of Ontario on the Presto smart card and automatic fare payment system.

Better service to passengers during major delays and emergencies

The TTC intends to help passengers and employees better when major events delay subways, including issuing emergency transfers and operating bus shuttles. The advisory panel’s input will be important in making sure that the TTC delivers the right information, from the right people, at the right time and in the right way.

To help front-line employees and passengers alike during subway disruptions, the TTC will install video screens at station entrances or at collector booths with system status information. It will also implement direct communication with collectors and supervisors from transit control to make sure that TTC employees have the latest information to help them do their jobs effectively.

Better information at bus and streetcar stops

The TTC has more than 10,000 bus and streetcar stops. Each stop will soon carry a unique number and short message service (SMS) facilities. That means that passengers can send a text message to the TTC and immediately receive information about when the next bus or streetcar arrives at that particular stop.

All 800 streetcar stops will have this feature in place by the end of July. Bus stops will have the same capability in 2011 as the TTC upgrades the global positioning system (GPS) units aboard all buses in its fleet.

During the next 12 to 18 months, the TTC will also install equipment to display light-emitting diode (or “LED”) read-outs about 350 bus and streetcar shelters and most bus and streetcar stops at subway stations. The read-outs will indicate when the next vehicle is due to arrive at that stop.

Already under way

The TTC already has a number of programs under way — or in the planning stage — to improve how passengers experience the TTC. For example, when a delay on the subway occurs that is longer than 15 minutes during rush hours and longer than 30 minutes at all other times, the TTC updates its website, issues e-mails alerting passengers and platform video screens carry text advising passengers about any delay. It also notifies passengers about significant events that disrupt surface routes in the same way. It also uses social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook.

Other improvements

The TTC will review its uniforms and dress code for front-line workers.

It will also set up a hotline for passengers to receive TTC information or file a complaint 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Advisory panel

The TTC has heard a lot recently from its passengers about how it can improve. The advisory panel will greatly help the TTC to make sure it focuses on the most important aspects of customer service while it consults with riders and reviews processes and plans already in place.

The TTC will name the panelists next week, but they will include passengers, business operators, TTC employees and representatives of the public-transit industry. They will review how the TTC plans to improve passenger service, advise where it should look for expertise outside of its own organization, consult with the public and draft a customer charter or “bill of rights.” The advisory panel will publicly report its recommendations by June 30.

While technology is an important component of customer service and customer information, the TTC recognizes it can, and must, do better in its interactions with customers. The advisory panel will help the TTC with this process.

For example, it will help the TTC to thoroughly review its training for new employees and those current employees receiving recertification training. All training must focus on customer service.

It will advise the TTC on its plan to make sure that every new employee that it hires — and current employees who apply for new jobs within the organization — have “a measurable aptitude for customer service excellence”.

It will advise the TTC about its complaint process. It will suggest ways to make sure the TTC is more accountable and transparent to the public accountability and transparency and study how it can better resolve and report on complaints will be reviewed and routine public reporting of complaints.

“TTC Ambassadors” represent the transit agency during special events. The TTC will ask the panel about expanding this service into a full-time program so that passengers can get information or help from an ambassador at its busiest subway stations or during major disruptions.

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