In the shoes of a TTC Driver

Are we really progressing? 

The vision of Toronto Transit Commission is to be a transit system that makes Toronto proud, but does it?

While the average of verbal or physical abuse against transit customers was  15 per cent lower this past September than it was for the same month last year, incidents of abuse against TTC employees are 70 per cent higher than for the same period in 2015.

The numbers shown in the November’s Chief Executive Officer’s Report represent the daily journey of a TTC driver.

“One time a high school boy pointed a gun at me. All his friends surrounded me. I was terrified,” said Tammy, a TTC driver who had a hard time to identify even this as her worst experience.

Like most TTC workers, Tammy requested anonymity.

A driver whom we will call Dennis has been working for the TTC for 13 years.

“I always tried to be friendly. If they (customers) are doing something wrong, I tell them in a kind manner so that they won’t feel threatened,” the driver says.

At that moment in the exchange, somebody gets on the bus and throws into the fare box a bunch of change, but in a quick look, Dennis counts only two dollars.

“The fare is $3.25, buddy” says Dennis, as the customer starts looking into his wallet and struggling to find the rest. With an open palm and some quarters on it, he explains that is all he has.

“That’s fine,” the driver says, nodding. –“You know for next time.”

The man smiles at him, thanks him and sits. The bus keeps moving. No one got mad. There were no fights.

“One time I asked a lady to show me her transfer, and she called me racist,” says Dennis, shrugging his shoulders. “Sometimes I just let things go. My job is to take them from one point to the other, but it is also to check they are giving the proper fare and that is what they don’t understand, sometimes.”

According to the November report, because the TTC has seen an increase in numbers of assaults to 120 per cent higher than last year, “lost-time injury rate” is 74 per cent up as well.

September 2016 had an average rate of 4.77 injuries per every 100 employees, while 2015 registered only 2.74 in the same period.

Stuart Green, TTC Senior Communications Specialist, explains they encourage their drivers to not get involve into fare disputes.

“Drivers are trained to know how to respond. They are not trained to do fare enforcement. For that, we have a Fare Enforcement Unit and fare inspectors,” Green said.

The average of incidents reported is two to three offenses daily that can go from verbal abuse to punches on the face or coffee tossed – like one that happened in July this year.

As high as the numbers are, Green says a number of incidents probably don’t get reported.

“For example, if somebody walks by the driver and swears at them, (they may not report it) but it is important to us to know all those incidents,” Green explains.

Between 2003 and 2007, the TTC documented 1,886 assaults against their staff with more being under-reported.

In an official statement from Andy Byford, CEO at the TTC, he expresses his concern about these “unacceptable” incidents.

“Offenses against staff spiked and continued a worrying trend for 2016,” Byford wrote. “The number and nature of assaults are completely unacceptable, and this is a high priority for executive action, along with taking further action to highlight and tackle incidents of sexual assault and harassment of customers.”

To prevent more incidents, the TTC installed video cameras, an emergency alarm system, plastic shields around the driver’s seat, and also implemented the Transit Enforcement Unit which now counts 40 officers patrolling the system and protecting not only operators but riders when needed.

“We were able to more successfully apprehend whoever is misbehaving,” said Green. “They (offenders) know they are on camera, so they are less likely to commit an assault because there are more chances to get caught.”

With a budget of $5.2 million, plastic shields give drivers the ability to see what is coming and prevent any offense coming from behind.

“At first the shield bothered me because it reflects the lights, especially at night. It is hard to see, but you get used to it,” said Dennis. “Now it bothers me when I don’t have it.”

Richard has more than 16 years as a driver with the TTC and feels the organization increasingly recognizes the tension between passengers and drivers.

“It is human nature to see and criticize all bad things, but when something good happens or when they have a nice driver they don’t talk about it. It almost feels that they hate us because we make good money…”

Green highlights the responsibility drivers carry on their shoulders on a daily basis.

“Drivers have a difficult job to do. They are responsible for a vehicle full of people. They are responsible for the safety of people on the road. It is a very important task and very serious one. It is a fair salary,” said Green.

“Most people understand that is a tough job. If somebody doesn’t, then, it is really unfortunate,” he continued.

Despite bad experiences, Tammy enjoys being out there while driving. She doesn’t like the idea of working in an office.

Dennis’ secret is to greet everybody and ask how the day is going.

“You know… I want to go back to my family every night after work. I like my job. There are good and bad drivers just like good and bad customers,” Richard says, smiling while he is getting ready to start a new trip right after he finishes the last one.

 

Picture provided by TTC. 

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