By Tess Kalinowski
These are tough times for the Toronto Transit Commission and its CEO, Andy Byford. The service simply has not kept pace with the growth in ridership, leaving many of the 540 million people expected to use the TTC this year fuming at their bus, streetcar and subway stops. But as Star transportation reporter Tess Kalinowski writes in her new ebook, Can This Man Save the TTC? Andy Byford’s Mission Impossible, the CEO is his own, and the system’s, worst critic. And he’s hell-bent on getting the trains to run on time again.
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Can This Man Save the TTC? Andy Byford's Mission Impossible
Two years from the day he was officially named CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission, Andy Byford admits it has been an “abysmal” week. “It’s like a blow to the heart that two days in a row we’ve screwed up our customers,” laments the British-born transit chief from his office above the Davisville subway station.
Byford has spent his brief tenure promising TTC riders and workers that if they just stick with him, he will deliver a transit renaissance within the next five years. But on March 12, signal problems between Bloor and Eglinton snarled the evening rush. And today, his anniversary, a frozen switch near Davisville is causing more than the usual delays on the Yonge subway. The platforms are backed up 12 deep with riders waiting to board at the notorious Bloor-Yonge bottleneck. To make matters worse, transit control takes a southbound train out of service, disgorging about 1,300 customers at Summerhill into the bitter cold.
If that’s not bad enough, no one has been able to immediately tell Byford why the train was taken out of service at Summerhill. Later it turns out that the crew was concerned a trainstop arm wasn’t working. It’s a vital piece of fail-safe equipment that kicks in if an operator blows past a red light in the tunnel.
Days later, Byford admits it was the right decision. But for a manager whose mantra is accountability, being unaware of just how badly that morning’s service was running, even for a short time, is simply untenable.
Riders don’t care how many customer service charters the TTC publishes. It means nothing if they’re late for work, he says in obvious frustration. And there’s the rub for Byford, viewed by many as the city’s best hope for transforming the cash-starved, over-subscribed TTC into a 21st-century operation that, as the system’s motto goes, “makes Toronto proud.”
Byford, who rose through the ranks of the London Underground before spending nearly three years as COO of the giant RailCorp system in Sydney, Australia, has lived up to many of his promises at the TTC. The washrooms, trains and stations are cleaner. The collector booths, once a mishmash of hand scrawled post-its, are now decked in official TTC signage. There are six group station managers overseeing staff and customers at every subway stop. Even the old red TTC uniforms are getting an update, right down to the janitors who will be wearing new cargo pants and polo shirts this spring.
There are new trains, a new computerized signal system for the Yonge-University Spadina line, new streetcars and electronic fare cards in the works, and in 2016, plans to open six new subway stops northwest into York Region. The new five-year corporate plan also promises: fewer staff members running trains and more face-to-face with customers; reduced fare cheating; standardized and more TTC signage, with information screens in every station; expanded Wi-Fi and cell service on subway platforms; more reliable service; cleaner stations; new service disruption teams to help riders when there’s a prolonged service failure; and new community-engagement strategies.