TTC’s priorities for the year ahead

CEO Andy Byford delivered the following speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade on Jan. 9, 2014 at 12:30 p.m..

CEO Andy Byford delivered the following speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade on Jan. 9, 2014 at 12:30 p.m.:

Madam President (Carol Wilding), Chair Stintz, ladies and gentlemen,

When I last spoke at the Board of Trade my theme was, Renewing people’s faith in the TTC. In that speech, back in March of 2012, I described what I saw as my immediate priorities on assuming the role of CEO of North America’s third largest transit network. I described the impressive organization that I had inherited, talked about a number of Quick Wins to show customers I was serious about improvement and described the need for a top-to-bottom modernization of the TTC to show that I was serious about change.

In particular, I described 10 steps that we would take to transform our company and the service we deliver to our customers. We weren’t talking about a few tweaks here and there. We needed fundamental, sustained change. What was required was a comprehensive Corporate Plan: better management; customer-led processes; and an acceptance at all levels of the company that things had to change.

But if I thought I had a big challenge then, 22 months’ experience has revealed the sheer size of the job. While we have made progress on many fronts, a huge amount remains to be done. We have enjoyed some successes and we have suffered some setbacks. We have coped with floods, ice and controversy. We launched a Customer Charter; we reorganized; brought people in; let people go; celebrated success; and, on occasions, said sorry. There has even been the odd political distraction along the way.

So where are we now, one year on?

For starters, we now have a Five-Year Corporate Plan to drive our renaissance. Based around seven strategic objectives, our plan describes how we will modernize the TTC from top to bottom: its equipment, its processes and its culture.

Our plan is anchored around a new organizational model – one that puts the customer at the centre of everything we do. Five new business groups have been set up, each headed by a Chief Officer, accountable to me for their elements of our plan. A new role of Chief of Staff has been introduced to help me professionalize our relations with government, but also to co-ordinate activity between those five groups, finally tackling the silo mentalities that have dogged the TTC for years. A program management office has been established under that same Chief of Staff to drive and monitor delivery of our game-changing mega projects, each of which I will touch on shortly. And we have begun down the long road of staff engagement, initially through a series of employee town halls to brief all 13,000 staff on our plan, why it matters and what we need from them.

This type of change does not happen overnight. It isn’t easy and it does not deliver immediate results. But we are laying the foundations for the new TTC, one that has a renewed self-confidence and pride, and one that can, once again be, the jewel in the crown of North American transit. Staff buy-in is essential and for that reason I have personally led over 50 of the aforementioned employee town halls with a similar number left to do. They can be robust, they are held all over the property and at all times of the day, and yes, night. But I am convinced that if we are to embed true change, then staff at all levels need to hear about that change from their CEO. They need to have the opportunity to challenge me. And I get to challenge them because everyone at the TTC needs to up their game.

I believe we are starting to turn the corner. Under Chair Karen Stintz’s leadership, customers report that the subway is cleaner, that information is getting better and that staff seem more engaged. Our customer satisfaction scores are edging upwards, as are indices for punctuality for the majority of our modes. We are better organized with the establishment of our program office, with the introduction of challenge meetings to hold managers to account and with closer, more integrated inter-working with colleagues at the City.

On the subway, our stations are now overseen by six, high-quality Group Station Managers, professionals chosen to excel at people management and to spread a passion for customer service. Our 2013 Customer Charter delivered on all but one target in its inaugural year, representing time-bound promises kept that improved the service that we offer. We have begun, and sustained, an all-out focus on what I call the basics, mundane activities that must be got right if service is to improve. This ranges from comprehensive event planning and better management of disruption through to an obsession about the minutiae of running the service where every second counts and where root causes of delay are relentlessly eliminated.

This is all good stuff, but I am under no illusions whatsoever that we are still no-where near good enough. Consistency of our service is still patchy; delays are far too frequent; and our capability, both in terms of equipment and people performance, has a long way to go.

The last few days have starkly demonstrated the fragility of our existing network as we have struggled to keep 30-year-old streetcars going in arctic temperatures. Furthermore, our signaling, stretches of track, communications equipment and the SRT are, quite simply, worn out.

So, for a number of reasons, 2014 is a very big year for the TTC. We are faced with three defining moments that will determine our future. Will we continue to progress or will our renaissance stall before it has really begun?

The first of these moments is happening right now. The TTC is in the final stages of successfully securing an increase in its budgets, funding that is critical to delivery of our Corporate Plan. For two years, we have accepted and lived with a freeze in our operating subsidy. With ever-rising customer numbers, this isn’t a freeze, it’s a cut in subsidy in real terms. We have done our bit, we have tightened our belt and we have driven down costs in our organization to reflect these tough times.

But, with customer numbers forecast to rise another 2.3 per cent this year, up to a record 540 million rides, we simply must add service and that means more cost and more subsidy. Every additional ride we carry costs the TTC a dollar – the difference between the cost of a ride and the average fare that it generates. While we have managed to live within our subsidy for the past two years, the cost of additional Operators, vehicle maintenance and fuel simply cannot be absorbed by an organization that is already remarkably efficient by international standards.

Don’t take my word for that. According to Imperial College London, because the TTC is one of only two subways outside of Asia and South America that covers its own operating costs, and due to its exceptionally high labour productivity and high level of service capacity and frequency throughout the day, “when compared with other metros in the world, Toronto’s subway offers excellent value for money”. That’s an actual quote.

The TTC has the lowest operating subsidy of any major transit system in North America and, for that matter, any I can think of in Western Europe. At a mere 79 cents per rider, the TTC runs service 24 hours a day. Contrast that with Montreal ($1.16/rider), Chicago ($1.68/rider), Boston ($1.93/rider) and Los Angeles ($2.53/rider). Even the massive New York City transit needs $1.03/rider. If you need further convincing of the TTC’s efforts to be frugal, consider that in 2010, the TTC carried around 462 million rides for an operating subsidy of $430 million. Four years later, we will carry 80 million more rides for a subsidy lower than that awarded in 2010. From a longer-term perspective, over the past two decades, the TTC has seen a substantial improvement in labour productivity as evidenced by the fact that workforce has only increased by 18 per cent, while service levels have increased about 27 per cent in order to carry an additional 32 per cent in riders.

We are not out of the woods, though. Even with a modest increase in subsidy, we have had no choice but to ask hard-pressed, loyal TTC riders for an inflationary fare increase, something that is hard to justify when service is more crowded than ever and a policy that strikes me as counter-intuitive when we are trying to win back our reputation. The harsh reality is that I have pushed the City as far as I can, and the remaining gap in our budget to provide additional service has to be closed.

On the capital side, the picture is somewhat bleak. The TTC needs $9 billion over the next 10 years to fund its state-of-good-repair and to meet a provincial legislative requirement to make the TTC network fully accessible by 2025. We are currently short on that figure by $2.3 billion, none of which is for nice-to-have-projects. All relate to the TTC’s state-of-good-repair backlog – which must be addressed – and critical expansion projects.

So we are forming a task force to go to Ottawa and Queen’s Park to make the case for the TTC and for Toronto. A task force made up of the City, the TTC and, I propose, actual TTC customers. In an election year, both municipally and provincially, the time is right for us to make our case.

We are, of course grateful for the contributions that the province and Ottawa already make with some capital projects and gas tax. But a successful Toronto, enabled by a modernized TTC, is good for Ontario and, ultimately, Canada. The city cannot continue to bear the burden of operating the TTC alone, and we cannot keep asking our customers to pay more and more. Something has to give.

The second defining moment for the TTC comes in the spring when we meet with our unions to agree to new contracts to take us through the next few years. It would be wrong of me to comment on this, as discussion should only happen around the negotiating table. But I see this contract as a watershed for the TTC and its staff. Do we grasp the nettle of new technology? Do we embrace new customer-led processes, roles and mindsets? Or do we continue to do things the way we’ve always done them?

To me, maintaining the status quo is not an option.

A lot of this change involves the mega projects to which I referred earlier. It is these programs that will truly see the TTC transformed, and this is the year that change will begin to become apparent. We have already begun the painstaking task of upgrading our 60-year-old signaling system, an upgrade that will see the introduction of automatic train control throughout the extended Yonge-University-Spadina line by 2018, with the Bloor-Danforth line to follow. The roll-out of our smartcard system, Presto, gets underway in earnest this year, and is itself coupled to more tangible evidence of modernization as it coincides with delivery of our new streetcar fleet, the first vehicle of which will appear on the 510 Spadina route at the end of August.

High-capacity, articulated buses are now being deployed on our busiest routes, while the Y-U-S line will become fully operated by Rocket trains. Meanwhile, we have completed tunneling on the Spadina line extension to Vaughan, and remain on target for opening in late 2016. Sooner than that – later this year in fact – we will unveil a second platform at Union, part of the transformation of our major transit hub and one that will showcase Toronto.

Introduction of new streetcars and articulated buses will prompt more change. For decades, TTC customers have rightly complained about vehicle bunching and short-turning, two operational problems that must be cracked. Our budget submission contains provision to bring back roadside Supervisors to actively manage routes prone to bunching.

As new streetcars arrive, the routes to which they are deployed will convert to proof-of-payment, all-door boarding. This is good news for customers with faster boarding and alighting, but the risk of fare evasion becomes a greater risk. So we will also recruit revenue teams to board vehicles at random, part of a big push to stem the loss of revenue caused by those who cheat the system at the expense of their fellow riders and taxpayers.

And we will launch a new Customer Charter later this month, with another 30 or so time-bound customer service improvements, payback in part for the extra fares we are asking customers to pay.

In addition to all these game-changers comes something more intangible, but arguably the most important project of all: we are committed to changing the underlying culture of the TTC. For too long, staff have complained of being treated like a number by their managers, of being considered guilty unless proven innocent. Discipline – even the word sounds antiquated – has been liberally, yet ineffectively applied. Worst of all, the efforts of the overwhelming good have often gone unacknowledged, while the errant few have remained unchallenged.

In tackling management culture first, we are looking to transform morale and, ultimately, people performance at the TTC so that this becomes the place everyone aspires to work and where customers feel universally valued. I am asking everyone at the TTC to up their game and such change has to be personified at the top, hence my personal attendance at a grueling, but rewarding series of town halls.

There is a massive prize at stake here. The result will be a rejuvenated TTC that delivers our vision and that actively cherishes, develops and supports excellent staff.

The risk is that there is so much to do and so many critical dependencies, that it is a real challenge to pull it all together. We have also raised stakeholder and customer expectations and I worry that people don’t understand that our transformation will take time.

The third and final defining moment also falls this year. And unlike the other two, it is the one that is completely outside our control. The municipal – and potentially provincial – elections will have a major impact on our future direction, depending on candidate and party views on the importance of adequate funding for transit.

Will the new Mayor and City Council and potentially, provincial government, be pro-transit and support us in delivery of our plan? Or will a view prevail that we’re getting by today so why can’t we continue like this for a few more years?

I don’t have a vote, but I know where I stand. We need visionaries in key office that recognize the need for long-term, sustained, predictable funding so that transit can be improved and modernized so that we may expand our network to meet current and future needs. We need our political leaders to understand the value of transit as well as its cost, and to recognize that for Toronto to be truly world-class, we need to have an infrastructure to match.

The Toronto Regional Board of Trade understands this and its election campaign reinforces that point.

I know that these are tough times, but what could be more important than tackling congestion, thereby maintaining our competitive edge, our quality of life and the economic resurgence of our city in recent years?

Adding service to crowded routes is crucial to ensuring that the TTC meets its goals of providing attractive and reliable service. Adding more trains, streetcars and buses to routes reduces the time scheduled between vehicles, thus shortening waiting times for customers, and speeding up their trip. Crowding levels on board the vehicles are reduced, and this provides a more comfortable and attractive environment for customers. The reliability of the service is improved, as the higher capacity allows the route to operate more robustly, limiting the need for those dreaded short turns! Yes, this costs money, but isn’t it a good thing to get people onto transit and to free up space for those that want or need to use their cars?

Longer term, we need to continue to fund the TTC and its transit partners to expand our network to meet demand. It’s great that the TYSSE is being built and that further expansion is underway with my friend Bruce McCuaig and our colleagues at Metrolinx. Regardless of the revenue tools – and I am largely agnostic about these – we must keep investing to maintain and grow the TTC, and to better integrate GTHA systems.

This, then, will indeed be a big year for the TTC. The budget settlement, our contract negotiations and the future political environment will define our future.

I’m clear on what I need to do. My role is to advocate for my customers. So, yes, I’m calling for sustainable funding and a fair deal for riders. Yes, I’m looking to add service. And, yes, I maintain that we urgently need to settle on – and build – critical projects like a relief line and other higher-order transit on the East Bayfront. As such, I make no apology for being a squeaky wheel until transit riders get a fairer deal.

My role is to also stick up for the TTC and its staff, the vast majority of whom do a fantastic job, day in, day out.

Give us the political and financial support, and we will deliver a five-year plan that will transform the transit experience in this city.

In this big year for the TTC, we will continue to improve customer service. We will continue to respect taxpayers’ dollars. And we will strive ever harder to deliver a transit system that makes Toronto proud. You can hold me fully accountable for that.

Thank you.

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