Toronto transit head in cleanup mode after latest public debacle

Matthew Coutts
National Affairs Reporter
Daily Brew
The city's 2012 draft budget calls for peak service reductions on some TTC bus and streetcar routes.

These are not the headlines Toronto’s transit system is looking for.

Alright, accusations that Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) enforcement officials falsely charged homeless people in order to avoid chasing actual trouble makers, wouldn’t do the embattled service any favours at the best of times.

But there was a sense that, now and finally, the TTC was eking out some measure of respect in the city.

As TTC CEO Andy Byford wrote in a message to employees on Wednesday (released by TTC spokesman Brad Ross), reputation is hard earned:

I am angry and frustrated in equal measure that this should have happened: angry at the way these people have totally let the company, their colleagues and the people of Toronto down, and frustrated because this comes at a time when, through all of our hard efforts, we are beginning to rebuild our reputation.

The TTC announced on Tuesday that eight transit enforcement officers have been fired, and five of them criminally charged, after a four-month internal investigation.

[ Related: Toronto transit officers charged with obstruction of justice ]

Those five charged officers, responsible for policing conduct on the massive transit line, allegedly avoided work by making up charges and falsifying tickets.

The TTC alleges the offices wrote false tickets accusing individuals of no fixed address (read: homeless folks) for panhandling, loitering and trespassing. The charges of obstructing justice and fabricating evidence come at an otherwise high time for the TTC.

Canadians outside Toronto may not be familiar with the city’s love/hate relationship with the transit provider, but it can perhaps be understood by extrapolating their own city’s relationship with public transit.

Debates rage on about the amount of money spent on the service, the quality and consistency of services provided. A public battle between workers and customers over customer service, highlighted by a viral photo of a ticket-taker sleeping on the job, has simmered since Byford took the helm.

Byford even helped avert a near-crisis earlier this year when two buses were pulled from their routes and sent to shuttle home a football team coached by Mayor Rob Ford.

[ Related: Mother says TTC bus driver was disrespectful ]

Byford managed to express his fury at the situation and publicly warned Ford not to call him on personal matters. He also released a letter to employees earlier this year warning that he would not protect those found lax in their duties.

Which leads us to a handful of employees who preferred to relax rather than do their jobs. It is all a matter of perception.

And a negative public perception is as tricky to lose as a solid reputation is to gain.