Thursday, August 11, 2011

TTC gatekeepers

Tonight I left the office at 5:36. My building connects with the Queen subway and I keep tokens on me so I figured I'd use the subway to hustle and catch the 5:53 LSE since walking to Union takes me 15 minutes (I walk slow as I suffer from chronic heel pain) and I wanted to catch the train with minutes to spare so I could cop a seat.

5:38: Myself and another gent drop our tokens into the TTC gatekeeper's box.

What's a TTC gatekeeper, you ask? These are the guys (primarily) who sit in their ergonomic chairs (God forbid they stand like the men and women working 8-hour shifts at the grocery store and do their job) and make sure you put your fare in the box, provided they're paying attention. Sometimes they're busy chatting up a co-worker, or working a crossword puzzle, or sleeping ...

Usually, you'll see them reclined back, sometimes with a foot up on the gate or on the fare box. It is so blatantly rude - disrespectful - that it makes my blood boil. They say nothing, just stare at the box, or the wall, or the floor. No smile. No hello. They remind me of trolls minus the short stature and scaly skin.

You know ... these people:

Photo credit: Valentine Makhouleen

Back when I was in high school, there was a TTC fare collector (I'll use the correct term because this guy truly enjoyed his job and did it with grace and style) who worked the Jane subway in the morning (I grew up in Toronto's Bloor West Village). He said good morning, complimented people on their hair, colour of clothing, thanked people for riding the rocket, politely answered questions, smiled, tried to remember names, etc.

At Christmas, people would bring him baked goods, mickeys, mugs ... I knew when his birthday was and one year my bus buddies and I serenaded him Happy Birthday.

His name was Ron. This man truly loved his job. When I told him during my last year of high school that I wasn't going to my prom because no one asked - I went to an all girls high school, getting a date was a tad difficult - he said his son would go with me. I scoffed and went to school and gave it no further thought. The following morning, he had his son, Jason, come to the station to introduce me to him. He was one year younger than me, shy, but cute as a button.

We didn't go to my prom (which I really didn't want to go to even with a date). We went to see a movie (Encino Man) instead.

I went away to school in the Fall and it became impossible for Jason and I to stay in touch. Deep down, I knew I wasn't really his type, but he was still sweet all the same.

I don't know where Ron is today but I suspect he's long retired and living out in the country somewhere.

Anyhoo, back to tonight's troll. At the very precise second my token clinked and touched metal with the bottom of the fare box, a message was blasted across the PA system that southbound train service was stopped due to a malfunctioning train at Bloor. Trains weren't running. We weren't informed when service would resume. I turned to a woman standing near me and asked her how long she'd been waiting. She said 6 minutes or so. I asked her if this was the first announcement. She said no. I saw red.

Maybe I have high expectations but this troll could have said something to those of us paying cash or token fares. You know, like back in the good ol' days when TTC employees actually gave a sh-t about customer service and would tell you before you paid your fare there were delays and you may want to consider surface transportation, or walk. I rode the TTC from 1987 to 1999, six days a week, sometimes multiple times a day. I remember the collectors who were gracious and spoke up. They were younger then. Before they became bitter trolls.

I'm not saying all TTC gatekeepers are bad but it's primarily those who are close to retirement who have simply stopped caring. I can probably psycho-analyze why because working with the public and dealing with millions of personalities, language barriers, general rudeness, bad attitudes can beat down the best of people but you know what? They signed up for the job - good and bad. No one forced them into public service.

I approach the gatekeeper. He looks like he's been doing this for a very long time.

I tap him on the shoulder and say, "It's not the same is it?"

He looked at me. I waved my hand around me. "This ... the job."

I continued. "Because if it was, you would have covered your hand over the box, looked at me with eyes connected to a soul that cared, that took me for a woman with places to go, trains to catch and told me there was a delay and asked where I was headed. Not just me, but the man behind me, too. I was hoping to catch a 5:53 GO train and if I'd known, I would have saved my token and walked. At least I'd be sure to catch the 6:18 train instead of waiting around here for service to start up again."

He looked away, said nothing. I said, "Well thanks anyway."

I walked back out of the station, forfeiting my paid ride, and headed for the stairs. I wasn't going to miss the 6:18. I wanted to go home. I hate being late. Rolling in at nearly 8 pm isn't fair to my daughter who listens for the garage door and runs downstairs each night to greet me, holding the interior garage door open with a big smile on her face. It's the best feeling and I hate making her wait or missing sitting down to dinner with her and my husband.

As I walked away, the troll called out after me. I'd like to say he grew a heart but instead he hollered, "Lady, if you want a refund, call customer service!"

Funny, I thought I had.


Barb Carmichael said...

I love your stories. I think this direction is refreshing...

C.J. Smith said...

Thanks Barb.

Don't know if people are really reading all these paragraphs ... but you did and I appreciate it.

Dan-1 said...

Great story.

As for the TTC, it really needs an enema in terms of customer service. Too many bad (or lethargical) apples outshining the few who offer good customer service.

Sylv said...

Great writing, C.J., and oh so true!

Deb said...

CJ, you have definitely missed your calling - you should be a writer!

You have nailed it. That has happened to me as well - and what about when we get to Union in the morning and the collection lets us blithely waltz through the turnstiles only to find the the platform is backed up halway up the stairwell with people. Isn't that some sort of safety hazard? Couldn't they say something if the trains aren't working.

"from your keyboard to TTC's ears"

Skin Man said...

Every morning I check in to see what's new, hoping for a quick giggle or some comiserating eye rolling for the latest identified douche bag. Howevertoday's story was a wonderful treat! I hope those in TTC/GO positions of authority are following this site as loyally as I do.

Nice bit of writing!

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think people apply for TTC jobs in order to get the hefty pay cheques rather having the opportunity to 'serve the public'.

C.J. Smith said...

It's my belief the TTC works like GM, family members of those leaving or retiring workers snap up these jobs. When is that last time you recall a TTC job fair? Or a GM job fair for that matter(before the industry took a hit)?

Attitude transcends generations. I can only hope that Jason grew up and took over his dad's job because I am certain he gives a shit.

lswgirl13 said...

Yeh, the TTC (which I rarely use) and overall customer service everywhere sucks BUT more important, why was I sooooo hoping that you were going to say that you and Jason lived happily ever after and he was the one waiting for you to arrive home???

Ruth said...

Are you kidding? The TTC brass can't do anything not when you have a mouthpiece like Bob Kinnear leading the minions who can't think before he speaks.

That man has helped his "brothers and sisters" put up so many walls between "us and them", he'll never (and anyone who comes after him) be able to break them down.

This guy became a union leader at 32 after driving a bus since the day he got his licence. 32! A baby ... with no PR experience, no business training, no management experience - nada.

Whe you listen to him in interviews, you can't help but left with the impression that he does not care about the public. This is a man who said it's okay with people with medical issues that cause them to fall asleep be on the job when alertness is 100% needed to do the job.

Seriously. I'm so sick of it. The photos of the disrespect for the public, the stories of not acknowledging ... all of it.

C.J. Smith said...


I can always change the ending. ;)

lswgirl13 said...

Yes, C.J., get on that!

AND Ruth . . . BRAVO!!! Bob Kinnear is a fool but then again the majority of labour leaders are. I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me how someone driving a bus or working the line at GM can make more than a schoolteacher???

Vanessa said...

I find it akin to the individuals who hand out the Metro/24 Hours papers in the morning and evening. Some are very brash and do not extend a smile or a 'You're welcome!' when I say thank you. There's one young fellow outside Union at the corner of Front and Bay who always says good morning and you're welcome. I make a point of getting one from him.

Anonymous said...

Last night, I too reliquished a token into a 'troll' box. Also unsuspecting, I trotted down to the platform anticipating my 5 minute ride down to Union. So I stand there confidently with more than sufficient 20 minutes to board the last Barrie train home. However, I became jittery and started doing the 'look at the platform clock that says train will be here in 5 minutes', make a bet with myself that if I turn around, start up the stairs to walk to Union, the subway will come just as I reach the top of the stairwell. Still making bets with myself, the platform board indicator showed'5 minute wait for the next train' for an entire 19.5 minutes. One train enters the station, moving slowly, tooting the horn, sliding past us, totally empty, keeps going and doesn't stop. Another train enters the station, packed to the rafters. You know the rest of this story. Full out run from the overly crowed Union station platform, the VIA concourse, to track 26 out in Siberian with 30 seconds to spare. Take the elevator - yes, I'm handicapped, and yes I had to run (I'll pay for it with swollen knees and unbareable pain for the next two days). Thanks also to the three-legged sloth Milton GO train elevator quad-hogs who kept pushing the elevator button and causing the door to repeatedly re-open) Comment to Milton GO passengers - thanks I just missed by train - their reply, so there's another. Sure, if I want to go to Oshawa. Made the train with 8 seconds to spare. Hmm...TTC initiated GO train rage.

Kelly said...

Oh my gosh. The part about the TTC guy setting you up with his son, because he wanted you to go to your prom, busted me out in tears.

P.PICKLER said...

Awww ... what a sweet story. The date part, I mean.

Delia said...

What a great post. Have you tried looking Jason up on Facebook?