Friday, September 11, 2015

Back to School at TCT Academy

Special to
by Hy Perbolé

OK, it’s back to school at GO Transit, and the headmistress of TCT Academy has returned from summer vacation, so school is in session.

What’s the first assignment every teacher gives their class?  You got it — submit a composition of something interesting that happened to you this summer.  TCT Academy’s newest pupil, Mr. Matt Baynie, handed in a story about how he got involved in a service debacle on Route 12.  Mr. Baynie submitted his story very promptly — full marks for that.  Let’s take a closer look at what he wrote.

Those of you who were confused by “we had a significant increase in our ridership that day because of VIA train passengers transferring onto our service” can be excused for wondering why anyone would catch a VIA train to Niagara Falls only to hop on a bus back to Burlington. 

The assertion made by Mr Baynie is true, but the train is not the typical VIA train that one sees flashing past GO trains on the Lakeshore line.  Rather, the culprit is Amtrak’s Maple Leaf train that runs between NYC and Toronto; it is operated by VIA Rail staff between Niagara Falls and Toronto.  The on-time performance of this train is abysmal.

Note: The numbers for August are marginally better.

When VIA assumes responsibility for the trip from Niagara Falls to Toronto, their staff sends irate passengers across the street to board GO Transit buses, because Route 12 buses plus LSW trains can get those folks to Toronto faster than VIA staff can get Amtrak’s Maple Leaf train there.  Take a bow, team Amtrak/VIA!

Inquiring minds are wondering how GO Transit is ensuring “there is extra equipment available for those times that VIA may need assistance”.  Well, one of the drivers has taken it upon himself to monitor Amtrak’s train status.  When there is a risk of a bus overflow situation, the individual shares the information with other drivers and management.

There were a few details missing from the VIA Rail portion of Mr. Baynie’s story, but let’s award some part marks.

On to the interaction with the Contact Centre representative ...  Let’s have a show of hands for those of you interested in what the CSR “woulda  shoulda coulda” done.  Would it not be better to leave readers knowing what steps are being taken to ensure this kind of disservice doesn’t happen again?  No marks are awarded on this matter.

Similarly, everyone being “disappointed that this service disruption was not communicated appropriately” states the obvious, but doesn’t solve the problem.  Go Transit Operations have violated the Passenger Charter on this front far too many times.  Again, no marks are awarded, because no improvements were offered.

Now we come to the part that addresses “additional stand-by drivers each weekend, dedicated to the Niagara/St. Catharines area”.  It was learned from reliable sources that plenty of additional resources were in the area for the two weekends after “the incident”.  On Labour Day, the cover bus for the 12:54 departure at Burlington was there promptly, but was not pressed into service.  After the scheduled bus left Burlington, no support vehicles were to be found.  How do I know this?  Well, I was there.  What was the impact? 

When I disembarked the bus in St. Catharines at 13:50, the 13:49 Burlington bound bus had a lineup of people waiting to board and buy tickets.  Also, the pictured couple, with their bicycles, was left behind, because the bike rack was full and a child’s stroller had been stowed in the rear cargo cupboard.

The lady dialed the Contact Centre and was told their options were the following:

  • Figure out how to make their way to the VIA station and catch the 19:45 seasonal train — a delay of almost six hours.
  • Figure out how to get to the downtown bus terminal and ride the competitors’ buses — this assumed the Coach Canada or Greyhound bus could accommodate their bicycles.
  • Stay where they were and hope the next scheduled GO bus had room for their bikes — they chose this option.
Where was the cover bus that was dedicated to St. Catharines?  I’m sure the driver for the 13:49 pickup would have appreciated a spare driver to sell tickets in advance of arriving.  And the couple from Toronto would not have had to fret about how they would get home.  Full marks are awarded for working so hard during the “practice weekends”.  However, only part marks are given for coming up flat when it mattered most.

Now we come to the part about “looking into supplying service every 30 minutes” on weekends.  For years we’ve heard about

(i) the possibility of hourly service during the week on Route 12,
(ii) a real GO bus facility in St. Catharines, funded substantially the federal government, and
(iii) real-time bus information.  

None of these action items have come to fruition.  So, please, let’s stop this folly of half hour service on weekends; the passengers on Route 12 are from Missouri.  For raising false hopes, again, no marks are awarded.

As for remaining “committed to improving our communications”, perhaps Mr. Baynie can have someone in Station Ops explain why timetables were removed from Route 12 bus stops — at least two weeks ago.  When the matter was raised on Twitter, Metrolinx’s Media Relations Manager said "Staff promised to send to the team".  As of this writing, there appears to be no evidence of “the team” responding — another Passenger Charter violation.  So, for making unsubstantiated claims, no marks are awarded.

In summary, this submission from Mr. Baynie is at best anemic.  Let’s recall his words in his original message to This Crazy Train:

“There’s lots in it to investigate but please let your readers know that I have staff looking into it to track down the causes and will ensure there are remedies in place.”

We all agree that there is much to investigate on Route 12.  However, relying on head office staff to provide “remedies” without venturing into the field will resolve nothing.

We at TCT Academy look forward to reviewing Mr. Baynie’s future homework assignments.


FRED said...


C.J. Smith said...

The passengers on Route 12 are carrying some pretty large cannons these days.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought instead of bitching on here, has the writer considered contacting GO directly... you know, how it should work.

C.J. Smith said...

So my blog is not important? Is what you're implying. Gee, thanks.

Squiggles said...

The thing is Anon: most people have.

They get the runaround and out of frustration, people contact CJ.

And guess what? Things are then resolved.

Make things public, get results.

C.J. Smith said...

(*puts her horn away).

G-man said...

I'm pretty sure the anon statement was from a GO employee with butt hurt. I on the other hand feel that stories of service embarrassments on a website read by thousands of GO and non-GO passengers drives more action than submitting complaints through an online form that NOBODY outside GO reads. Things get escalated but a lot of things seem to get swept under the rug. Go TCT!

Hy Perbolé said...

Anonymous @ 9:21 AM,
You assume "how it should work" actually does work. Given the Mr. Baynie has responded to This Crazy Train twice proves that contacting GO Transit directly is not necessary; an alternate channel of communication exists. What you suggest is a regression from the benefits of transparency via this blog and SM in general.

Anonymous said...

The schedules will not go up. The reason is they have given you enough resources through website,mobile apps to find info.

C.J. Smith said...

Schedules are handy when you have to detour and your battery is dead. Get bent.

@GOvoygr said...

Two ticket agents at Pickering station just now referenced multiple PAPER timetables to answer one passenger's questions. So much for "enough resources through website,mobile apps to find info".

Subliminal said...

Every time I read about issues with people trying to navigate on routes where Greyhound/Via/Go/MegaBus currently serve/underserve and dump on other providers to get their unexpected loads of users on someboy else's service, confusion reigns.
Timetables go out the window, drama levels go up, and last minute travelers think the whole world knew they would be showing up for that particular trip because their whole bubble world they communicate knew that.
I think we are in a transition period where the flash mob generation and old technology learn to share information directly rather thorough the "after the fact complaint" mechanism where each tries to defend and support their version of the past that will always be broken unless they reach a economically sustainable consensus that is bulletproof.
In the meantime these stories are an interesting read as to what happens on the ground as a result of the world we have created as technology has progressed and tried to replaced the complexity of human interaction that worked so well before with algorithms that offer services that are as virtual as the platform that allowed you to buy them, when you actually decided to all show up on a particular service at a particular time.