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Getting the TTC Back on Track

It’s been an eventful few months for the Toronto Transit Commission. That’s really saying something, given the whole slew of challenges the TTC has faced since the start of the pandemic. Let me give you a rundown of what’s been happening these past few months and how I’m pushing the TTC Board to get our transit system back on track.

Over the summer and early autumn, as vaccination rates rose, we saw ridership across the entire transit system reach 50% of pre-pandemic levels. This is the highest it’s been since the first COVID-19 lockdown. However, as ridership grew I began to hear from many of you that TTC service was not up to snuff. The amount of time between buses, streetcars, and even subway trains started to climb to eye-popping levels. Then came the hack. While not much information about this cyber attack is public yet, it took out a large chunk of the TTC’s communications infrastructure across the system. This was a huge blow to the system and critically impacted all TTC services, including Wheel Trans, for several days. Thankfully, our Automatic Train Control on the subway system and customer information remained largely safe and the TTC has since been able to restore most services. However, this was the cherry on top of a stack of problems the TTC was contending with, including their impending vaccination mandate and labour issues associated with it.

At the end of the summer, the TTC announced a mandatory vaccination policy for its staff. This was largely in line with what was announced by Mayor Tory for City workers and Chief Ramer for the Toronto Police Service. Regrettably, ATU Local 113 that represents thousands of frontline transit workers took a different approach than the City’s unions and even the Toronto Police Association. The outcome: At the end of October, the TTC quietly announced temporary service reductions of 10% beginning in late November with more details to follow. At the same time, the TTC was vigorously trying to assist staff with vaccinations, hire new drivers, and bring back recent retirees to fill the gap. Unfortunately, once these announced service cuts went into place, the moderate complaints already coming in about inadequate on-time performance of TTC vehicles became a full shout. TTC Riders, an advocacy organization that pushes for better transit service, launched a new campaign called “Where’s My Bus?” asking Mayor Tory to intervene and reverse the cuts to 57 routes across the city.

Steve Munro, a long-time transit writer and advocate (and masterful holiday cookie maker), has done a great job covering these service reductions and asking the central question: Are the service changes we’re experiencing just the result of our vaccine-related labour issues, or is there something else going on? Truth be told, I believe these service changes go beyond the labour piece. Yes, the fact that almost 10% of TTC workers are currently unvaccinated plays a large part, but we were seeing issues with TTC service even before the vaccine mandate came into effect. As Steve notes, the TTC presented a financial update last month that shows they’ve been able to reduce their budgeted spending through “cost controls” (AKA service reductions).This is separate from the labour gap they’re experiencing now. I followed up on Steve Munro’s observations at our TTC Board meeting this past Wednesday. Our monthly statistical report showed that the TTC was below target for on-time vehicle performance for several months over the summer and fall, pre-vaccine mandate. I pressed staff on this, and they admitted that during this time driver absences were not being filled. Instead, they would tweak schedules and skip an entire bus being sent out. This strategy was only shared with the Board as a result of my question, and it’s still being used today. This is not a “cost control” that any TTC Commissioner ever signed off on.

This brings me to a larger issue we’re facing with the TTC: Lack of communication with the Board. This year, we’ve seen a reduction in the number of Board meetings, near silence during the cyber attack, and the complete doing away with the Board process around the TTC’s budget. Despite being one of the largest line items for the City’s budget each year, it will simply appear on the last agenda of the year without a committee or briefing preceding it. Don’t get me wrong, the Board has still been highly engaged on a number of issues. This week, for instance, we adopted a state-of-the-art process for capital project quality assurance that we’ve needed all along. However, I want to push for more Board engagement and oversight on a number of items. I want to bring back a transparent and engaging process around the TTC's budget, ensure we have adequate governance oversight of our labour and HR issues, and, most importantly, create a Ridership Recovery committee to guide us as we make our way through this pandemic. This is where broader engagement becomes crucial. No doubt, this has been an extremely challenging year for transit. The pandemic continues on, ridership levels remain low, and there’s much uncertainty around funding from other levels of government to sustain this backbone of our local economy. These roadblocks can’t stop us from pushing forward and making the TTC the best it can be given the circumstances.

We need to engage our riders (past, present, and potential), improve communications on service disruptions, and work on labour relations. These are all issues that the TTC Board can and should take the lead on. As a TTC Commissioner, I consider it my homework for 2022 and beyond. In the meantime, the Board will consider the TTC’s 2022 Budget on Monday, December 20. Before I vote on it, I need to hear from you about your recent transit experiences. Your feedback is critical as I advocate for a better system to get all Torontonians moving again. Together, we can get the TTC back on track (pun intended) and ensure this vital service operates at its best through the pandemic and beyond.

 

Bayview Village Association COVID-19 & Flu Vaccine Clinic The Bayview Village Association is sponsoring a North York General Hospital COVID-19 Vaccine and Flu Clinic on Saturday, December 11 from 10 AM - 2 PM at Forest Grove United Church (43 Forest Grove Drive). COVID-19 Vaccines The clinic is offering first doses, second doses, and booster does of the COVID-19 vaccine for those ages 12 and older as eligible. This is not a walk-in clinic, registration is required. The link to register for an appointment will be available 48 hours in advance of the clinic date. To receive the appointment booking link directly, the BVA encourages you to first register on their event page (linked below). Flu Shots: The clinic is offering regular doses of the flu vaccine for those ages 12 and older. Flu shots are being offered on a first come, first served basis. You do not require a booking time for your flu vaccine. Please note that the high dose flu vaccine for seniors (age 65+) will not be available at the clinic. For more information on this clinic and to register to receive the COVID-19 vaccine appointment booking link, please visit the link below:

Oriole Community Centre COVID-19 & Flu Vaccine Clinic COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots are available at Oriole Community Centre (2975 Don Mills Road). The clinic is open on:

  • Wednesdays from 12:00 PM - 3:00 PM

  • Thursdays from 1:30 PM - 5:30 PM

No appointment is needed. COVID-19 first and second doses are available to anyone born in 2009 or earlier, and booster doses are available to those who are eligible. Flu shots are available to anyone 6 months and older. This clinic is a collaboration between North York Toronto Health Partners, Working Women Community Centre, North York Harvest Food Bank, Toronto Public Health and Flemingdon Health Centre. For more information, visit the link below:

Vaccines for Kids Ages 5-11 COVID-19 vaccine appointments are now available for kids ages 5 to 11 (born in 2016 or earlier). Appointments cam be booked through the provincial booking system online or by phone:

  • Online: https://covid-19.ontario.ca/book-vaccine/

  • Phone: 1-833-943-3900

It is important that parents share information with their kids and answer their questions about vaccines. You can find helpful resources about vaccines for kids at the City's website below:


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