They drive by night; also by day, in all sorts of weather, on our miserable streets in rush hour, and when the city is deserted. They do so, day in and out, no matter how we treat them.
They work for the TTC.
I bought coffee for three drivers a while back because I know what the mood is toward public service. I know about the crackdown on "bad" employees. I know we sometimes treat public employees like slaves, and, yes, I know who the new bosses at city hall are.
I'm not going to tell you the names of the drivers because they'd be punished for talking, which is also a sign of the times.
Who are they?
She has the most experience. He is a young guy. The other guy wears glasses.
What's it like at work?
She said, "I can tell who hates me, who's itching for an argument, almost before they get on. For me, it's discouraging. I acknowledge everyone, and I find this hurtful."
She chose her words carefully. "Because I don't go to a department store and take pictures of employees."
Young guy agreed the mood on the front lines is bad. "Most of the managers get it, but there's a disconnect higher up; the higher-ups feel empowered by public animosity. We're very efficient; there isn't much waste. But being mean to employees isn't going to make the system better."
And then she piped in with examples of some of the TTC's meanest rules. "We're not supposed to carry newspapers, but the drivers' seats are unsanitary - they don't steam-clean the seats. One guy got dismissed - he was relieved of duty - for using a newspaper to sit on."
Not, I hope, this paper.
Experience suggests there are fewer places in the world stickier than a streetcar in the summer in this city, so I asked why drivers aren't given portable seat covers. Young guy said: "Give us seats? That costs money. The commission has been cut to the bone."
And then he talked about what was really bugging him. "We're carrying a record number of riders but there are service cuts!" That bugs me, too.
It makes no sense to cut when times are tough, because that's when people need affordable public transit most, and yet this city's response in hard times is to cut routes, yap about the need for fare hikes, talk about cutting subsidies, and threaten to ditch staff.
Listen closely: The TTC is the least-subsidized transit system in the country. Three-quarters of the TTC's operating budget comes from the fare box. Nowhere else in the civilized world is there such an imbalance.
She went back to the mean rules. "If you wear shorts on duty, you can't wear a jacket. If I want to wear shorts during the day, I have to freeze in the morning."
She starts early, don't forget, when it's still dark and when the air is still chilly.
Then we talked about phones.
The young guy said, "We have a unit we use to call transit control, but sometimes you don't get a signal. One guy, he secured his car and called in to ask why. They asked him how he was calling. He said with his cell. He was relieved of duty."
And she said: "Somebody I know, a car hit her bus. She took pictures with her phone. She was relieved of duty. We all got a notice after that: at no time - even if we're off duty - if we're in uniform (can we) use our cell." Ridiculous.
The glasses guy was silent but not without opinion. More from him anon.
Joe Fiorito appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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