Along the Queen's great Highway I drive my merry load
At 20 miles-per-hour in the middle of the road.
We like to drive in convoys - we're most gregarious:
The big six-wheeler scarlet-painted London transport diesel-engined 97-horsepower omnibus.
--Flanders and Swann
The Toronto Sun was sceptical. The National Post was a little more optimistic. The Toronto Transit Commission drivers' union (Local 113 ATU) took a bold and innovative step this week, opening up the first of three public townhalls to meet the public it serves--and taking the heat with grace.
The audience came prepared:
[R]iders waited turns at the microphone to ask about why buses and streetcars don't arrive on schedule and why, after a long wait, they turn up in bunches.
(I've always thought that the latter complaint has a lot to do with traffic flow dynamics. It does seem to be an issue not confined to only one city or country.) The riders had a number of other queries as well: access blocked by strollers and backpacks, non-functional fare vending machines, and my personal favourite: "[W]hy do buses seem to pull away when drivers can see someone running toward them?"
Union president Bob Kinnear opened by telling a story against himself. As a subway fare collector, he was once asked for information, and sarcastically said to the rider, "Can't you read?" The rider apologized: as it turned out, he could not.
That set the tone for a session that sounds to have been remarkably open and frank. It could have become simply a management-bashing exercise, but by all accounts considerable self-criticism was in evidence.
ATU deserves kudos for this fine initiative. There will be two more townhalls, this Sunday in Scarborough and on May 2 at Ryerson. Queries and comments in the meantime may be sent to the union's website.