13 August 2010

"You Will Be Charged! Ignorance is No Excuse!"

How's that for a nice, friendly introduction to Toronto-the-(once)-good? This was how a Japanese visitor to our fair city was greeted late last evening (after midnight) by one of our uniformed city ambassadors, otherwise known as a TTC fare collector at Spadina station. TTC Customer Service Advisory Panel, please take note.

A young Japanese man, Toronto guide book and tourist map in hand, had erroneously walked in through the bus driveway into the station. Somewhat confused by the non-obvious (to his eye) design of the station, he exited through the turnstile, and came around to show his weekly transit pass to the collector. (Yes, of course there is the "no entry" sign, but, hey: foreign visitor, rudimentary knowledge of conversational tourist English, and how well would you do against signs in Kanji?).

The collector was suitably incensed at the effrontery of the young man, and proceeded to give him a suitable dressing down, accusing him of a crime, informing him that he could be charged, and repeating these in that way some people have of dealing with those whose English is not up to scratch: louder and more insistent means that it becomes more understandable. The young man replied that (a) he had valid transport media (the weekly pass); (b) he was a foreigner and was unfamiliar with the particular ritual with respect to open driveways into a subway station (I'm paraphrasing); and (c) he understands and won't do it again. The collector wouldn't take (c) for an answer and continued with threats to have the young man arrested and charged, repeating, "Ignorance is no excuse!"

The collector is right: ignorance is no excuse. But, of course, I'm referring to the ignorance of the collector himself. Ignorance of customer service is no excuse for rudeness. Ignorance of your role as a goodwill ambassador of Toronto is no excuse for reading a visitor the riot act, especially if he's not rioting. Ignorance of the black eye our transit system has been wearing these past months over fare-collector rudeness (among many other things) is no excuse to add to the blackness regularly demonstrated by the good - and I used that adjective advisedly - members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113.

As for me, I helped diffuse the situation as I paid my fare, and ushered the young man towards the correct subway platform. His comment to me was that he could not believe the rudeness - it was, after all, a simple mistake, and he was not trying to avoid paying a fare. I expressed my agreement, apologized to him on behalf of the truly good citizens of this city, ensured he knew how to get to where he was going, and wished him a much better and more enjoyable stay in what is normally a great place to visit.

Hello TTC? Hello Gary Webster? Hello Bob Kinnear? Is anybody home? Is anyone there really serious about your business? And, far more important (notice what I do as a professional practice - second item, and check out "The Messages" - up there in the top right corner of the webpage), does anyone realize that such front-line behaviour is indicative of some very serious, systemic issues that still infect your organizational culture?

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