Editorial Archive

Coupler Q&A

CEO Andy Byford 5/16/13 1:13 PM

MAN WITH A PLAN

After an exhaustive first year at the helm of the TTC, CEO Andy Byford is ready to unveil his five-year strategic plan, and he’s going to take it on the road to employees in the next major steps to modernizing the TTC. He sat with Coupler Editor Mike DeToma for a quick look back and strategic view forward at the state of the system.

On the emerging strategic plan, and when employees can learn more about it …

We have a vision and a mission to describe what we’re trying to achieve – that’s a transit system that makes Toronto proud. On their own, these are just words, so there needs to be a plan around them – that’s the TTC Corporate Plan.

It’s a big document at about 40 pages. It’s in its final draft. There are seven strategic objectives. These are the areas that we have to get right: Safety. Customer. People. Assets. Growth. Financial Stability. Reputation. Those are the seven key things that we have to work on. Within each of those seven areas there is a headline strategy and a work stream to help deliver them. Our Key Performance Indicators will enable the Exec to track how we are progressing.

So in less than a year since I became CEO, we now have what I believe to be a modern performance framework for this company that enables us to transform the company, and by doing so, transform customer satisfaction.

Through a series of road shows across the property starting in the spring, I intend to paint a picture to all staff of what the TTC could look like within five years if we all pulled together. My objective, by the end of this summer, is that every single one of us will know what our vision is, what we’re aiming to achieve, what’s in it for each of us and why it’s important.

The TTC Corporate Plan is the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle I’ve been putting together since taking over the top job.

On the arrival of a Chief of Staff to the organization …

It’s fantastic to have Joan Taylor on board. She comes with a very good knowledge of how City Hall works and who’s down there – and that can help us enormously. I became convinced some time ago that we needed to have a Chief of Staff to do three things:

1. To professionalize our relationship with City Council and other levels of government, to provide me with political advice, and to help me get a more mutually productive relationship with City Councillors.
2. To pull together the various strands of the Corporate Plan.
3. To co-ordinate business between Executive team members. In a big company like ours you can’t help but fall into silos. Joan maintains an overview for me and acts as the glue between the Execs.

On delivering service, and driving up standards, for transit riders after a year at the helm …

I said I wanted to do three things when I took the CEO’s job: deliver day-to-day service improvement for our customers; revitalize the company and restore its self-confidence; give it strong direction and leadership. We weren’t going to tolerate mediocrity. We were going to drive up standards. I think we’re making noticeable headway.

There are a lot of elements around service delivery – punctuality, reliability and safety are the most important.

I think we’re getting there with reliability and punctuality. Punctuality is generally edging upwards, which is good. But we can do much better. There is still a long way to go in infrastructure reliability, particularly at key times and at critical locations. I still think we need to get better at the basics (e.g. slick turnarounds at terminals). We’re still struggling with bunching of streetcars and buses and there are still too many short turns.

I’ve made solving the age-old issue of bunching a personal mission. I get that it’s not easy. I understand why services bunch. But I refuse to believe that you can’t do anything about it. I just won’t accept defeat on that, particularly on our rights of way.

Where we have made progress, it’s been noticed by customers: end-of-line cleaning has had a massive impact; we’ve made inroads into bus cleaning and have new contracted-out arrangements at Malvern and Mount Dennis; and we’ve refurbished all of our washrooms and introduced a new cleaning regimen.

Service consistency still needs improvement. But we’ve increased some of the daily scorecard targets, those that could be sensibly stretched.

Recent planned closures have gone really well. I see orange tops everywhere. Signage is great. Service is relentless. Announcements are good. We still have a way to go on effective management of unplanned events. But we have taken steps in the last few months to strengthen how we handle these. To me it’s about knowing our goals and getting better at our base competence.

Safety remains our number-one priority. With safety, I’m determined to get better at consulting with staff in the same way we did with the roundtable sessions for Track and Signals staff.

On our commitment to the Pavlovski family …

I have an absolute commitment, which I don’t intend to break – it’s that we involve and inform the family first. I’ve been to visit Mrs. Pavlovski and her family at least half a dozen times. I’m in regular contact with her.

We’ve given her the headlines of the root causes of her husband’s death, and that’s based upon the emerging story coming from the official internal report, which is practically complete. The parallel report from the Joint Health and Safety representatives is also pretty much complete.

And we are told that the Ministry of Labour’s report is complete, but we are just waiting for it to be posted. They have a year to get that finished, but it looks like they’ll do it in a lot less time.

We’re already taking some steps that we believe need to be taken. We’ve successfully trialed some additional lighting rigs on the RT units, and we’re in the process of rolling them out to all vehicles.

On our recovering Collector …

I stay in regular contact with him. He physically looks much better, but he’s still a little hoarse. He’s still having treatments to his throat to help get his voice back to where it was before. When I first saw him at the hospital he could hardly talk.

We have a commitment to meet for coffee soon. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve made a point of staying in touch with him. Unfortunately, for some reason, someone out there is still reticent about coming forward with information that will help to catch the shooter.

On the introduction of Group Station Managers …

All six new Group Station Managers are with us. We gave them a couple of weeks to get accustomed to their new roles and then introduced them to the company and to the public at news conference in April.

I’m hugely excited about having them here. My view of station management is strategic. I want there to be single-point accountability for every aspect of what goes on at a station. That’s what I had as the GSM for King’s Cross Station at the London Underground. Although I wasn’t an Engineer, it was my call as to when escalators got repaired. No way would someone show up and try to repair escalators during the morning peak.

What I want for our stations is to have one person who is accountable for everything that goes on at a group of stations, whether it’s revenue acquisition or management of tenants or customer ambience or asset condition. They should be obsessing about a vending machine that’s not working.

Progressively, I’d like our station management model to change as tokens are phased out and we adopt Presto. The Collector role will change and I want to introduce the concept of  Station Supervisors who will be mobile and very proactive customer agents within their station.

Introducing the GSMs has been one of the biggest decisions I’ve made since I arrived because I think it will be transformational. GSMs must have two primary qualities: they have to excel at people management and they have to excel at customer service.

Each GSM is responsible for a group of stations on the system. Each GSM has been provided with a smart, dark blue suit for formal occasions. They will act as my representatives in the local community and on their station groups.

On our financial outlook …

Last year’s budget round was very tough. We were instructed to work with a frozen subsidy for the second year in a row.

There are four elements to our operating budget. 1) Subsidy: that was frozen. 2) Service: you can find savings by cutting service, but I want to add service because of our growing ridership. 3) Cost of operations: we have looked at efficiencies within the company and have contracted out non-core activities where it made sense. 4) Fares: we increased fares by five cents, broadly in line with inflation.

The operating budget is tight. But in spite of that, we can still offer customers tangible improvements at no extra cost via the commitments in our new Customer Charter. We did get quite a bit of success on the capital budget, and we’re getting the new streetcars paid down.

My challenge over the next couple of years will be to keep that success story going. But also to make a case that we can’t continue to accept a frozen subsidy. Every time you freeze the subsidy, especially when ridership is going up, our actual subsidy-per-rider just drops. So we’ve gone from 87 cents per ride to 78 cents per ride. So it really annoys me when people say that the TTC is inefficient. This company is hugely efficient by that measure.

On addressing our ever-increasing ridership …

We will be introducing the first of our new articulated buses later in the year – that’s a Charter commitment. The artics are bigger and roomier. We’re continuing to roll out more Rocket trains, which are carrying more people. And we continue, every six weeks, to monitor our ridership to see where service needs to be tweaked.

Over the longer term, we’ll be introducing new, low-floor streetcars, rolling out Automatic Train Control on the Y-U-S line, which will give us another percentage hike in capacity. And even longer term, Metrolinx is building the Eglinton Crosstown and the three LRT lines.

CEO Andy Byford and TTC Executive Team tour Spadina Extesnion construction.

CEO Andy Byford and the Executive Team on a tour of  TYSSE subway construction in April.

On the big discussion around revenue tools dedicated to transit …

I do think there needs to be additional funding streams to enable us to expand. There definitely needs to be more capacity.

It’s good news that we have the LRTs coming. But we can’t stop there. We have to provide more capacity, such as a Downtown Relief Line. We’ve already done preliminary work on it and studied the actual need for it, which is ultimately to provide relief to the Yonge line in particular.

It’s part of The Big Move. In fact, it has moved it up the pecking order to a project that will be started in the next 10 years. It’s very early days, but I’m certainly not going to stop talking about it. I know we need to do it.

In March, I was at the Spadina extension construction site to witness the next stage of tunnel construction. It was great to be there and see all the levels of government working together to expand transit – that needs to happen way more often. It was really exciting to see a huge hole in the ground that’s going to form a fantastic station at Hwy. 407. It’s tangible evidence that the TYSSE is getting even closer. I can’t wait to get it open.

I was encouraged to here both Premier Kathleen Wynne and Minister Lisa Raitt publicly reiterate that they are both serious about tackling congestion.

On the quest for a new uniform …

I’m very keen that we should have a new look. My personal view is that the maroon has run its course. I’d like to refresh the whole look of the uniform. I want staff input into it, and the union has struck a steering committee and is working with us.

It must be practical, durable and comfortable. I want to provide a uniform that looks good, that employees are proud to wear and that will garner a bit more respect from the public. We have some outline designs and the intention is to have a new uniform rolled out in 2014.

On special constable status and its likely return …

I have met with the Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair. I had a very productive discussion with him a few months ago. He and I get on well. I think we see eye to eye. He is supportive of our application. He understands why I want to get special constable status back. He understands that we have addressed his concerns, which lead to that status being withdrawn. And we’ve drawn up a memorandum of understanding that we’ll stick to if special status is re-awarded.

I’m committed to getting it.

On a more personal level and choice of Toronto sports teams …

I’m loving every minute of this job. Yes, this job is all-consuming. It’s 24/7 and it never stops. But it’s hugely enjoyable. I have great empathy for our frontline staff. We have fantastic employees and they’ve given me huge support.

I’m very focussed on making the TTC a success so that we all enjoy working here. And I absolutely believe in the integration of the TTC and in keeping it together.

As for latching on to one of this city’s sports teams, I have bought a Toronto FC season ticket. I’m a TFC fan. I was also following the Leafs. I had finally figured out how the blue line works when, like everyone else, was devastated by their loss to Boston in the playoffs. But I’m a big Argos fan. I really enjoyed the Argos last season. I love the fact that in my first year here we won the Grey Cup. How good is that!

Andy Byford officially became the new Chief Executive Officer of the TTC on March 13, 2012.

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