Editorial Archive

Q&As with TTC’s newest Commissioners

3/28/21 8:06 PM

Q&A with Scarborough North Councillor/Commissioner Cynthia Lai

Commission/Councillor Cynthia Lai

City of Toronto Councillor Cynthia Lai joined her first TTC Board meeting as Commissioner on Nov. 16, 2020. As Councillor for Ward 23 Scarborough North, Councillor Lai is a community leader and has received many awards for her contributions, including the Duke of Edinburgh Silver Medal, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, the Chinese-Canadian Legend Inspiration Award, as well as one of the Outstanding Chinese Business Women Award. She is a resident of Ward 23 and has lived in Toronto since immigrating from Hong Kong in 1972. In addition to English, she speaks Cantonese, Mandarin and Hakka.

Q: What inspired you to join the TTC Board?
A: I saw the opportunity to bring some new energy to the TTC Board and to make a difference. I wanted to contribute to the TTC becoming a world-class transit system. I think it’s important to create new visions for the future while building on the past.

Q: How have your experiences in real estate prepared you for your term as a Councillor and TTC Board Member?
A: Real estate is about helping people find their dream homes and properties. It comes with an entrepreneurial mindset and you have to have skills like negotiating, problem-solving, building trust and making good decisions. As a Councillor and TTC Board Member, I use these skills to help people in the community, and to make housing and transit services more available and affordable.

Q: You’ve served as a Commissioner for just over four months now. What are you most proud of so far?
A: I’m proud to be part of a great team leading transit in our city. I’m also proud of the commitment that the TTC has made to build a workplace, which reflects the diversity of our city, as well as a transit system that meets the needs of our diverse customers.

Q: The TTC is committed to building an inclusive and diverse organization, including a plan to increase the recruitment of women to its workforce, starting in 2021. As an award-winning female leader, why is this commitment important to you?
A: I am proud of the TTC’s commitment to be an equal opportunity employer. It is important to walk the talk. After all, the City’s motto is Diversity, our Strength. Women experience work differently and can bring a different perspective to the organization. I have always strived to improve prospects for women leaders, because I know being a female leader presents many challenges. It can be hard to find the right network and mentors, and to overcome stereotypes.
We need to create an inclusive working environment because corporate culture and pride is paramount to a successful workplace.

Q: What would you like to see accomplished in the remainder of your term on the TTC Board?
A: I’d like to find a better solution for the replacement of Line 3 Scarborough through stakeholder consultation. I hope to work with the provincial government to shorten the potential seven-year wait for new rapid transit in the area. I also think the Five-Year Fare Policy review is important, and I’m hoping we can work with the provincial government to at least establish a pilot program for senior fares. There are cities here in Ontario and around the world that have special senior’s fares, and I’d like to see a similar program here. I believe we should give back to our seniors.

Q: What is a fun fact about you that Torontonians might not know?
A: Over the years, I’ve done a lot of musical performances for charity – I am one of very few jazz singers in Toronto’s first-generation Chinese community!

Q: You joined the TTC Board in the heart of the pandemic. What role do you believe the TTC plays to bring community together during challenging times?
A: The TTC is the backbone of the community for many Toronto residents. COVID-19 has shown that many health care workers and first responders rely on the TTC to get to and from work. The TTC is essential, and we must always keep transit services available to essential workers.

Q: What message would you like to share with TTC employees?
A: First, you are valued. You play an important role each and every day in the life of this great city. No workplace is perfect, and there are always challenges, but I am proud of the TTC and the people who work here.

Q&A with citizen Commissioner Fenton Jagdeo

Commission Fenton Jagdeo

In February, the TTC welcomed its newest member to the TTC Board, citizen Commissioner Fenton Jagdeo. Born and raised in Toronto, Fenton has been a public transit user for all of his life. He currently co-leads Faculty World, a venture capital-backed consumer brand based in San Francisco. Prior to this, Fenton was an advisor to global business and government leaders as a strategy consultant at Deloitte. Fenton sat on the board of the Toronto Public Library (TPL), where he chaired the Strategic Planning Committee, responsible for developing TPL’s five-year strategic plan. Fenton is also the co-founder the BIPOC Mentor Network for BIPOC and LGTBQ+ students.

Q: Why did you decide to apply for the TTC Board?
A: I applied to the Board to contribute my skills and knowledge to a system that I’ve greatly benefitted from and use all the time. I like saying the 35 Jane got me to elementary school as a kid, and the 335 Jane Blue Night got me home from whatever King Street nightclub I wound up at as a young adult. Transit is more than trains and buses. Transit is an opportunity to help improve economic progress. It’s a lever to build more city density, a social equity equalizer and an engine for sustainability. As a younger person (age 26), I wanted to see a voice at the table that could empathize with a different perspective on public transit’s benefits, especially of those who’ll eventually inherit this city for their own.

Q: What excites you most about the TTC?
A: There are two things that excite me. The first is getting to know and work with TTC staff across the table. TTC people have always struck me as dedicated and hard-working, and I’m looking forward to learning from them. The second thing that excites me is how deeply connected public transit is to solving the everyday concerns of millions of customers. The impact that mobility has on everything from job security to environmentalism to city building is unprecedented. There is no Toronto if there’s no TTC and its workforce.

Q: The TTC has a long-standing history of keeping Toronto moving during challenging times. What priorities would you like to see the TTC focus on during the pandemic?
A: As we navigate through the pandemic, maintaining high-quality safety standards for customers and employees is our first priority. This means prioritizing safety, sanitation, reducing overcrowding to ensure social distancing, and upholding masking rules. Our second priority needs to be keeping the TTC one of the most efficient transit systems in North America. That means maintaining systems in good repair and being smart on how we use capital to fuel growth.

Q: What are your key focuses for your term at the TTC, and why?
A: My key focuses are:
> Driving innovation through financial transformation initiatives that hone efficiencies, supporting on open payments, and taking the long view on fleet, facility and technology modernization.
> Driving diversity and inclusion through shifting decision-making structures, integrating it into performance indicators, and by executing on the TTC’s 10-Point Action Plan.
> Driving customer service through crowd management, improved scheduling, community engagement and furthering accessibility. These areas are my focus because a competitive organization that wins today and into the future depends on enabling innovation to support the job, motivating talent to execute on the job and on creating value for TTC customers who give us the job. This trifecta is how you win, anywhere.

Q: In December 2020, the Board approved the TTC’s Embrace Diversity: 10-Point Action Plan to build an organizational culture of inclusion. How will you apply your experiences to move the TTC forward in this critical area?
A: I’m not going to sit here and pretend the world we live in is anywhere near racial equality. The colour of my skin made me the one per cent at business school, the companies I worked for, and the organizations I volunteered with. Yet, diversity and inclusion are competitive market advantages. My favourite study on this was an analysis on the Top 50 Companies for Diversity (42 were publicly traded). These companies had a 25 per cent higher return than the S&P 500 when measured over 10 years with dividends reinvested. People that choose diversity have significantly better returns than some of the best fund managers on the planet. And people pay big money for returns like this. I want to support management on the journey to build better organizational culture through diversity by telling my story, thinking through change as it relates to my lived experiences, and by being an active sounding board on thinking through the action plan’s execution.

Q: Do you remember your first time riding the TTC? Tell us about it.
A: My parents were immigrants to this country almost 30 years ago. They believed that transit was the best way to experience this city, and all the nuanced magic that makes Toronto what it was – so we took transit everywhere. I remember bugging my mother to make our way to the front train car in hopes that I could ask the Operator questions and see the driving in action. I did this on every train ride, because it was so cool.

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