Tag Archives: #topoli

TTC CEO Andy Byford

5 Jun

Lunch with Mary 061

Date of lunch:
Monday, June 4, 2012

The company:
Andy Byford is the new (as of March 2012) CEO of the TTC, the Toronto Transit Commission. There was definitely a lot of news around Andy’s appointment as his predecessor, Gary Webster, was fired by a vote of the City of Toronto’s executive committee. Andy was already working as COO with Gary and positioned as his likely successor upon his retirement, so it was quite fitting to have Andy immediately take over once Gary was forced out. Now there are many opinions that can be written about how this all went down but that isn’t what this lunch was about. I am an avid transit user, a daily commuter and a big TTC fan (some would say transit nerd) most of the time. I wanted to hear from the CEO himself about what the future holds for the TTC. Prior to joining the TTC, Andy was the COO of Railcorp in Australia and before that he held many positions with the London Underground including line foreman, customer service manager of a station and general manager of customer services of several tube lines. He does not own a car and is very passionate about public transportation.

The food:
We ate at Grano on Yonge, a few blocks north of Davisville and the TTC head office. It’s a very cute Italian restaurant. Andy arrived earlier than me and spoke with the owner Roberto. On our way out, Andy was introduced to Roberto’s nephew who was on a break from his job as a subway driver. They all seemed to be very happy to meet each other and it was pretty cool to see the interaction. I had the fusilli chicken pasta with mushrooms and Andy had the risotto special. We shared a large bottle of sparkling water. My pasta was absolutely delicious and I ate every last bite. Andy said his risotto was very good but his eyes were bigger than his stomach as he was unable to finish. Total bill was $46 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Andy told me that he has always wanted to work for the TTC. He said he knew that if he ever got the call from Toronto, he would move. He said there are many amazing things about the TTC that Torontonians don’t realize. He was able to point one out to me that I had no idea was unique. Multi-module hubs. Allow me to explain. At stations like Dundas West, Bathurst, Spadina and St. Clair, you can get off the subway and get onto a bus or a streetcar or in Spadina’s case, a different subway line, all within a paid area. Andy let me know that in other cities, including London, you most often have to leave the subway station and walk a block or so to make the transfer. As someone who switches from subway to bus in a pay zone every single day, I had no idea that this was unique but I do love the convenience of it all. So all of you TTC complainers – here’s something to be happy about!

The lunch:
Andy is really excited about his new role and very excited about transforming the TTC. He has a five year plan and he hopes at the end of it, people really look at the TTC and really see the difference and understand and appreciate the improvements. It is a lofty goal.

Andy’s goal is both internal and external. He wants to improve the customers’ experience but he also wants to improve internal processes and employee morale. One of the first things he put together was a document for employees that includes “10 things to think about.” Number 5 on that list is “Delight customers with quick wins.” And you can see one of those quick wins already with the renovated washrooms across the subway line, including the once disgusting facilities at Bloor Station. Although I am still a bit scared to ever go back into those washrooms, I am happy they’ve been improved.

He’s also instituted a daily customer service report that includes objectives across all areas of the TTC that everyone within the TTC must strive to meet and he has identified key performance indicators, things like delivering a punctual subway service and providing easy access to customers with functional elevators and escalators. Every day the service is measured against the objectives. Seems like a good start.

And one day when service did not meet its objectives was Friday, June 1 when Union Station was flooded. Andy was actually travelling on the subway when it happened and his train bypassed Union and took him right to St. Andrews Station. He got off the train and ran over to Union to see what was happening. Incase anyone was wondering, he said the smell was absolutely awful. But he was pretty impressed that it was cleaned up so quickly. Now his focus is on determining why it happened and making sure it doesn’t happen again.

As mentioned above, Andy does not own a car so he rides everywhere on the TTC and he thinks it’s important that he uses the service. He does say it can be a bit uncomfortable when the subway stops underground between stops and all of the other passengers look at him. But otherwise, he said it has been a pretty positive experience.

Andy is very new to Toronto. His wife is a Canadian (from Ottawa like me) so he’s actually been to Toronto quite a few times but he’s just getting into all that the city has to offer, including sports. He’s a die-hard Plymouth Argyle football fan. It’s his hometown and he’s still a season ticket holder, he showed me his card. As such an avid Plymouth fan, he hasn’t yet quite embraced the Toronto FC but he’s very excited to check out a Jays game and is actually really looking forward to watching the Argos (you don’t hear that every day). His enthusiasm for Plymouth and English football has renewed my wish to get to the UK and watch a game, Andy was actually quite insistent that I do. And although he does play for Manchester United, Andy actually doesn’t mind my favourite player Paul Scholes.

There is a lot of exciting stuff happening with transit in this city, not only with the new LRT lines but also Presto passes that will be similar to the Oyster Card in the UK and the Metrolinx rail line to the airport that will connect with the TTC. I am pretty excited about all of it. And I was pretty happy to have a fellow transit nerd to chat with. Now if only we can get people to stop blocking the subway doors at St. George Station every morning.

Advertisements

Former Mayor of Toronto David Miller

10 May

Lunch with Mary 059

Date of lunch:
Thursday, May 10, 2012

The company:
David Miller is one of the more well-known people I have taken out for lunch. It is a bit strange when everyone in the restaurant recognizes the person you are lunching with. So if you don’t know who David Miller is, he is Toronto’s former mayor. He was our mayor from 2003 to 2010. He was a Toronto city councilor for many years prior to that. In his life post-mayor, David is Counsel, International Business and Sustainability at Aird & Berlis, as well as Future of Cities Global Fellow at Polytechnic Institute of New York University, where he both teaches and assists in developing programs that connect technology and society to solve urban issues.

The food:
We ate at Mercatto on Bay Street. It is a very bustling place at lunchtime. We both had the soup to start, white bean and ham, and then I had a Caesar-like salad and David had the scallop appetizer. The soup was absolutely delicious, David had high praise for his scallops and my salad was pretty average, although very pretty on the plate. We both drank sparkling water. Total bill was $46 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
I asked David what he misses most about being the mayor. His answer was not what I expected. He said for seven years, eight years when you count the campaign, he was forced to be his very best. And he explained there are very few times in your life when you are forced to always be at your best and you start to simply exist at such a productive level. As an avid follower of Toronto city politics, I do see how long the hours can be and, as my lunch experience today taught me, it’s not like the mayor of Toronto can ever really be off the clock. So you’re always on and you’re always working and always working towards something. David said that was the thing he missed the most in the first few months when he was no longer mayor. However, he said he does now enjoy being able to coach his daughter’s soccer team and plan family vacations less than six months in advance and know that he will be able to actually take the vacation.

The lunch:
I was so nervous for this lunch. But as I was waiting for the Yonge subway to head down to Mercatto, I was just hoping for one of the new trains. Ever since the new subway trains started running, I feel like they are my good luck charm. I know I will have a good day if I catch a ride on a new subway. I may have once (transit nerd confession) completely gone out of my way and changed my entire commute just to stay on a new train for a few more stops. But today was not my day, a new train came heading north but alas, my southbound train was an old one.

But as soon as David and I sat down, I let him know how I was really wishing for a new train but didn’t get it. This got us started on Toronto transit. One of my favourite topics and, David let me know, one of the topics everyone wants to speak with him about. I ride transit to work every day and I am relatively positive about the TTC. Being from Ottawa originally, the subway is still impressive to me in how far a distance you can travel in such a short time. But our first transit topic was St. Clair. I live very near St. Clair and I am a HUGE fan of the streetcar right-of-way. It really bothers me when the route is called a disaster when I have seen first hand how great it is – both in terms of travel time and the noticeable improvements in the community.

This point is something that David feels strongly about. When you invest in a community, such as the $100 million investment in St. Clair, the community will benefit. You see it on St. Clair, you see it on Roncesvalles.

And this brought us to the idea of the “Future of Cities”, David’s fellowship at New York University. I asked him if there were other cities that he sees as great models. He did say that revenue-wise, there are models in Europe that simply are not feasible for Toronto, but he does love Berlin. He says it’s just an incredible city with great transit infrastructure, three operas and in general a lot of stuff going on. He says they want to do something and they just do it. I know a couple of fantastic Toronto artists who have moved to Berlin and have fallen in love with the art scene there. Seems like a place that I definitely need to visit.

We also talked about how I was able to set-up my lunch with David. I did it through a simple tweet. I just asked him, in a tweet, if he’d like to have lunch with me for my blog and he replied that he would. And here we are. He spoke about how Twitter has been such a great way for him to have conversations with Torontonians, both when he was mayor and since. I agree that it is a great tool for having access to people that we never used to have access to in the past. I am glad to see people like David Miller using Twitter so enthusiastically.

I left the lunch feeling that the culture of a city cannot be created by the government, such as, for example, a city’s music scene is often something that exists organically within a city on its own. But, and this is me speaking, investment in communities helps to build this organic growth. And, again this is me talking, a city is not a business – it is a mass of people with incredibly diverse needs be they business, cultural, health, employment, social, housing, transit, etc. – and, it should be noted, Toronto is a pretty amazing mass of people. I do love this place and I hope it keeps getting better.