Tag Archives: Toronto

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.

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.

Member of Parliament Andrew Cash

5 Aug

Lunch with Mary 055

Date of lunch:
Friday, August 5, 2011

The company:
Andrew Cash is my MP. He is the Member of Parliament for Davenport in Toronto. A few years ago, I was able to take out Andrew’s NDP colleague Olivia Chow for lunch, who was my MP when I lived in Trinity Spadina, and I was excited to take out my MP in my new riding since moving last summer. Andrew is a relatively new MP, having just won his seat in May. But he’s no stranger to the community, having campaigned for two years and as a long time community advocate. Andrew is so excited and so honoured to represent Davenport in Parliament and it was really great to speak with him.

The food:
We ate at Black Skirt by College and Dovercourt, it’s right near Andrew’s constituency office. We both drank water and Andrew also had an Americano. I had the grilled chicken and goat cheese sandwich. It was beyond delicious – a great marinade on the chicken, I could have ate two. Andrew had the cured meat sandwich special. We both had side garden salads. Total bill was $24 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Andrew explained his role as an MP and that he wears three hats. First, it’s meeting with his constituents who have concerns about things like immigration, employment insurance and other issues that fall to the federal government. He can then see how he can help. Second, is his role as a member of the NDP caucus, sitting in the House of Commons, participating in debate and voting. Third, it’s simply as an elected voice in his riding. As mentioned, Andrew spent over two years campaigning and spent much of that time listening to the concerns of the people he now serves. He understands that as an elected official, he needs to hear and understand the concerns and issues of everyone, whether or not the issue is federal. And he and his staff will see how they can help.

A lunch aside:
Before getting into the details of the lunch, I want to take a minute to mention that Andrew and I were supposed to meet for lunch last week but he had to re-schedule because he had to go to Ottawa for the interim leader vote. I am, as I am sure all Canadians are, keeping Jack Layton in my thoughts and wishing him a full and speedy recovery. Cancer is a jerk. Cancer recently took my boyfriend’s father and with that so fresh in our minds, seeing Jack’s press conference was very difficult. It seems right when he had accomplished something on which he’d worked for so long, cancer came along and ruined everything. Let’s hope we can get rid of this disease in our lifetime. Here are some links if you’re so inclined: Canadian Cancer Society and Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation.

The lunch:
As soon as we started our lunch, Andrew told me that today was a really exciting day for him as it’s his first full day of scheduled meetings with his constituents. He has already met with several people in the morning, had lunch with me (a constituent) and then a full afternoon. I had actually never considered setting up a meeting with my MP (or any other of my elected representatives) to discuss a specific issue or concern, so it was so nice to see that not only is Andrew doing this but he is SO excited about it.

We talked at length about the new NDP caucus. The media did criticize how young and inexperienced many of the members were. But one perspective is that more than any other party, the NDP is a microcosm of Canada with different ages, backgrounds and lots of women, which is great to see. Andrew is in a unique position of being a rookie but also having a lot of experience and he is thrilled about the people in the caucus, especially the young MPs. He told me to mark his words, a future prime minister of Canada is in his caucus and it’s one of the young MPs that people were so quick to criticize.

Andrew talked about some of the priorities and goals of the NDP and he spoke of a national public transit plan. Watching what is going on in Toronto right now is terribly depressing. As someone who takes public transit every single day to work, it irritates me to no end that the elected officials making the transit decisions don’t even use transit. And they’ve just canceled Transit City for a tiny subway route that serves less than 10% of the population that Transit City did. How is this happening? Well Andrew believes that with a federal mandate, there will be more logical and more cohesive transit, and hopefully more federal dollars.

Now many of you may not know that Andrew Cash is a very accomplished musician. He was actually in a punk band in Toronto in the 1980’s called L’Étranger with fellow NDP MP, Charlie Angus. He happens to be the MP for Timmins-James Bay, which includes good old Kirkland Lake, the hometown of my boyfriend. We never thought there was another connection between our Davenport home and Kirkland Lake and we’re happy to have found one. Maybe they can play a show at the Bellevue Tavern on Prospect Ave. We’ll be there for sure!

Much like my lunch with Olivia Chow, I left this lunch feeling very encouraged and optimistic about our elected representatives. They are enthusiastic, dedicated and excited to represent their constituents in Parliament and it’s great to see.

St. Lawrence Market Official Historian Bruce Bell

12 Nov

Lunch with Mary 025

Date of lunch:
Thursday, November 12, 2009

The company:
Bruce Bell is the official historian of St. Lawrence Market and St. Lawrence Hall. He conducts tours of the market, the hall and also does walking tours of the area. He has also been appointed official historian of Toronto’s King Edward Hotel, Honourary Historian of the Hockey Hall of Fame Heritage Building and Curator in Residence for the Dominion Bank Building. Bruce is full of awesome facts about Toronto and he is fascinating to hang out with. I learned so much. It really is a treat to be a tourist in your own city.

The food:
Bruce told me I HAD to have a peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery. The sandwich is famous (even Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse have eaten them) and, once I confirmed that I wasn’t vegetarian, Bruce ordered one up for me. We also ordered two Diet Cokes and then Bruce got a hot dog from Mano’s Meats. The peameal bacon sandwich was delish, I will definitely have to get another one next time I am there. The total bill for both our lunches was $11 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
When I returned from my lunch and shared my lunch lesson with some of my co-workers, apparently a lot of people already knew this – but I hope I’m not the only one who didn’t and hopefully my lunch lesson is news to some. So Front Street is called “Front” because it used to be at the edge of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Market building used to be right at the water’s edge. News to me. But it gets more interesting. The land that now extends south of the Front Street is built on landfill – that’s right – GARBAGE! All those condos that are blocking the view of the lake? Built on garbage. Amazing. Can you believe it?

The lunch:
Bruce and I grabbed our food first and ate it upstairs in the Market Kitchen – it’s an amazing space with a great view of the market. Then Bruce took me on a tour and I became a tourist in Toronto for the first time. And Bruce told me, his condo is his dressing room, the city is his stage. And I was about to walk right onto it!

First we walked down to the old façade of City Hall. I am obviously naïve about Toronto because I thought Old City Hall was the old city hall. I was wrong. There is an even older one and its façade still remains inside the South Building of the market. Next to city hall, there used to be a police station and downstairs was both a men’s and women’s prison. Bruce took me down to the prison area where only a wall remains. But you can still see the pegs in the wall where the prisoners were hung up by their arms. It looked like it was a pretty awful place.

Bruce then took me across the street to the North Market – a much more modern building with much less history. But the timing of my visit was perfect. On the morning of our lunch the City of Toronto launched the St. Lawrence Market North Building Design Competition to find the best design for a new, vibrant North Market building. I can’t wait to see what will happen to the space. With all the history in the area, there will be a lot of pressure to make it incredible.

After the South Market, Bruce took me to St. Lawrence Hall, a building that I have walked by before but never really knew about. It is a beautiful building with wide staircases and intricate woodwork on the walls. There is a ballroom space that can be rented out and it is always in use for speaking engagements, corporate events, weddings and more. In the past, the space was used for boxing matches, which is pretty awesome when you see how fancy the room is.

Finally we walked back towards the South Market through the Market Square. I have walked this path a lot of times, even once working at the Rib Festival right in the square. But I had no idea that this is where prisoners were brought to be flogged by the public and across the street, public hangings were held. Bruce said that thousands would show up for these public hangings – they were popular events. So strange. At the north end of the market square there is a well. Bruce explained to me that this was where the women would meet in the mornings and it was a social gathering hot spot. Much like the St. Lawrence Market is today.

Bruce just knows so much and can’t help but share his passion for the history of Toronto. He was even telling me some of the Free Mason aspects of Toronto’s architecture, including the Royal York Hotel and the Flat Iron building. I just wanted to learn more. I highly recommend taking a tour with Bruce, it is fascinating. Now I just need to continue my quest to be a tourist in Toronto. Any tips?

Real Estate Agent April Williams

3 Jun

Lunch with Mary 019

Date of lunch:
Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The company:
April Williams is a real estate agent in Toronto. She works with a partner and has a regular newsletter that was forwarded on to me. I had looked through her newsletters a few times and checked out places online so I figured she would be a good agent to ask for lunch to gain insight about buying a first home. April has been an agent just over a year, after working in advertising and the film industry. She has always been interested in real estate and finally decided to make a career out of it. She was hooked after selling her first property after only three days on the job. Also, it turns out she is friends with my sister and they used to work together – fun! Small world.

The food:
April and I ate at the new(ish) Jack Astor’s at Yonge and Bloor. Believe it or not, I have never been to Jack Astor’s. First impressions – it’s a pretty nice lunch spot if not a bit cookie cutter. I had the Mediterranean Chicken Focaccia sandwich with a side Caesar salad and April had the Opa half pizza and we both drank Diet Coke. My sandwich was delish. The staff at Jack Astor’s actually brought everyone in my office a free boxed lunch a couple of weeks ago to drum up business for their new location. I didn’t even realize until after I was half done my sandwich that this was the same one I had at work – goat cheese and chicken – can’t go wrong. April seemed to enjoy her pizza. And best of all – free re-fills! Total bill was $30 with tax.

The lunch lesson:
Where do I start? This lunch was all about practical knowledge that I am almost embarrassed I don’t yet possess. But I would say my big lesson was the first few steps I need to do to start the buying process. First, I need to go to my bank (or mortgage broker) and see what I amount I can get pre-approved. Second, I should look at some neighbourhoods and choose where I might want to live. Next, just start playing on MLS and seeing what’s out there (I already do this) in my pre-approved price range. And once I have an idea of what I want – call April and start checking out some places! I guess I already knew this stuff, but it’s always helpful to have it spelled out by a professional, so I know I am on the right track.

The lunch:
April is super friendly and was very easy to talk to. She was actually quite helpful and made me feel re-assured about moving into the world of ownership. Considering that when I bought my car in October, I almost had a panic attack at the dealership – I was near tears and needed fresh air and thought I was going to be sick – I can’t even imagine buying a house. But April made some great points that I already know but sometimes need to hear… such as paying rent is just giving money away and real estate is a pretty safe investment.

April pointed out that even if you only stay in a place for a year or two, you get to take the equity from that property and apply it to your next one.

April also spoke about the very favourable mortgage rates happening right now. She told me about her monthly mortgage payment that has gone down almost $500 due to the reduced interest rate. When this happens, she has the choice to pay the lower amount or continue paying the same amount and pay her mortgage off faster. So fixed or variable rate – another thing I have to think about… Because is it really going to go lower than it is now and what if it goes up? I am confused. I guess I need to take a mortgage broker out for lunch next.

There is also a lot of talk about the state of the real estate market. Is it crashing? Will the prices go lower? April thinks the Toronto market is pretty hot. The past few deals she has worked on have had multiple offers. She says that the King West area is really popular right now with a lot of young professionals. I do like that area but can’t imagine taking the King streetcar every day. I guess these are the types of things I need to think about.

So anyone who knows me knows that I am bad at making major decisions, I always over-analyze and over-stress about EVERYTHING! I think that is why I have been avoiding getting into the market. This lunch was just what I needed to push me. I feel like I have an ally in April and I might just be ready to take the plunge. I just hope she keeps paper bags handy for when I start hyperventilating at an open house.

Member of Parliament Olivia Chow

21 May

Date of lunch:
Thursday, May 21, 2009

The company:
Olivia Chow is the New Democrat MP for Trinity-Spadina, which makes her my MP. Olivia has a diverse and fascinating career in public service. Beginning as an advocate for Vietnamese Boat People seeking asylum in Canada, Olivia worked with many others to successfully push the Canadian government to help these people. In the end, Canada took in 200,000 refugees. She then worked as the constituency assistant in the office of Dan Heap, who held the position Olivia holds now. This taste of seeing how she could make a difference led her to run. Olivia became a school trustee in 1985, a Toronto Metro city councilor in 1991 and continuing to be a councilor in the amalgamated city hall in 1997 and finally a federal MP in 2006. I never have had the opportunity to talk with one of my representatives so I emailed Olivia and asked her to lunch. She wrote me back (which was exciting for me and my blog) and the rest (of the lunch) is history.


The food:
We ate at Supermarket in Kensington Market, right near Olivia’s constituency office and smack in the middle of her riding. I have hung out at the Supermarket at night but had never enjoyed food on the patio in the sunshine. I had Thai Green Curry Chicken and Olivia had mango salad with grilled shrimp and we both shared edamame. We both drank water (it was 30 degrees out!!!). The food was great but the food came out at all different times, including getting my rice five minutes before my curry. Total bill was $27 with tax which we split, which she insisted.

The lunch lesson:
Olivia told me about a big lesson she had learned at the beginning of her career which she shared with me. Working in Dan Heap’s office, constituents would often come into the office looking for help for a number of things. She noticed quickly that you can help people one at a time, but if you can change laws and policy, you can help a lot more people. This is what encouraged her to get into politics and something that has got me thinking…

The lunch:
Secretly, but I guess not so secretly now that I am writing this online, I have often thought that one day I want to be on city council. I thought it would be great to hear from Olivia about her experience on city council and beyond.

For anyone who dreams (or thinks or ponders) of political office one day, no matter your leanings, hanging out with Olivia Chow will inspire you to get involved. She is so passionate about what she does and the people she helps. It seems what drives her is being able to change things for the better.

Olivia asked me what organizations or causes I feel strongly about. I told her how I have always supported international aid organizations but most recently, I have focused my attention on the issues facing women in many of these countries. We talked at length about this, as well as Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma and Canada’s pledge in international aid.

I think this was the point when I fully realized that Olivia is actually in a position to make a difference. I watch the news about women being stoned for protesting the “rape law” in Afghanistan and I want to do SOMETHING but I don’t know what. I started to imagine myself in a position when I can truly enact change. I do realize that you don’t have to be in office to make a difference, of course, but the idea that Olivia can give a cause (for many local and national issues as well) a voice on a national stage is pretty amazing.

I really enjoyed spending my lunch hour with Olivia. I was REALLY nervous about this lunch. Once Olivia showed up on her bicycle, adorned with flowers, I felt a little bit better and by the end the nerves were gone. Olivia is wonderful company and ensures a fascinating conversation. She may have just pushed me a little closer to running one day…