Toronto Talks: Transit Recap: TTC delays, the wish to ditch Presto, drug testing for staff and more


On Tuesday night, deputy mayor and TTC board member Denzil Minnan-Wong, ATU Local 113 President Carlos Santos and Vincent Puhakka of the TTC Riders Association took part in an hour-long discussion about problems with transit in Toronto.

Hosts Ryan Doyle and Barb DiGiulio questioned the three on the various problems regarding the Presto system, TTC service delays, lack of customer service training for employees and concerns over drug use.

Here are some of the highlights from the discussion:


Minnan-Wong said if it were possible to get out of the Presto system, he would, but we're too far along in the process.

"If there was a reasonable system that we could put in," he said. "The problem is we're into it so deep in terms of all the equipment that we've bought."

Santos said when it comes to malfunctioning Presto machines, a small solution is to have the TTC's own employees repair them.

Minnan-Wong said he didn't know why that hadn't been looked into.

"We should look at solutions that work, that make sense and that are affordable and practical and if it meets all those criteria, I'm open to looking at that idea."

The deputy mayor also explained why he doesn't take the TTC.

"With the Eglinton Crosstown, which is a horrible arrangement with the construction going on, for me to get downtown, it's going to take me 90 minutes, whereas a straight shot down the Don Valley Parkway, it takes me 30-35 minutes."

Minnan-Wong also said he's rethinking his position on LRTs given how problematic the Eglinton Crosstown construction has been, but Puhakka said to give it time.

"We do have to watch out to see what happens when it's complete," he said. "Go stand at Steeles and Markham Road in the middle of rush hour, it's bumper to bumper traffic and there's not an LRT in sight, so I'm not sure we can blame transit for traffic congestion, when maybe there's just too many cars on the road."


Multiple riders told NEWSTALK1010 that TTC staff often don't pay attention to fare evaders, which the auditor-general reported led to a loss of $64 million in revenue.

Santos said he's never been made of the issue.

"It's stunning to me that no one's complained to the head of the union about that," Doyle said.

"I have never received any complaints," Santos said.

Puhakka said while the association certainly doesn't condone evaders, he thinks the bigger focus is the lack of funding for the system.

"I think focusing too much on the fare evaders when the real evaders are the levels of government who aren't actually funding the system, I think we're losing a sense of perspective," he said.


Data shows less than two per cent of TTC workers either failed or refused to take a drug test between May 2017 and December 2018, but of the drugs detected, 20 per cent included cocaine.

But Santos noted while a very small percentage of workers fail or refuse testing, results don't come back for two days.

"They're being taken into a room, they're being given a test and then they're being a put on a bus or a streetcar or on a subway train," he said. "So how is this making the public any safer?"

Minnan-Wong said it's assumed workers are not showing up drunk or high.

"I guess we assume, we give people the benefit of the doubt if they say there's not substance abuse involved, we give them the benefit of the doubt," he said.


Another gripe from riders was a lack of customer service skills from some TTC staff and Santos admitted that training is mostly on de-escalation.

"There's no real, actual training where you're spending two or three days focusing on customer service," he said.

Minnan-Wong said while he's not familiar with the training.

"I would however also like to add that for every person who doesn't give you very good service, there are probably a lot more that give you excellent service."


As for a lack of information from the TTC when it comes to delays, Minnan-Wong said there are TV screens at stations, but if customers are not paying attention, perhaps a low-tech idea of a sandwich board would improve the situation.

"In front of the escalator, just put a sandwich board up there and say 20-minute delay," he said. "All he needs is the sandwich board, the white board and a magic marker."

He also said if we want to utilize app technology, that should be developed by companies who are well-versed in open data and not relying on a bureaucrat who knows little.

"With regard to the delays...we can do something about that," he said.

Santos said TTC staff try to inform the public of delays, but they're dealing with thousands of customers every day and his solution would simply be to hire more employees.

"I do believe it is the answer, if there's more people standing at those gates and at that station, they're prone to get the attention of the crowd," he said.


When it comes to overall problems, Puhakka said everyone is to blame, but the only way to truly fix the problem is to properly fund the biggest transit system in the country.

"We have a budget being voted on Thursday that actually isn't really funding the system to a level that it needs to be, there's a repair backlog of $30 billion with a b," he said. "That's the longstanding situation that we have, and it's not going to get any better until we actually take serious steps at the political level."