The TTC's customer service advisory panel says some aspects of improving the customer experience on public transit will be costly to implement and maintain.

"The question, of course, is: where will the money come from?" the panel asked in its report issued Monday.

For example, the report talks about station managers, ambassadors and customer service response teams to manage emergency situations. It said there should be staffed information kiosks in busy subway stations to handle information requests.

The microphones used at subway collector booths are inadequate and must be replaced by higher-quality equipment, it said, adding the public address system on subway cars also needs replacing.

There were 678 subway cars in 2009. There are 69 transit stations.

It noted that the TTC has rightfully focused on safety, but must pay more attention to its customer service.

Some major complaints include:

  • rude drivers
  • missed stops
  • unreasonable delays

The panel, which studied the TTC's customer services for six months and issued 78 recommendations, also said that customers need to better understand how the TTC actually operates and why events like "short turns" -- where a vehicle turns around short of its destination" -- occur. That means better communication from the TTC.

Some techniques could include town hall meetings and an improved customer complaint system, it said.

However, it also said operators deserve better treatment.

“Alarmingly, there seems to be a lack of respect for many of the operators. Operators are expected to act as a tour guide, policy enforcer, fare collector and custodian while providing information, directions and special assistance,” the report said.

Steve O'Brien, the hotelier who chaired the panel, suggested that part of the problem is no one is specifically in charge of customer service issues at the TTC.

"Currently, there is not a clear definition throughout the organization of what constitutes good customer service," he told a news conference.

"There does not appear to be an overall customer service vision, nor is there one individual charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the TTC provides the highest levels of customer service."

In 2009, the commission received 31,000 complaints -- a 15 per cent increase over the previous year. The system provided 471 million rides that year.

The panel was announced in February after complaints about the TTC hit a fever pitch. Some public relations disasters included:

  • a photo of a subway collector booth operator sleeping on the job
  • another watching DVDs
  •  a bus driver leaving his riders sitting for seven minutes in the middle of the night for a coffee break

In a news release issued Monday, the TTC described the panel's report as a "blueprint" for improving customer service.

"The TTC agrees that a focus on customer service is necessary to re-engage with its 1.5 million daily riders," it said.

"The panel was asked to provide recommendations to help improve customers’ experience. The TTC believes the panel achieved that today."

TTC staff will review the report and report back to the commission on Sept. 30 with advice on how to proceed, it said.

Mayor David Miller said in a written statement that the TTC has seen its funding from higher levels of government "slashed," forcing it to rely on riders and the property tax base.

“Over the past decade, the Commission has done an excellent job of expanding service for riders and growing the system to meet demand with limited resources," the mayor said.

"But frontline customer service has not improved at the same rate. We need to get the balance back so that we are providing both top-notch transit and customer services."

With a report from CTV Toronto's Alicia Markson