Thursday, 15 December 2011

In Defense of Alain

Few departments get as much flak in this city as transit does. As a driver, we take it on the front line in a very direct and personal manner. People will tell us exactly what they think of the service, sometimes in ways that get very personal. I have driven some trips at OC Transpo that were so awful to listen to that I've quickly scanned the bus to see if Nicolas Cage was starring in them. At the end of the day, if I am truly a professional, my problems don't come home with me. That passenger is out of my life, and tomorrow is another day.

Alain Mercier however, he gets a different story. I have been trying for years now to figure out how someone could possibly balance his portfolio and keep his sanity. Sure, he's paid well. He should be. Mercier is in charge of the single-most budget eating service in the city. His job description is part manager, part politician, part labour lawyer, part philanthropist, and a full-time face of whatever happens at OC Transpo whether it is personally related to him or not.

Every move Alain Mercier makes is lauded by one group, and absolutely slammed by another. That is a tough job, in my opinion.

Previous general managers have had it much easier than Alain Mercier. Prior to amalgamation, OC Transpo was a huge iceberg drifting throughout the city budget, sinking whatever projects it touched. Aimless, without any other long term plan than to simply exist, and following a whatever current it could find. It was run much like a Mom n' Pop operation, small minded and closely knit.

Since Mercier took over, OC Transpo has felt more like a large corporation.

Mercier has changed the professional culture at OC Transpo since he has taken over. It started with the managers. He restructured many departments, creating many roles that other large transit corporations utilize as standard practice such as setting up real hierarchies within departments and making them accountable for performance. Every facet of management has been restructured and reorganized, and it seems (at least from my lowly viewpoint) that each department has an entirely expanded capacity to do things that OC Transpo management has never been able to do.

Where OC Transpo management used to feel to me as an unprofessional sewn-together outfit, it feels like I'm working for a credible company with purpose and a plan.

The fleet has never been younger. While there are some glitches with new buses, I don't blame anyone but the manufacturer for breakdowns these days.

The new GPS system is marvellous. I can actually manipulate the mapping system to find a street (the way I used to do with my phone, before that became such a touchy proposition).

While I often poke fun at the Next Stop Announcement System (NSAS), quite simply put... it works. Mercier took all kinds of shrapnel in the drivers' rooms for coming down hard on drivers who were not calling out stops, but if you followed that story, it became a human rights issue. Compliance was a legal requirement.

In my direct line of sight, drivers that hadn't had any kind of training since they were hired (in some cases, that could be more than a decade) were being called into « Pro in Motion » training. In fact, if the expanded training department hadn't been turning out a thousand new drivers over the past decade, I would suggest that OC Transpo would have a full fledged customer service school ripping through the fleet.

I am looking at the forward momentum of this company, and I like what I see. I think it is time we bury the hatchet that the strike placed in our respective hands, and get on board with Mercier's current project.

« Our Employees Are Our Brand »

Now, you know I absolutely have to get behind this type of campaign. Getting drivers to be proud of what they do, and taking pride in who they serve is the central message I have been trying to push since this blog was started, hacked, destroyed, and started again.

Our union needs to jump on-board with this message. I have long said that the best place to negotiate a contract is from behind the wheels of our buses, each and every day. People are less inclined to side with the Larry O'Briens of the world if you do an honest job, work hard, and treat everyone like you would treat your kids, or your mom.

Being the « Brand » of OC Transpo means you are the face of a city to tourists. You are the leader of the commute. You are the legs of the disabled. You are the sight to the blind. You are the lifeline to the housebound. You are the link to families. You are the way to seek help. You bring the food home to the table, and the kids home from school. You are the eyes and ears for the police. You are the answer to the lost commuter. You are the trip home. You are the designated driver.

I have pointed out a few great things Alain Mercier has done as the general manager of OC Transpo, because turnabout is fair play.

Let's use this new campaign to turn a page at 1500 St. Laurent, and build a brand.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree with much of what you say in regards to Alain Mercier managing his position well. He is directly responsible for the tremendous dissatisfaction of his employees. The scheduling remains abhorrent to most of the drivers and management has shown a total lack of interest or willingness to accomodate their employees. Hence the antagonism continues to increase. This is a sign of significantly bad management when so many are under undue stress because of ridiculous schedules and numerous drivers cannot meet their time expectancies without foregoing their breaks or having to speed unnecessarily. I would be interested to know how many have had to take stress leave because of the work conditions. I certainly know of a couple of drivers who felt they were on the verge of a breakdown. It appears to be that OC is under abyssmal management.