Thursday, 3 May 2012

So How Do We Change?

I have been putting some thought into what I would change within OC Transpo, if I had the power to do it. So how can we change the culture at OC Transpo, and the perception of the service by our clients?

First Things First

We need to be honest with ourselves. In some areas, the service is fantastic. We consistently exceed the expected standards of our clients when the system runs as it should. I've been there when this happens. It's a good feeling.

In other areas, we fail miserably.

  • The ability to regain control of the schedule when setbacks (like traffic and weather) occur is very limited. There are not nearly enough resources to make up for delays, and all to often the solution is to "run it late" regardless of whether that means four #12's are running back-to-back-to-back-to-back.

  • Our ability to predict and foresee solutions to delays is stuck in some kind of limbo between schedule adherence and booking rules for operations staff. There needs to be more flexibility with labour to move resources around to cover service.

  • We are not always at our best as professional bus drivers. Both the union and management need to work together to identify employees that are in need of retraining and refocusing in the principles of good customer service, and in dealing with difficult situations.


The company instigated a program called "Pro in Motion", whereby which all employees attend a triennial three day seminar that covers all kinds of busdriver-ey stuff such as better driving habits for fuel savings, workplace harassment, sensitivity training, and customer service. It's a pretty decent course.

I would love to see a "Riding Transit" portion added to this course.

While drivers may spend hours on buses, that doesn't make them experts in using transit. There really is a huge difference between driving transit and using transit, and I think drivers could be better at their jobs if they had the experience of their passengers. How many times have passengers been on a local route on a Sunday morning, pulling into a local hub, only to see the 95 pulling away just as they get there?

Drivers need a better grip on what it's like to be an actual passenger, out of uniform, trying to make connections that matter to them. I would dedicate an entire day of "Pro in Motion" to riding buses out of uniform, using tickets and transfers, and reading posted schedules.

More than that, I would put half of that day in the seat of a wheelchair. The number one insecurity of folks using wheelchairs is that eye-roll they get when the bus pulls up. We don't think they notice our body language. They do. Spending even half a day trying out transit from the seat of a wheelchair might reconnect the empathy to the steering wheel for many drivers. If you have never been in a wheelchair, this might be one of those days that absolutely changes your life.

Social Media

Social media has the power to conduct ideas and transfer them into our brains within seconds, which makes it the perfect conduit to whining and complaining. When I hear folks using Twitter postings as an argument supporting the poor quality of our service, I cringe. Twitter is a place of squeaky wheels, littered with negativity and oneupmanship. It doesn't matter how good you may be. You don't have to search very hard to find out you suck on Twitter. Pay little attention to the attention seekers. It's simply unreliable data.

If you're not going to react to the attention seekers, then how do you use social media? How about free advertising?

Use Twitter and Facebook to have your clients nominate an employee of the month. Encourage your clients to seek out and recognize good employees, and post their employee numbers with a hashtag related to the promotion. Reward your clients who participate by judging the best tweet or wall post, and give them something for their efforts. Get your clients engaged in a positive campaign! We already have so many ways to complain about the service. It's time to pull out the positives.

Get people following the OC Transpo avatar because there's something in it for them, then get them to engage in positive relations with your employees.

Any idiot can complain. It takes a loyal customer to make a compliment. Loyalty comes from engagement, and social media is all about engagement.

Changing The Culture Within

How do you steer the culture at OC Transpo towards one that prides itself on customer service?

There is much work to be done here. -Yoda

I think I would start with the kinds of strategies I use to coach kids hockey. It sounds funny, I know.

The number one motivating factor in getting a team to skate in the same direction is to reward positive behaviour, and create internal competition.

Divide the workforce into teams, be it by section head, or seniority groups, or even by garage... and use client feedback (compliments, or tweets), schedule adherence (as in never early), fuel economy targets, idling time, and scores from secret shoppers to score the groups. Have employees vote on team captains to represent their group. Give out an annual award to the winning team at the Christmas party or something similar. Create and publicize the results. Single out your best employees. Let them know what you think of them. Positivity breeds positivity.

Let your customers know that Bob's group beat Tracey's group, or that Merivale Garage has the best operators, but St. Laurent idles less.

The point of the exercise is to get employees engaged in their jobs, to seek common goals, and to want the changes. Giving lectures on customer service isn't enough anymore. We are beyond the point where a two hour class or a video presentation is enough to change our behaviours. To change behaviour, you need to refocus, and nothing refocuses people like competition.

The union needs to be involved in changing the culture.

If I were an executive at ATU, I would be pushing for much more community service and consultation. We need to get our members talking to groups for seniors and groups for folks with disabilities so we can better understand our clients.

Would it be productive to have town halls with commuters and students to better understand their needs, and to let them get to know us better? When was the last time bus drivers, managers, and commuters really had a good talk about the service?

Dialogue is a two way conduit. ATU could really benefit from listening, but more so from being heard. There is much more to us beyond the media snippets of labour negotiations. We are real people.

I could continue writing, but I suspect I've already lost a few of you.  So, more later.


  1. Have a rider advocate/ombudsman would be nice. Making a complaint feels like your just being humoured and the complaint goes no further once you finished the call or email. Nobody seems to representing the rider. This system of advocate/ombudsman has been in hospitals for years. It's easy to pile on complaints about the drivers but riders need a method to hold management accountable.

    It would also be nice to see management and the union take the same attitude and actions we have seen recently with the TTC. It was nice to see the union clearly state that bad drivers need to be dealt with. And the unions role is not shield them from being responsible for their behaviour but to make sure the process is fair. Having the management make it clear that that 99% of drivers are doing a great job and that honest mistakes are just that.

  2. Damn! I feel like I'm listening to myself! Good stuff, especially the ride the bus part and in a wheelchair no less! Brilliant. Do you give some of these ideas to your management? I would if I were you.

  3. Several managers have contacted me and said they read the blog, so I guess the answer is Yes, in a roundabout way. Thanks for the comments Julia, much appreciated.

  4. Man, where do you come up with this stuff? Brilliant...