Local journos are falling down on the job in reporting the history and true extent of the latest string of incidents plaguing the “embattled” TTC.

Drivers on cellphones

The Sun thought it had a killer scoop in the form of a photo of a bus driver sending or receiving a text message at the wheel. I have witnessed this myself. But I have been documenting every driver I see using an iPod, a phone, or anything like it for two full years. I’ve also intervened against extending cellphone service to the subway because it will tempt drivers and conductors to actually use their cellphones while operating a moving train. (They already do that, in fact; ask me for specifics.)

In other words, the problem is ongoing and is not a one-time gotcha! just because the Sun finagled a juicy photo. There are serious issues endemic to the TTC’s drivers – especially new, younger drivers, who have a sense of entitlement and are neurologically incapable of being disconnected from their friends and their status updates for 15 minutes, let alone a full shift.

I contacted most journos covering this story for the Sun, the Globe, and the Star, and was either ignored or accused of “shopping around” my considerable database of sightings. (The journo who used that term, Kelly Grant of the Globe, doubted the accuracy of my reporting but claimed she would file an information request to obtain complaints the public lodged with the TTC. Publishing unverified complaints based on TTC documentation hardly seems more reliable than publishing a journalist’s observations, especially since I offered to authorize the TTC to release to Grant all its responses to my reports.) One journo from the Star responded by mail, but did not follow up after I called her back.

Given a choice between one-time coverage and following an endemic issue to its root, local papers chose the former. It would not surprise me to learn that no local reporters have heard of the memo that was sent to divisions recently about cellphone usage, the contents of which I have already confirmed. Then again, I am apparently the only one who actually cares that many TTC drivers operate vehicles while distracted and have done so for years. And I’m the only journalist who documents it when drivers issue threats and make false statements to Transit Control after I catch them. (It definitely is a question of catching them, but really, why should it be?)

Prediction: We’ll eventually have our first fatality caused by a distracted bus or streetcar driver, the shit will hit the fan, and nobody but me will have actual data on the incidence and duration of the problem. And since I’m not working at a paper and that paper didn’t originate the data, journos will pretend that data do not exist.

Newspaper litter

The Sun and the Star fell prey to a TTC soft-news propaganda campaign in which new chair Karen Stintz complains about cleanliness of the system to reporters and picks up stray newspapers in their presence. (In the Star, Stintz self-incriminates thus: “Somewhere over the Don Valley River, she spots two discarded Metro newspapers, and snatches them up for later disposal. ‘We need to lead the change,’ she says.”)

A journalist who actually knew the lay of the land or who had done some research would know that the TTC not only permits the distribution of free periodicals on its property but took $1.3 million from Metro for the privilege (PDF). Most newspapers littering buses, streetcars, and subways are copies of Metro, in my observation. Here’s a single car’s haul one late evening:

Large pile of newspapers under H4 subway-car seat

The new chair wants you to believe she’s cracking down on litter on the system even while its chief polluter bought the system off. Only the TTC would be so self-destructive as to take a million-dollar bribe from a newspaper publisher to enable the defilement of its own public infrastructure. Only Toronto journalists would refuse to cover what easily amounts to a scandal.

Subway emergencies

This week, the subway was – again – shut down during rush hour and – again – TTC couldn’t manage to tell everyone what was going on. A seasoned reporter would have remembered the TTC’s earlier promises, predating the customer-service panel, to set up procedures to keep this lack of communication from recurring.

But that same reporter would also know that the OneStop advertising screens found in some subway stations are, by contract, useless for emergency warnings because that same contract does not even specify how much of the screen will not be devoted to advertising. (Their sole reason for existence is advertising.)

The self-destructive TTC still doesn’t have a way to take over the entire screen when something goes wrong, as the Star managed to admit. During the G20, I witnessed many people standing for minutes trying to read emergency announcements paged line-by-line across the bottom of the screen while advertisements and other chrome displayed without interruption on most of the available real estate.

These failings have been discussed at the Commission before, but that same Commission rubber-stamped a renewal of the contract with no provisos to limit advertising or go full-screen for TTC’s own needs. (I was there and I watched the rubber-stamping happen.)

Those screens, meanwhile, are useless to anyone more than six feet away from them (that means essentially everyone on a platform or on a train), aren’t in all stations, are hidden downstairs after you’ve already paid your fare, and don’t work for blind people, an issue that keeps popping up years after the TTC blew 400 grand to lose a previous legal battle on that front. (As the TTC should know by now, one human-rights complaint can ruin your whole day.)

But again, you’d need to have experience and topic knowledge to know any of that. You’d have to be willing to maintain files, to write stories based on information you did not personally dig up, and to write unflattering articles if that’s where the news points you. You’d have to be willing to commit journalism, which, when it comes to the TTC, nobody at any local newspaper is.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2011.02.16 13:52. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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