By Joel Ceausu
Thank you, driver,
for getting me here;
You’ll be an inspector,
have no fear
• Pete Townshend
Some months ago, I called the STM with a few Opus Card queries. I kept the gracious lady on the phone for quite some time with a number of clarifications and explanations, and just because I enjoyed listening to her near-flawless English and demeanour, which spoke of a true vocation for customer service.
It belied that whole crappy STM service thing that we often hear so much about.
I was so impressed in fact, that I subsequently e-mailed STM Customer Relations offering hearty praise. Even more surprising? I received a phone call from a department manager thanking me for taking the time to express the comments, and she told me the employee would hear about it too.
I was assured that kind of feedback goes a long way and is what they strive for.
Sound like a load of institutional Shineola right? Perhaps, but I kind of know when I’m being snowed, and I think I just lucked out on some great service. Hey, it happens, so why not spread the love?
I was then pleasantly surprised a few weeks later, on a downtown family jaunt to the planetarium when we got into the Villa Maria metro station, infamous for the illegal—and downright nasty—sign put up on a ticket booth two years ago telling riders that “In Quebec, we operate in French.”
I think about that each time I step into that station, ever at the ready for an unpleasant surprise and expecting lousy service with bitter countenance, forged in the stew of sitting in an enclosed box all day serving thousands of west-end blokes, including hordes of students, also mostly Anglo, flooding in and out all day.
Anyway, back home at Villa Maria, paying cash fares, the ticket taker suggested—in English—that we buy a two-way pass to save a couple of bucks. I was quite shocked.
Metro booth employees are like a box of chocolates some would say, you never know what you’re gonna get. I’ve had my share, from the half-conscious drunken lout I encountered on a London tube years ago, to a super sweet and cheerful lady in a midtown Manhattan station last month. Was this generosity akin to bus drivers denying payments because the fare box was “defective” as has been the case so often recently amid all the “libre nego” union protests? Maybe.
When free rides and pleasant service are used as pressure tactics then we have truly entered the Bizarro World.
In any case, it prompted me to rethink my transit face: To be a little softer with this gang than my usual cynical stance, honed by years of taking Laval transit with a bunch of homogenous brutes and malcontents who thought every person under 30 was a threat, a louse and a pain in their ass, rather than the raison d’être of their careers.
So say hello I teach my kids. Be polite and make eye contact with the driver. He or she will accompany you each morning for the next few years and having a pleasant exchange each day can go a long way to making your days brighter.
So far its worked, my kid tells me, as she feels at home on her local bus and recognizes most of the drivers on the route, making her day a little brighter between its often rushed and stressed out beginning, and its tired, unhurried dusk.
Yet there are still exceptions. On an eastbound NDG bus last Thursday morning, a 12-year-old boy’s queries in English received two rude and dismissive responses—in French—from a female driver who ultimately decided to not answer at all instead of repeating instructions a third time. (Heaven forbid say something in English.) No, she was more intent on taking a political stand than helping a young rider.
Look at the faces of some bus drivers—they are not all bitter and rude, or take off as you run for the door. Sure, the relentless compression of services coupled with traffic and construction around the city means slower rides, jammed buses and more inconveniences.
But it’s not the drivers’ fault.
“It’s not me who cuts the bus routes,” says Louis, a driver on one west end route. “And I’m sorry but I don’t coast around all day with my foot on the brake just to make you wait a little longer in the cold.”
Louis says he hears a lot of guff over traffic and crowded buses. “I’m not the enemy. I’m a bus driver. So give me a break, say good morning and get on the bus. And let’s go to work.”