Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Vancouver Olympics are like Olympic Mittens

The 2010 Vancouver Olympics have evolved just like HBC's Official Red Canadian Olympic Mittens after one wears them for a week.

The mittens have generated excitement when they first hit HBC Stores. HBC couldn't supply the mittens fast enough they were so popular. For $10 Canadian they were also affordable for almost every Canadian. The mittens are a way to show Canadian Olympic pride. In fact the mittens are so popular that even U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was caught wearing them when he attended the Opening Ceremonies.

The popularity of the mittens is like the popularity and energy found before the opening ceremonies. Vancouverites and those arriving from around the world could feel the energy and anticipation of the games arriving the week before they opened. The airport and the city itself had a buzz to it. That buzz still exists today as the games pass the ten day mark.

But after a couple of days of average wear and tear the mittens start to show fraying around the edges. These frays are best seen by loose threads and the noticeable "less white" of the white maple leaf in the palms of the mittens. On the inside of the right mitten I've developed a hole in the lining. This hole has developed despite hardly wearing these mittens since they were brand new last December. The quality of mittens seems to be a little suspect.

The Olympic Games are just like the mittens fraying. At the games there have been issues ("frays") that have been pointed out by the press. Issues include the chain link fence keeping spectators back from the Olympic Cauldron, issues with the ice resurfacing machine at the Long Track Speedskating Venue and the poor conditions at Cypress Mountain due to high temperatures and lack of snow. The major hole in the games, like in the right mitten, was the death of the Georgian Luger. But unlike the mittens, the quality of competition doesn't seem suspect.

However, like the mittens, despite the fraying around the edges there is excitement. Excitement when medals are awarded, excitement during competition like tonights U.S. vs. Canada Men's hockey game and the prospect of a similar game occurring in women's hockey.

After the games the mittens will form a kind of rememberance. Worn and frayed around the edges, but full of memories. Memories of great competition and artistry. Memories of great friends and excitement. Memories from 2010 and hopes of the next Olympic Games in London 2012.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Reflections of Olympic Proportions

NEWS FLASH: The 2010 Olympic Winter Games are in Vancouver!

But of course, unless you were under a rock, you already knew that.

The Opening Cermonies were quite well done with only a few hiccups. K.D. Lang singing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah was moving, the standing ovation upon the arrival of the Georgian Olympic Team who were wearing black arm bands in rememberance of their fallen comrad. There were at least two flubs, the first and most obvious was the failure of the Olympic cauldron within BC Place to rise on time or altogether (i.e. one of the arms didn't rise leaving Katrina Lemay-Doane standing centre stage with nothing to light). The second flub was by the host television network, CTV, for those watching the feed online. At midnight Eastern (Toronto Time) just as the indoor cauldron was about to be lit the feed cut out for good. I had to reload to the TSN feed. By the time I got the TSN feed up Wayne Gretzky was running up the stairs to leave the stadium on his wild ride on a back of a pick up truck through the streets of Downtown Vancouver to light the outdoor cauldron. But such is life without cable.

One ongoing Olympic embarassments in Vancouver is the outdoor Olympic Cauldron itself as the Toronto Star reports in today's paper. The Olympic Cauldron on Vancouver's waterfront is surrounded by 10 foot high barbed wire and chain link fencing to ensure it is secure. While the general public (read: the great unwashed) mass along the fenceline wishing they could get closer, the overpaid big wigs, media and others running around in official looking Olympic gear probably made in China but not sold at HBC Stores, get their pictures taken at the foot of the cauldron. What is really galling to Canadian taxpayers is the bill for security for these Olympic games is going to be over 900 million dollars. Yet a chain link fence has to be erected to keep people from vandalizing the flame instead of a couple of a couple of burly Canadian Mounties in red with Army back up. What a disgrace.

But there was good news from Vancouver on Sunday. Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau finally ensured Canada struck Gold for the first time while the Olympics were on Canadian soil. Bilodeau took Gold at the Men's Mogels. Now thanks to him and other Canadian Olympians, Canada has the "Royal Sampler" of Olympic Medals.

As Alex Bilodeau said: "The party's just starting for Canada."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Decent Daybreak

Daybreak on UrbanspoonToday my wife and I had brunch at Daybreak (14800 Yonge Street, Aurora)

Daybreak is a typical breakfast place serving delicious greasy spoon food that isn't overly busy but not "HEY STAY AWAY NOBODY EATS THERE!" empty either.

We got to choose our own table and the waitress came soon after to drop off the menus and take our drink order.

Shortly thereafter she returned with our drinks (glass of water and Orange Juice) and took our order.

Order: Waffles with Strawberries and Whipped Cream and OJ, Big Breakfast (2 pancakes, 2 sausages, scrambled eggs, toast and homefries

We waited about 10 minutes for our food to be cooked and delivered.

The waffles had a decent, but not generous, amount of strawberry topping topped with a decent amount of whipped cream. The waffles themselves were not overcooked and dry like I've suffered at another breakfast place.

The pancakes, with just a little syrup, were typical and nothing really special. But the homefries were quite tasty as compared to other restaurants renditions in the area.

Overall the food is better than provided at other locations. The price however, has risen a couple of dollars per plate ($7.99 for the waffles instead of $5.99). This is especially noticeable considering that the old menu with prices is still posted on the wall. It is time for this place to update their menus posted on the wall with the correct prices so that they match what is on the menu handed to the customer sitting at the table.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Why are Transit Customers taking photos?

Over the past couple of weeks in Toronto photos and videos have been surfacing of TTC Workers found in compromising positions. It all started with the now famous sleeping token collector. Then there was a flood of other photos and video of similar actions. Everything from the Queen Street Streetcar driver who stopped the vehicle and crossed to an ATM machine to a video of a TTC Bus Driver visiting a Country Style donuts mid route.

Why are all these photos and videos being taken and released by TTC Customers?

The answer to this question is simply customer frustration. Customers call and complain to the TTC Customer service, presuming it is open, and nothing happens. About three months ago I complained to both YRT and the TTC about the Route 107B near my workplace in Vaughan. The TTC is contracted by YRT to provide an extended TTC Route 107B north into York Region. I received a phone call from a "Sarah" from TTC who promised to look into it and get back to me with a solution. Three months later I haven't heard back from Sarah.

I've since complained back to both YRT, TTC and my Regional Councillor Aurora Mayor Phyllis Morris with no result. The TTC 107B 75% of the time will not come on its scheduled time. This despite the TTC and YRT both looking into it. YRT claims it is a TTC issue and there is nothing they can do about it as the TTC sets the schedule and they don't. Phyllis Morris has tried and doesn't seem to be getting very far with either YRT or the TTC. All I get in return is dumb answers like "the bus is considered to be on time if it arrives within 10 minutes of its scheduled arrival time". Um...so that means if the bus comes consistantly 10 minutes after it's scheduled time YRT and the TTC don't consider this to be an issue? So with that excellent example of "Customer Service" YRT and the TTC provided on this it is no surprise TTC customers are getting a little agitated. To make matters worse, the TTC just raised fares at the beginning of January.

Another issue of forwarding issues to Transit agencies is what the reply is back. That is presuming you get a reply back from the Transit agency. I've made a couple of complaints about YRT Drivers and YRT Transit inspectors, who follow up on customer complaints, either try and defend their driver or the reply is the transit driver denied it. This either ends in the YRT Customer thinking "why did I even bother reporting this?" to complete aggravation with steam coming from Customer's ears. I have experienced both of these. It seems transit agencies have very few people who have the wherewithal and energy to actually investigate the customers complaint instead of writing it off as frivolous. The "frivolous" attitude results in the transit customer being aggravated and not wanting to deal with idiotic customer service people at the transit agency again. Those that work and follow up the transit complaints actually ensure customers get reasonable action taken and a fully informed answer back.

However, there is a way customers can prove their point to the transit agency or at least ensure issues get attention. This is by taking photos or videos of offences like the ones referenced above. I've actually completed an example of this back in June 2007. This example provides all the possibilities that transit agencies use to wriggle themselves out of a driver issue:

On Saturday July 16th I boarded a northbound VIVA Blue Bus at Finch Station. At the station on the platform within a couple weeks of York Region Transit posting on their website no smoking is permitted at any YRT transit terminal (which Finch Subway station is a major one for YRT) was one of their drivers reading a newspaper and smoking. I did have my 10 megapixel digital camera with me and snapped a photo for evidence.



Once I returned home I forwarded the photo in an e-mail to a YRT Transit Inspector I had dealt with very positively in the past with. In the e-mail I also noted that two By-laws that were being contravened (York Region's and GO Transit's). Basically I provided YRT with a pretty open and shut case.

A few days later I received a response from the YRT Transit Inspector over the phone. He called to say that Veiolia, the YRT contractor that operates VIVA for York Region had followed up with the driver. The driver was pulled into a meeting with her supervisor.

The Veolia supervisor asked the driver if she was smoking at the Finch Station. The driver denied that she was. This is the typical "deny, deny, deny..." excuse that transit agencies give you when making a complaint. Note: This excuse is removed with photo or video evidence as it is tough to deny photo or video evidence that is contradictory.

The supervisor then opened the above photo and asked again if the driver was smoking a the transit agency terminal. Obviously there was no denying it a second time and an admission of guilt was provided.

The YRT Transit inspector also applauded me for providing such good detail in my original e-mail in terms of providing both GO Transit's By-law (Finch Station is a GO Transit Terminal) and York Region's No Smoking at YRT Terminals and Bus stops. All he had to do was forward the issue off to Veolia for follow up.

Obviously without the photo the above complaint would have been denied by the driver and Veolia and YRT would have provided the "this is a he said she said" type of scenario. This would have left me angry and wondering "why did I even bother reporting this?" But this was not the case all because a photo was taken.

In the case of the sleeping TTC Token Booth Collector and others, the TTC cannot deny these issues never happened and that customers are making this up because of the photo and video evidence.

But finally the worst about the customer service is the investigation and follow up. In the case of the TTC, they jjust bury the issue and hope it will go away eventually. This is proven in the case of the TTC Sleeping Token clerk:

TTC spokesman Brad Ross said officials will conduct an internal investigation and take appropriate action but the public will likely never know the outcome.

"It's not something that we would share publicly anyways, it's a personnel matter," Ross said. "I don't think the TTC is unusual in that."

So in other words the TTC is officially saying they will investigate the issue and might do something but the TTC will not release an answer as to what action may have been taken to discipline the worker in question (read: suspension or dismissal). So this leaves the TTC customers asking themselves: "how do we know the TTC has investigated and dealt with this issue if we never hear of any results from complaints like this?" This question only further leads to the usual "why do we bother", anger and the belief that all TTC complaints end up in the "TTC's black hole of Customer Service".

It is no wonder TTC Customers are taking photos of TTC Workers' trangressions on the job. TTC Customers are frustrated at the fare increase, service disruptions and, as TTC General Manager Gary Webster put it in a memo to employees: "The culture of complacency and malaise that has seeped into our organization...". Since the TTC has obviously failed their riders in terms of customer service, riders have begun to turn elsewhere. Thus, TTC Customers have turned to the ultimate customer service agency found in this era, the internet. So if the TTC Customer Service wishes to deny, dismiss and obfusticate their way through this mess, photos, videos and other such media will only appear more and more online. This will only lead the media, like the Toronto Star and the Toronto Sun to do what they do best. That is to hold public officials to account for what is going on by asking the hard questions. Sadly, it is only when agencies like the TTC are embarassed into action that they start moving to resolve issues.

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