In 1994, I read Reinventing Government for a book review in a human resources class in my senior year. Bill Clinton was President and the Republicans controlled the House and the Senate. Jean Chretien was Prime Minister. The language was different. The steering. The rowing. Citizens as taxpayers. Passengers as customers. Government should be run by a business. These were times where neo-conservatism speak seeped into everyday language, and still does.
Working in the transit profession, I could not wrap my head around the change customer over passenger. In transit speak, we would talk about passengers. Passenger counts, passenger riders, passengers per capita, etc. But when we talk to passengers who ride transit, the language changes. It is about the “customers” who ride transit. Like there is a fear of those transit ridership will be lost. Transit is funded by property tax dollars in Canada, and by other means elsewhere in the world. Transit is not going anywhere. It is an alternative means of transportation aside from the automobile, bicycle or even walking.
But here is what irks me the most. TTC’s Customer Charter, which was released today. Ok, maybe irks is too strong of a word. Bothers me might be more a propos.
Who is really going to read or call out the TTC if they fail to come through on their promises? Maybe the odd transit foamer, TTC Riders or hard nose stingy politician? All that matters are the large improvements to the system. Passengers want to move, with improved service and comfort. There are many big picture thinkers, like myself, who rely on a strategic plan. Citizens or passengers should be thinking beyond the short term snippets and view long term improvements and the system’s resiliency.
Whether it is a business or public organization, improvements are inevitable. This is what happens in the age of social media and where gotcha moments are the norm. These are the Tim Horton’s voters as mentioned in Susan Delacourt’s “Shopping for Votes”. Tim Horton’s voters were those who would not normally vote. Citizens don’t care about policy statements that cannot be summarized in a Facebook post or in 140 characters. My concern is that the language has been dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. As a result, there is no vision.
This is not about moving backwards and bucking trends. A new public service movement is necessary. What that will look like has yet to be determined. But a language change is necessary.