CEO Andy Byford says he is thrilled that the Toronto Transit Commission has been named best transit system in North America — but he acknowledges that the TTC is not without flaws.

"No one is saying it's perfect," Byford told Metro Morning on Tuesday. "We know the job's not finished."

The TTC last won the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) award 31 years ago. Winners are selected by other North American transit systems.  

Since that last win, the TTC "somewhat lost our way," said Byford, who said things have since changed.

TTC won for five-year plan

Both Byford and Richard A. White, APTA acting president and CEO, say the TTC nabbed the top spot because of its five-year plan. 

"The TTC's successful implementation of a five-year modernization program demonstrates that it is a leader in the public transportation industry and role model for other systems," White said. 

Byford credits TTC employees for making it happen. 

"We set out to transform the TTC over five years. I said to my team, if we up our game and we improve our performance and we pull together as one team, we can achieve this. And we just did. I'm dedicating this to my fabulous staff," he said. 

Byford also cited the "reliability, punctuality and cleaniness" of its service as well as "ambition, complexity and delivery" of its plan to modernize.  

He said additional funding from the city has made a difference and Mayor John Tory understands the importance of transit to keep the city functioning. 

"With the money we are given, we work miracles," he said.

Byford said the plan includes such "megaprojects" as a new subway signaling system, the rollout of Presto, the introduction of new streetcars, the addition of automatic train control, the change of workplace culture and the construction of the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension.

'Number one... really?'

In a Tuesday blog post, transit advocate Steve Munro wondered about the award. 

Writing about the Monday news conference where the TTC announced the award, Munro said: "This was very much a self-congratulatory event, and riders might be forgiven for asking "Number One … really?" 

Steve Munro transit advocate blogger Toronto

Transit advocate and blogger Steve Munro says TTC still has a lot more work to do. 'Things may be improving, but horror stories come often enough to undermine the award's credibility,' he writes in a blog post. (Garry Asselstine/CBC)

"The problem here is that APTA is rewarding the TTC for achieving (or at least being well on the way to) a plan that does not reflect a lot of day-to-day experience on the system. Things may be improving, but horror stories come often enough to undermine the award's credibility," he went on. 

Munro said in an interview he is happy to see the TTC beat out major systems such as those in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Philadelphia, but knows things could be improved. 

"Is it a case of the TTC is doing a lot more or the other systems are doing a lot less?" 

Service quality still an issue

Munro said the issue of service quality remains.

Some riders have told Metro Morning that they are surprised at the award, given daily delays, overcrowding and weekly shutdowns of portions of subway lines due to track work.

One said, at least half the time, it is impossible to get to a destination on time if one takes the TTC, because: "There is a problem."

Byford said the TTC is "playing catchup" and fundamental improvements are being made.


With files from Metro Morning