Trying to navigate Union Station? You might have some questions

Commuters at Union Station in Downtown Toronto, the busiest public transportation structure of any kind in Canada. Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Camila Papaleo

If you’re at Union Station in Toronto and don’t know which train to take or what platform to get to, look for a person in a yellow safety vest with the words ‘Customer Care’ stencilled on the back.

These representatives of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) are there to help you get to the right GO train, bus, UP Express terminal and TTC subway platform.

Even though the Greater Toronto Area has been battling COVID-19 for months now, the TTC CEO’s Report of November 2020 states an average of 3.9 million passengers used the service every week in September.

Though the numbers are not expected to rise until the country has fully recovered from the pandemic, the report shows there are still many who depend upon the TTC on a daily basis.

But what happens when you’re a Customer Care representative who’s fielding hundreds of questions every day for several years? What kinds of things do you hear?

Nigel Vida has been working at TTC for almost seven years now and can point to a few memorable queries.

Sticklers for numbers

When passengers approach him at the Union Bus Terminal, Vida asks them what bus they’re looking for.

“They say, ‘I’m looking for Bus 21’”, he says, giving an example that’s fresh in his mind.

Vida and his fellow colleagues would, in such an instance, reply that they should head to Platform No. 44, to which many passengers invariably object by saying: “No, but my bus is 21, not 44! So where is 21?”

TTC Customer Care representatives are trained, Vida says, to politely reassure the passengers while steadfastly restating the directions. “I say, ‘Yes, your bus is 21. You’re getting on the right bus. But it’s pulling off from Platform 44.”

Looking for the slash

Another common area of confusion is the platform numbers for trains.

Some passengers see two numbers listed for a train, such as 5/6, and then come to Vida with a frequently asked question.

“On the board it says 5 slash 6. Where is 5 slash 6 platform?”

“It just means ‘or’,” Vida explains to the confused passenger. “You can choose either one.”

Even then, some passengers don’t fully comprehend the idea.

“But then they still ask you again,” Vida says, “’So the train is upstairs, it’s on 5 and 6, right?’”

To which the experienced customer care representative replies, “No, you can choose either one and go upstairs.”

Back to basics

There’s another query that Vida has to field because he’s currently stationed at the Union Bus Terminal. Some passengers need to transfer from a bus to a train, so Vida tells them, “you need to cross the street into the next building and catch your train from there.”

Some look at Vida with an earnest face and ask, “How do I cross the street?”

He admits it can get tiring, especially on certain days when the questions seem to be endless. But Vida is empathetic towards the passengers.

“Honestly, everybody doesn’t know where they’re going. That’s why we’re here. We try to give them the best experience we can.”

One of the biggest contributing factors to such queries, Vida explains, is that Toronto welcomes a lot of new residents every day, and the city can be big and overwhelming to navigate for many. It’s only natural that some would feel lost and in need of guidance.

“I kinda get it,” he says, “You can’t blame them.”

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