TTC’s texting transit drivers spark new PR crisis

Last year, it was a dozing fare collector. And now, one month into 2011, the Toronto Transit Commission faces another front-page PR debacle as photos emerge of a bus driver texting while driving.

Jeromy Lloyd January 28, 2011

Last year, it was a dozing fare collector. And now, one month into 2011, the Toronto Transit Commission faces another front-page PR debacle as photos emerge of bus drivers texting while driving.

Using mobile devices while driving was made illegal in Ontario in 2009. This morning, the Toronto Sun ran a photo of a texting driver on its front page, sparking a flurry of criticism on social media.

While the TTC said it is investigating the incident and has been vocal in channels such as Twitter, criticisms were renewed when Brad Ross, a TTC spokesman, seemingly chastised camera-wielding commuters.

“We don’t want a repeat of last year where people were taking cellphone pictures and videos of our employees,” Ross said. “That is not helpful.”

The comments appeared in city-wide and national news outlets, including the Toronto Star and CBC.

Scott Reid, senior counsel at Toronto PR firm Veritas Communications, called the TTC response “Dumb beyond description.

“You gotta love the TTC. It is to PR fumbles what Lindsay Lohan is to parole violations: High profile and constant,” Reid said. “One of the great PR lessons that smart organizations are quick to learn is the importance of thinking not from your own point of view but from that of the public. This is not a concept that the TTC has yet mastered.

The request to keep camera phones away from employees seemingly puts the blame for the illegal behaviour on commuters, Reid said, and “perhaps dumbest of all, it is certain to provoke the exact reaction they’re seeking to avoid. You want to get legions of riders taking photos of employees? Try telling them they’re not allowed to do so. This isn’t just a fumble. It’s a fumble in your end zone. Dumb beyond description.”

PR experts, tell us what you think. How would you have responded to this latest public relations headache at the TTC? Comment below or join the conversation on Twitter @Marketing_mag