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The TTC is asking riders for ways to improve customer service, part of a push to mend its image with the public and change the culture at the cash-strapped transit system.

Chris Upfold, the man hired earlier this year from the London Underground to revamp the TTC's customer service, said he is looking for eight "critical friends," transit users who can help the commission develop solutions that work for customers. As well, the TTC is planning to hold quarterly town hall meetings, with the first three-hour event set for Nov. 24 at city hall.

Commission chair Karen Stintz said the measures represent a new approach by the transit system to respond to criticism from its passengers.

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"Fundamentally what we are talking about is a culture change," she told reporters Thursday as a packed streetcar pulled up behind her at the Bathurst Subway station. "In an organization as large as the TTC this doesn't happen overnight, but it will happen."

Improving rider satisfaction will be a challenge for a system that just weeks ago announced it was cutting rush hour service on the city's busiest routes, a move that will mean more crowding and longer waits at a time of rising ridership. The service reductions are needed to meet the 10-per-cent budget cut ordered for all city departments and agencies, part of a pledge by Mayor Rob Ford to reduce spending.

The TTC also handed out pink slips to 251 non-unionized employees last month and is offering buyouts to all non-union staff, who number about 3,000. Cuts to service on busy routes are expected to eliminate a further 171 front-line jobs through attrition.

Noticeably missing from Thursday's announcement was a representative from the union that represents transit workers.

Even in the face of service cuts, Ms. Stintz said there are other areas where changes can be made, such as improving communications with passengers and making it easier to purchase fares.

"A lot of it is sweating the small stuff," said Mr. Upfold, the TTC's new chief customer service officer, who makes a point of wearing a name badge when he rides the system each day and encourages other senior staff to do the same. "Information is the most important thing to our customers and they can never get enough of it."

Mr. Upfold said one of the first jobs for the new panel members will be a review of fare policy, to identify "nuisances" for passengers, such as the absence of a refund policy when service is interrupted.

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Other improvements announced Thursday include extending the hours of the commission's customer service centre along with a pledge to follow up on rider complaints. A late-night program that allows female passengers to request that they be dropped off between bus stops also will be extended to any rider who "feels vulnerable," Mr. Upfold said.

Applications from the public for the new panel will close at the end of November, with the first meeting expected early in the new year. Interested customers are asked to submit a resume and an essay describing why they want to be involved and the contribution they would make.

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