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Kevin Connor from the Toronto Sun on The Importance of Richard Lee’s “Get Onboard: Walk in the Shoes of a Transit Operator”

richardleeTTC supervisor and Guernica author Richard Lee’s newest book, Get Onboard: Walk in the Shoes of a Transit Operator was recently spotlighted by The Toronto Sun in Kevin Connor’s article “TTC operators have voices heard in new book”. Connor begins by introducing Lee’s book, which “has put the spotlight on the trials of those who make Toronto’s transit system work”. Get Onboard draws from a variety of accounts given by TTC operators and drivers, which “paints a picture of what transit operators go through on a daily basis”.

According to Lee, “the book is described from the point of view of a TTC operator and is filled with real-life stories from the TTC operators that haven’t been heard by the majority of the public”. Lee spent two months finding material for Get Onboard by talking to co-workers, and was “inspired to write the book because there is so much good stuff people don’t know”.

Get Onboard focuses on dispelling what Connor describes as “their fair share of unflattering press for bad behaviour, including running red lights, sleeping on the job, smoking on transit property – a TTC bylaw infraction – or applying makeup, texting or reading newspapers behind the wheel”. Get Onboard illuminates the difficulties of the job, in what TTC spokesman Brad Ross calls “a wonderful nod to those who don the TTC uniform every day to get us to where we need to go”. Among these difficulties is the regular abuse that confronts TTC operators. Connor points out “TTC statistics show that on average, one employee is assaulted every day. Drivers are punched, slapped, threatened and spat upon”. But Get Onboard “also shares moments when passengers were at their best”. One of these moments is when Lee was a rookie bus driver on a new route, and had to pull over to find directions. Lee explains, “I felt a tap on my shoulder and there was a lady with a smile on her face. She told me she would help by showing me where to turn. I was so grateful and humbled by her willingness to help. She made a lasting impression on my life”.

Connor’s article concludes by giving examples of some of the stories featured in Get Onboard. Some of them are tragic – a TTC operator witnessing a man committing suicide on the subway tracks, for example – while others demonstrate the kind of assault that TTC operators face. One TTC operator describes how they had coffee thrown at them by a man who was frustrated that the streetcar was too full for additional passengers. Another story comes from a bus driver, who had to learn to not absorb the vulgar language that is thrown at them constantly.

Connor shows how Lee’s newest book is an important contribution because it raises awareness towards the real lives of TTC operators. In the words of TTC chariman Josh Coelle, “Richard Lee’s book describing life as a TTC operator reveals the often misunderstood difficulty of the job of carrying millions of passengers in this city”.

Get Onboard is Richard Lee’s first novel, which was written when Lee began to trust his natural gift for storytelling. Besides this accomplishment, Lee has been driven by a fear of only ever being an “average man”, which has helped him to become a supervisor today with the Toronto Transit Commission.

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