The TTC is facing a pretty serious issue: people don’t want to take it if they have the choice. It is much more serious now than anytime in the past because now commuters have many more options, the most attractive being working from home.
The shift away from transit doesn’t have anything to do with the cost of fares. It is the feeling of being unsafe on the system. The issue of safety is a citywide issue and the subject of many debates.
A new report from the MTA in New York City, once dealing with a similar issue of transit violence, shows a 16 per cent drop in subway crime following an increase in police officers.
There are critics that believe investing in police and TTC special constables won’t help make the system any safer; it will just target vulnerable groups. I would strongly disagree.
Increasing the presence of officers being visible throughout the system is critical. There were a few things that happened before and during the pandemic that have created a downward spiral for ridership, and having a more visible presence of police and transit security will help stem the loss and could help reverse the trend.
Even before the pandemic, TTC personnel were becoming less visible throughout the system. When the TTC moved to automated payment, it replaced employees with machines. The new streetcars have an enclosed space for drivers, which keeps them separated from passengers. The reduced employee presence and reduced accessibility to assistance created a void for riders who wanted to report an incident or suspicion.
As commuter ridership plummeted, particularly on the subway, it was replaced with riders who used transit as a substitute for the shelter system. Even today, it is not uncommon to see underhoused individuals riding transit all day or sheltering in transit stations.
This, combined with the random acts of senseless violence on subway platforms, does not create a sense of security. In fact, it has caused people to stay away, and, in some cases, it has caused parents to keep kids off the system impacting future of ridership.
According to the Board of Trade, 67 per cent of downtown office workers can work from home on a flexible schedule. This is the primary group that will decide if ridership goes up or down on the subway. This group needs to believe that the system is safe before they will venture back.
Every investment to improve safety on the TTC is a good one.
Karen Stintz is a former city councillor, elected in 2003, and was a chair of the TTC. She lives in Ward 8.