How can the experience of TTC riders be safer?

Passengers are waiting for the TTC train on the platform.
Passengers are waiting for the TTC train on the platform at Victoria Park station. (Haruka Ide/Toronto Observer) 

Do you feel safe when you ride the TTC?

According to the Toronto Transit Commission’s latest data, customer satisfaction is up, and the rate of offences against riders decreased 24 per cent between January 2023 and January 2024.

There were multiple violent assault cases reported on the TTC over the past year, including cases where a woman was stabbed on a Toronto streetcar, a man was pushed onto subway tracks, and a TTC operator was shot with a BB gun, according to CBC News.

Eighty-six per cent of transit riders have experienced some form of harassment, according to a 2022 study by WomanACT, a non-profit organization that provides co-ordination, planning and community mobilization in Toronto to end violence against women and Angus Reid Group, a company that offers market research and data services in North America.

The Toronto Observer spoke to frequent commuters and experts to find out why some riders may still feel unsafe on the TTC, and what easy steps you can take to protect yourself.

How safe is the TTC experience?

Robert Sabado, a daily TTC rider, said he frequently sees homeless people or people with mental health challenges on the TTC.

“It’s more dangerous now than before,” he said.

That may be his perception, but Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of TTCriders, an advocacy group for accessible, frequent, dignified public transit throughout Toronto, said that the number of offences on the TTC is “hovering around the same rate.” She mentioned a lack of distinction between different types of offences such as physical assault and theft.

The TTC tracked the number of reported “offences committed against customers on TTC premises or during transit journey” including such as theft, assault, harassment, and other incidents. 

“(Something) important to know is that the TTC’s own reports have said, there’s no evidence that unhoused people are responsible for violence,” she said. “(Unhoused) people are more vulnerable to violence, sleeping there (on the TTC) because there’s nowhere else that’s safe and warm for them to go.”

How can TTC riders keep themselves safe?

Sabado, who takes the TTC everyday, said he stays vigilant by paying attention to his surroundings. For example, he removes his headphones when he hears unusual sounds.

Renalyn Cerns, who commutes on the TTC at times, said she avoids sleeping on the train and maintaining awareness of her surroundings.

WATCH | How can safety on the TTC be improved?

Being aware of your surroundings is one of the safety tips that the Toronto Police Service shares. The service also recommends walking with confidence, sticking to well-lit and high-traffic areas to get to your destination and letting others know your destination and when to expect you.

What has the TTC done to improve safety?

“Like everyone, we are incredibly concerned about any reports of safety or security issues on the TTC,” TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said by email.

Both the police and the TTC also offer the Request Stop Program, allowing any customer who feels vulnerable to get off the bus between regular TTC stops between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

The TTC also provides the SafeTTC App, a mobile app where customers can report suspicious activities or safety concerns immediately.

Upwards of 80 police officers worked to patrol various locations on the TTC from January 2023 to March 2023 in response to several cases of violence in the system, according to CBC News.

The TTC board also recently announced that the 2024 budget invests more than $28 million in the TTC’s Community Safety, Security, and Well-Being program.

The program was launched in January 2023. It’s a collaboration between the city of Toronto, the TTC, the Toronto Police Service, and community service providers that aims to address and mitigate immediate safety risks and connect people in need with appropriate support services.

The reporter shows how to report incidents using the TTC Safe app.
The TTC Safe app. (Haruka Ide/Toronto Observer)

Why do you feel unsafe on public transportation?

Devika Parsaud, membership and communications co-ordinator at WomanACT, a nonprofit planning and policing organization that conducted a public transit poll in 2022, said that community safety and well-being issues in society are reflected in the safety of public transportation.

According to her, more needs to be done to address the underlying safety issues such as poverty, lack of access to mental health services, and housing insecurity. She said that adopting a trauma-informed approach can be crucial in addressing safety concerns.

This approach entails a community-led support system with an understanding of the community’s needs functioning akin to a multidisciplinary team capable of providing comprehensive support to address a wide range of issues. Parsaud also noted that addressing root causes can lead to long-term solutions that result in lasting improvements in transit safety.

Devika Parsaud, Membership and Communications Coordinator at WomanACT answers the interview.
Devika Parsaud, Membership and Communications Coordinator at WomanACT provided insights into the background of safety on public transportation on March 3.(Haruka Ide/Toronto Observer)

How can the safety of public transportation be improved?

“Not everyone feels safer around the police because of their history of racism and violence against certain communities,” Pizey-Allen said. She said that frontline supportive staff who are peer-led or peer-involved, and trained in de-escalation can make users feel safer.

Investing in non-police response to crisis and violence is one suggestion TTCriders made to the mayor of Toronto in February 2023, along with housing support and investing in frequent TTC services to avoid the situation that riders have to wait late alone at night.

“It’s not really an individual responsibility,” she said.

Shelagh Pizey-Allen, the executive director of TTCriders answers the interview.
Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of TTCriders, explained how the safety of public transportation could be improved on March 3. (Haruka Ide/Toronto Observer)

About this article

Posted: Mar 6 2024 8:11 am
Filed under: Crime Fire and police Mental Health News Roads & Transit