Toronto Mayor John Tory proposed Wednesday hiring more security officers for the city’s transit system, continuing the law-and-order theme of his early budget announcements.
The draft 2023 city budget won’t be released in full until next week. But Mr. Tory has been making stand-alone announcements showcasing elements of it. Under the strong-mayor system introduced last year by Ontario Premier Doug Ford he is responsible for producing the budget, on which council will vote next month.
On Tuesday, the mayor called for increasing the police budget by $48.3-million to hire 200 additional officers. On Wednesday, he presented a proposal to increase fares by 10 cents for many riding the Toronto Transit Commission and to boost the city’s contribution to the agency’s budget by $53-million, a part of which would go toward hiring 50 special constables to patrol the system.
According to TTC budget documents, about 80 per cent of the extra money would go toward operation of the as-yet-incomplete Eglinton Crosstown and Finch West light-rail lines, as well as bus service replacing the aging rapid transit in Scarborough.
What’s left would be used to cover inflationary pressure, beef up transit security, boost service in poorer neighbourhoods, hire 10 outreach workers, put a greater emphasis on cleaning streetcars, and expand a low-income transit access program.
Separate from Wednesday’s budget announcement is the looming financial gap related to the pandemic and reduced transit ridership, which has devastated revenues. The latest TTC figures project a 2023 COVID-related shortfall of $366.4-million – money that Toronto will be seeking from the provincial and federal governments – with impacts expected to continue into the next two years.
“Our transit system, like other large transit systems right across North America, is facing a new challenge as ridership rebounds,” Mr. Tory said. “And that is random incidents of crime and the [presence] of more people in crisis on the transit system itself.”
There have been a number of violent incidents in the past year on the TTC, including a woman fatally lit on fire, another pushed onto the tracks and a third stabbed to death. These have raised safety concerns among riders and furthered worries that the public will be unwilling to return to a transit system starved for fare revenue.
The new security officers Mr. Tory is proposing – who have the same powers as police when it comes to the Mental Health Act, liquor violations and trespassing – would increase that unit to approximately 130 from around 80, according to the mayor’s staff.
Shelagh Pizey-Allen, head of the advocacy group TTC Riders, agreed that people are reporting unease on the system, and that they deserve to feel safe. But she argued that safety encompasses everything from sufficient night buses to having welcoming and accessible transit stations, none of which will be solved by additional uniformed security.
“We think we do need more staff but … they need to be supportive staff,” she said. “The wrong kind of staff will make Black and Indigenous people less safe. The TTC data shows that Black and Indigenous people are grossly misrepresented in enforcement data.”
Mr. Tory’s 2023 budget will be voted on in February by council. Under the new strong-mayor rules, he could veto any changes approved by council, which could in turn overrule him only with a two-thirds majority.
Under his proposal for the TTC, regular adult fare will go up a dime, to either $3.30 or $3.35 depending on how people pay. Exempt will be seniors, those who use a monthly pass, and children, who ride free.
Transit watcher Steve Munro questioned the timing of asking riders to pay more, noting his research has shown badly deteriorating service reliability. Where once it was common to have two transit vehicles moving in lockstep, he said, he now regularly finds packs of three, four or more. And the vast majority of surface transit riders are on vehicles the TTC itself deems late.
“The quality of service has just been completely falling apart,” Mr. Munro said, adding that having a fare increase for only some riders feels like an attempt to find a compromise between a freeze and a broader rise.
“That 10 cents sounds like we’re keeping everybody happy, including maybe even somebody at Queen’s Park who might get really upset if we ask for more money but don’t increase fares,” he said.