The Toronto Transit Commission has extended for an additional five months temporary security measures put into place after a spate of violent incidents on the city’s transit system.
A TTC report presented to its board Monday said the commission plans to spend an additional $2.6-million to keep 50 security guards and 20 community-safety ambassadors in place until the end of September. The measures were introduced at the end of January as an emergency response to increasing violence on the transit system and were initially planned to last through April, at a cost of $1.6-million.
The TTC extended the measures as safety issues remain high. There were 220 criminal incidents reported by the Toronto Police Service in May, the highest monthly total so far this year and a 24-per-cent increase compared with the month of January, according to data posted on the city’s new transit safety dashboard Monday.
The number of criminal incidents isn’t broken down by types of offences, but could include thefts, assaults and sexual assaults.
Customer satisfaction also hit a low in May, with 54 per cent surveyed saying they felt safe on the system – down from 67-per-cent customer satisfaction in January.
Safety on the transit system has been at the forefront of the mayoral campaign ahead of the June 26 by-election after several high-profile incidents of violence, including the stabbing death of 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes at a west-end subway station in what police called an “unprovoked attack.”
Chief safety officer Betty Hasserjian said there have been safety and security improvements since security guards and safety ambassadors were added, but results in the last few months have fluctuated.
“We are observing fluctuations and we are not where we want to be yet,” Ms. Hasserjian said in a presentation to the board.
“We continue to monitor the data and track the progress of initiatives and appreciate that a longer period of assessment is needed before drawing any definitive conclusions. This is why our work to make lasting improvements must continue.”
Ms. Hasserjian said the TTC is also in the process of rolling out an initiative to connect residents seeking shelter on the transit system with other supports. The new program, titled “Getting Back to Transit (Move Along),” began last month and is focused on addressing “overnight challenges” at Union and Spadina stations, the TTC said in its report. The program has now been expanded to assist residents across the transit system and will encourage people to go to Union Station to get support from on-site housing workers.
The report notes that people will be given the opportunity to leave stations voluntarily, but could face arrest “as a last resort” if they don’t comply.
Several community groups gave presentations to the TTC board Monday, arguing against the initiative. Spokeswoman Chloe Tangpongprush of TTCriders, a community advocacy group, called the move “heavy-handed” and said everyone should be able to access the transit system without fear of being removed.
The group released its own report Monday calling on the TTC to reverse recent service cuts, end fare enforcement and move to a non-police response model for all mental health-related calls. TTCriders is also calling on the mayoral candidates to pledge to make substantial investments in housing so people don’t need to seek shelter on the transit system.
“These people, they’re being moved along with quite often not enough support or a lack of a place to go,” Ms. Tangpongprush said.
City Councillor Chris Moise, who serves on the board, said he understands the goal of the initiative but said the “Move Along” name for the program is “insensitive” and urged the TTC to reconsider.
The TTC said it is in the process of preparing for colder conditions in the fall and is studying the potential use of decommissioned buses as a temporary shelter or for transportation to city-owned facilities.