In response to ongoing safety and security concerns on the TTC, the TTC Board recently approved the “move along” strategy, over the objections from some community-led organizations that the strategy was insensitive to those who are homeless or underhoused.
How did we get to a point where the transit system became a shelter system?
During the pandemic, the TTC allowed passengers to enter the system without paying a fare.
As a result, many vulnerable individuals took refuge in the subway and streetcars, and the low overall ridership made this possible. As ridership increased, any coexistence that may have existed began to fray.
Subway stations became resting spots for the homeless during the hours that shelters were closed, and the TTC continued to exempt certain riders from paying their fare.
Violent incidents on the system went from being a random event to reaching record numbers. In 2022, there were 1,068 incidents, which were double the number of the previous year and only reflected what was reported.
There is no question that addiction, mental health and homelessness are issues facing our city, and the cracks in the government programs that are intended to address these issues are being fully exposed. That said, it is absolutely the wrong approach to ask the TTC to step in and attempt to address social challenges that no transit system was designed to solve.
The move along strategy is comprehensive and involves using the support of social services. The contentious part of the new strategy, for some, is the emphasis on fare enforcement and moving the homeless to Union Station where individuals can access the support of social services. It is completely unclear how a strategy that ensures everyone pays their fare and that connects the vulnerable to the services they need is insensitive.
The TTC was never designed to be a shelter system and should not be treated as such. The TTC is a transportation system that relies heavily on the farebox to be financially viable. When ridership is down, revenue is down and the financial sustainability of the system becomes jeopardized.
When considering the budget for this year, the TTC assumed that commuters would return to the office three days per week. Unfortunately for the TTC, commuters are making different choices. Those who work in the downtown core are returning to the office on average only two days per week, making Toronto one of the worst major cities for returning to the office. Employers confirm that a large part of the slow return is because of the transportation challenges: it is too frustrating to drive, and people don’t want to take transit.
Many commuters, including myself, have been witness to unsettling incidents on the TTC system, including drug use, volatile behaviours and homelessness.
If given a choice, many will make a rational choice to avoid a situation that may lead to an incident.
The TTC understands that confidence in the system must be rebuilt and is taking the right approach. It is far from insensitive; it is a responsible approach to ensuring a sustainable transit system.