The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has been making headlines over the past months with increasing acts of violence, which have left some York students and Torontonians concerned while riding subways, buses, and street cars. These incidents have left people wondering – is the TTC safe anymore?
In a recent article by City News, some of the violent acts on the TTC between 2022-2023 include: Pushing people on the tracks, stabbings, fires, transit operator assaults, and sexual assaults. All these incidents make Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) seem normal.
However, acts of violence and crime are not exclusive to the TTC. In fact, crime rates are up across the entire city. According to the Toronto Sun, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) reported through their “Major Crime Indicators (MCI) Last Five (5) Years” dashboard, that in the first three weeks of 2023, there was an increase in major crimes by almost 38 per cent, when compared to the same time period in 2022. The report indicates that assaults have increased by almost 28 per cent; auto theft by about 38 per cent; breaking and entering by over 16 per cent; robbery about 40 per cent; and sexual violence over 21 per cent.
Most recently, City News reported that a woman was sexually assaulted at Kipling station, on Feb. 23 at around 7:45 pm.
It seems these violent acts are becoming a weekly occurrence.
On campus, there are two subway stations and multiple bus stops. For many students, faculty, and staff, the TTC is essential, and York certainly hasn’t been immune to these acts of violence.
Students are slowly growing accustomed to the constant stream of security alert emails. A recent report in Excalibur wrote about multiple robberies and assaults on campus. Some of these crimes occurred near or at the York University TTC subway station.
This has caused the York administration, TTC, and the TPS to implement additional security measures, including York Security staff during evening hours, third-party services patrolling campus, and temporarily contracted TPS officers.
In the wake of the violent acts, Global News reported in January, that now-former Toronto Mayor, John Tory, had proposed an additional $53 million more into the TTC than last year, amalgamating into a total budget over $950 million. The City of Toronto hopes that the spending will keep “both riders and hardworking frontline TTC employees safe”, as the organization stated to Global News in the same report.
Despite the increasing security measures and budget from the city of Toronto, some students share their concerns about using the TTC.
An anonymous nursing student in first year, shares their horrifying experience in January at Downsview Park station, a station two stops before York University.
“There was a homeless man going through trash,” they shared. “I thought I would go far away from him, but he catcalled me and then rapidly came towards me so I pressed for the elevator and hoped that I would leave before he hurt me.
“He was shouting at me and doing the action of drawing a knife on one’s throat. It was really scary so I found a TTC worker upstairs, and described what just happened. Then I cried because I was really upset and he escorted me back downstairs until the train came,” they add.
The student emphasizes that they don’t want to stereotype or stigmatize the unhoused community, stating, “I feel really bad for the homeless people and want them to get better.”
While some students feel the TTC is unsafe, others feel comfortable with the transit company’s safety measures, but still are mindful of dangers while riding.
Steve Bello, a third-year health studies student, rides the TTC six days a week. “I don’t necessarily feel unsafe, I just remind myself to take extra precautions and look around more often,” says Steve.
Some, including an anonymous fourth-year mechanical engineering student, feel the city needs better security measures and a stronger police presence on the TTC.
“It seems that more funding is needed towards that sector,” the student says. “I don’t have any solutions in mind when it comes to mental health or addiction issues, but crime can be stopped through an increase in police presence on the TTC, as well as, making life more affordable.”
However, debate has circulated as to whether greater police presence will aid in solving the issue of violence on the TTC.
“The city is doing a lot, but in the wrong places,” says an anonymous first-year digital media student. “Currently, it’s the colder winter months, and those without homes are left to search for places where they won’t freeze. With the city shutting down warming centres, this is bound to stay the same.”
In a National Post article during January, Toronto Metropolitan University — formerly Ryerson University — Professor Jane Sprott, echoed student concerns. “Most people aren’t going to do something criminal right in front of a police officer, but you might have just pushed it elsewhere. Hotspot policing tends to just relocate things. It’s not addressing the problem.”
Others believe the current cultural climate might be contributing to the rise of criminal behavior.
An anonymous fourth-year engineering student said that certain societal stressors, like inflation, the opium crisis, and organized crime, might contribute towards increasing criminality on the TTC.
The student also states, “I’d like to believe that those that commit crimes do it because there isn’t another option for them. So maybe more job opportunities and affordable housing would be beneficial.”
Abdullah Ahmed is a fifth-year student studying law and society. They believe the City of Toronto is unable solve the problem of violence, and that solving the issue of violence requires a broader approach, including “a state response around homelessness, poverty, and addiction.”
In the same article by the National Post published on Jan. 30, TTC CEO Rick Leary stated, “These recent incidents at the TTC, impacting both our employees and customers, are incredibly worrisome to me and the entire TTC organization.”
Leary believes the TTC’s challenges are a “microcosm” of the city’s broader struggle with crime. He also stated in the article: “We recognize there is a bigger society and systemic issue at play here and that these issues are complex, and the solutions aren’t always easy.”
On the TTC’s website, some of the changes include adding an additional 80 police officers and 50 special constables, as well as improving/adding security cameras and increasing the presence of Community Safety Ambassadors, including collaboration with Streets to Homes (S2H). S2H provides housing-related support to assist under-housed individuals.
Some people are noticing the greater security presence when using public transit, Ahmed says “there have been more visible TTC Special Constables, Toronto Police, and uniformed TTC staff in recent weeks”.
Although changes are being implemented, there’s still a sense of unease. Steve Bello admits they feel safe riding the TTC, but senses the abnormality of the situation, “We’ve been hearing more reports of violence and that’s not the norm,” Bello says.
For now, transit users will have to wait and see if these interventions will lead to significant changes.