Over 150 people share ideas on how to make the TTC safer at townhall

More than 150 people attended a townhall on Thursday night to share ideas on how to create a safer public transit system in Toronto in the wake of a string of violent incidents.

The participants at the TTC Safety Townhall, held at Centennial College, Progress Campus, included transit users, transit workers, students, community activists and concerned members of the public. People took part in the townhall both in person and online. TTCriders organized the event.

In a news release after the event, Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of TTCriders, said investments in the TTC, including more service at all times of the day and more staff to provide help and support, would make the system safer.

Service cuts are not the answer, she said.

“Sensationalizing violence on public transit risks driving riders away, scapegoating unhoused people, and missing a chance to tackle long-standing issues. TTC safety concerns are not new, and deserve serious, evidence-based approaches,” Pizey-Allen said.

Marvin Alfred, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, which represents transit workers in Toronto, said all levels of government need to help unhoused people find housing.

Alfred told reporters that the TTC has become an extension of the city’s homeless shelter system, a kind of mobile shelter, because the existing shelter system is underfunded.

“Because it’s been ignored for so long and things have been starved for so long, people have turned to the transit system as 24-hour housing,” Alfred said.

A picture of a moving subway can be seen, with passengers waiting to go on board in the background.
The Toronto Transit Commission has seen a rash of violent incidents, including stabbings and assaults. (Laura Pedersen/CBC)

Alfred said unhoused people will ride the subway until it closes, then take a night bus for hours until subway stations open up again in the morning, then go into a station to keep warm. He said people shouldn’t depend on the TTC for their housing and they deserve dignity and respect.

“It’s unfortunate that people have to go to such lengths in order to find some sort of stable housing. I’ve been on the job for 21 years and I’ve never seen it like this, that people have turned full-time to transit for their housing. It’s something that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Rhetoric demonizing to unhoused people, advocate says

Lorraine Lam, an outreach worker and a member of the Shelter and Housing Justice Network, said unhoused people are becoming unfairly demonized by the political rhetoric surrounding safety issues on the TTC. 

Lam said the language is reinforcing negative stereotypes of people experiencing homelessness.

“These kinds of assumptions that the city piles on just tells the public that, ‘yes, these people are dangerous,’ when really they’re not,” Lam said.

The town hall broke into smaller groups to allow participants to have discussions on how to make the system safer.

TTCriders said it will release recommendations in the coming days.

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