Approximately one quarter of people who used to take the TTC prior to the COVID-19 pandemic say they will not hop back on a streetcar, subway, or bus until they have been vaccinated against the disease, according to preliminary results from a new University of Toronto survey.

The university reviewed the results of 2,753 surveys and found that roughly 69 per cent of respondents stopped taking public transit when the province shut down all non-essential businesses on March 15.

The survey found that while 63 per cent of those who are not currently using the TTC said they would resume taking transit after we reach Stage 3 of the province’s framework for reopening Ontario, 25 per cent say they are waiting for a vaccine and about one per cent of respondents said they will never take the TTC again.

“These results should be interpreted with caution, as they may reflect respondents’ attitudes towards the severity of the crisis in Ontario at the time they completed the survey, rather than what respondents may actually do,” authors of the survey said in their analysis of the results.

The survey also found that 82 per cent of respondents would like to see passenger limits enforced and 72 per cent said they would be more comfortable if riders were forced to wear masks.

'People are very scared'

"There is very strong support among current and former riders for requiring that everyone wear a mask to be able to board the TTC," Matthew Palm, one of the researchers behind the survey, said Tuesday.

"There is also very strong support, over 80 per cent or the respondents, said that they would feel much more comfortable if the TTC were able to strictly enforce the number of people that can ride each bus and each train."

He noted that for those who have no choice but to take the TTC every day to go to work or get essentials, there is a great deal of concern about safety.

"For one segment of the population, the TTC is something they want to avoid for their safety, but I think for another segment of riders, it indicates that being able to stop riding the TTC is very much a privilege right now," he said.

"If you can afford to take Uber, if you can afford to get a ride from a friend, if you can afford to own your car, you are able to stop. But there are still tens of thousands of Torontonians for whom they cannot afford those alternatives."

He said many of those surveyed expressed frustration about their experiences on the TTC during the pandemic.

"Sometimes other passengers don't respect physical distancing or (people have) to wait two or three buses before they could board one that they feel wasn't excessively crowded. So there is just a lot of challenges out there and there are a lot of risks and people are very scared," Palm added.

City working on a plan

Mayor John Tory weighed in on the survey results on Tuesday, saying the city is hard at work trying to come up with a plan for keeping people safe on the TTC when operations start to ramp back up.

Speaking to CP24, the mayor said the TTC has been one of the city’s “toughest files” in terms of the recovery and reopening of Toronto.

The TTC has seen a steep decline in ridership since the beginning of the pandemic and officials have previously estimated that the transit agency is seeing a revenue loss of about $65 million per week.

“On the one hand, you have people saying, quite understandably, that they are nervous and they see the TTC as a place that can be crowded,” Tory said Tuesday.

“We worry about that from the standpoint both that we want people to be able to get around and get to work and do it in a way that is best for the city and the environment, which is public transit as opposed to cars. On the other hand, people need to be safe.”

Tory said the city is still figuring out the best way to tackle these issues.

“We are doing a huge amount of work... coming up with a plan that talks about how people can protect themselves and still use the TTC. How we can keep it clean and disinfect it,” Tory said.

“How we can make sure for those who choose not to (take the TTC)... (that they can) use bicycles or foot and we are going to have more details on that this week.”

Tory noted that whatever the plan may be going forward, it is “never going to be perfect.”

“This is part of the complexity of all of this and our job is to make the TTC as safe as possible from the standpoint of the virus, which may include, for example, some considerations of masks and PPE for people to be wearing,” he said.

“Let's just be candid about this now. It is not going to be possible to maintain the same level of occupancy of those transit vehicles.”

He noted that some workers may be in a position where they do not have to return to the office right away, which would limit the number of people taking the TTC each day.

“They may come back to work in the fall or some time like that because they can work from home and this will allow the TTC to remain safer health-wise even though that costs us money,” Tory said.

“This is part of what we are spending a lot of time on right now is coming up with the right plan as best we can.”