Open drug use and reports of people in crisis: Rider complaints provide one-week snapshot of TTC
Published Wednesday, May 24, 2023 1:07PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 24, 2023 5:32PM EDT
An ‘agitated’ man threatens to ‘shoot up the subway.’ Another accosts a woman inside a TTC elevator and repeatedly hits her with an empty wheelchair. A third attacks a group of girls on a bus after yelling at them to turn their music off.
These are just a handful of the incidents reported by unnerved TTC riders in the week following the unprovoked murder of a 16-year-old boy at Keele Station in March.
The complaints, obtained by CP24.com through a freedom of information request, only cover the period of March 24 to March 31 and do not paint a comprehensive picture of the security issues the TTC was facing at the time.
But they do provide a snapshot of a system that was dealing with a rash of violent incidents and a belief among some riders that the TTC wasn’t taking their safety concerns seriously.
CP24 reviewed all 1,451 complaints that were logged by the TTC in the 24 hours prior to Gabriel Magalhaes’s murder and the six days following it.
Many of the complaints are service-based and are in relation to late vehicles or “rude” drivers.
But nearly nine per cent of the complaints (119) are classified as ‘security’ related and provide an anecdotal accounting of the concerns that were being raised by riders amid a wider conversation about safety on the TTC.
Here are just some of the complaints:
- On March 24 one rider contacted the TTC to report that they were on Line 1 when a woman began yelling obscenities at them. The individual said that they tried to get off the subway at Queen’s Park Station at which point the woman “yelled threats” and “pulled out a pocket knife.” The rider said that they remained silent while the woman continued to accost them and then quickly exited the train at the next stop.
- On March 27 a rider contacted the TTC about an incident on a bus. The rider said that a man began calling a young girl “all kind of offensive names” shortly after she boarded the bus. They said that at some point the man then began spitting at the girl, prompting her to flee. “Bus driver did not say a word,” the customer said.
- On March 30 a rider contacted the TTC to report that another passenger had stopped in front of them on a subway and began breathing heavily. The rider said that they asked the passenger to leave and began to walk away, only to be pushed to the ground from behind. The rider said that the passenger then whipped a bottle at their shoulder and attacked them a second time when they tried to take his picture.
- On March 30 at least two people reported an incident on a TTC bus in which a man grew upset with loud music being played by a group of girls and confronted them. One of the complaints states that a physical altercation ensued, eventually leading to another passenger having to pull the man away from one of the girls. “The passenger got up and physically hit and pushed one of them against the partition at the back exit,” the complaint notes. “He had his hands on her pinning her to the partition.”
- On March 30 an individual contacted the TTC to report that a man had begun performing an indecent act in front of them on a northbound subway train on Line 1. The customer said that nobody on the train did anything in response.
SOME SAFETY CONCERNS IGNORED
There have been four homicides on or near TTC property over the last year.
There have also been a rash of other high-profile violent incidents, including three shoves and attempted shoves of individuals onto the tracks at Bloor-Yonge Station.
Many of the written complaints reviewed by CP24 from the week of March 24 reference the apparent spike in violence and express concern about what the TTC is doing about it.
In one of the complaints, from March 29, a rider says that they observed an “angry man” waiting for a bus at Castle Frank Station while indicating that they “had a knife and would stab someone.” The individual said that the man repeated that threat as he boarded a bus, prompting a woman to report the behaviour to the driver. But the individual said that the driver allowed the man to remain on the bus, telling him that he would have to leave if the woman complained again.
“Someone was just killed on the subway this weekend. Your staff should care more about safety!” the customer said.
In another complaint, dated March 31, an individual said that their mother and sister were in an elevator at Sheppard-Yonge Station when they were confronted by a man pushing an empty wheelchair, who was irate over their use of the elevator. The individual said that the man repeatedly hit their mother with the wheelchair. But when the mother got off the elevator and sought help from three TTC workers, the individual said that the workers “brushed her off” after determining that she wasn’t hurt.
“They could hear the man continuously screaming and did nothing,” the customer said.
In yet another complaint dated March 31, an individual said that he spotted a man on the platform at Broadview Station “swearing and pacing back and forth.”
The individual said that the man appeared to be “very agitated” but when he alerted TTC staff to their presence he claimed that he was met with indifference.
“As a physician, my clinical experience tells me that any such behaviour MAY suggest a mental health crisis that could put fellow TTC passengers at danger. I went to the ticket collector and informed him of my concerns. He asked me two questions: ‘Is he hurting himself and is he hurting anyone else?’ When I said he was not, his response was ‘there's nothing we can do...let him yell,’” the complaint reads.
TTC WORKERS NOT TO BLAME: GROUP
Many of the complaints reviewed by CP24 point to safety concerns at the TTC, which many riders felt were not adequately addressed.
That is not entirely surprising, according to Shelagh Pizey-Allen, who is executive director of the rider advocacy group TTCriders.
But Pizey-Allen does not lay the blame at the feet of frontline TTC employees who she says “are also vulnerable to violence”
“It's sort of like, you know, say something to who?” Pizey-Allen told CP24.com. “It's not a janitor’s job to respond to someone in crisis. There really needs to be the right kind of staff within the TTC who are peer-led and trained in de-escalation to respond to people who are having a crisis.”
OPEN DRUG USE ON TTC PROPERTY
At least half a dozen of the written complaints reviewed by CP24 for the week of March 24 pertained to people consuming drugs on TTC property, including one report for a male seen smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine on the subway.
Meanwhile, in another complaint from March 25 a rider said that they observed a group smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine in the corridor connecting the northbound and southbound platforms at Dundas Station. That individual said that the incident was in view of a TTC employee clearing garbage bins.
In addition to complaints about open drug use, riders also raised concerns about the number of vulnerable individuals who appeared to be seeking shelter on TTC vehicles and in TTC stations in March.
One customer wrote the TTC to notify them about the presence of upwards of 10 underhoused people who they said were camping out inside one of the stairwells leading to Queen Station at night.
That person said that syringes were usually visible in the stairwell and that that they were concerned about the safety of riders who walked through late at night.
There were also multiple complaints about people sleeping on TTC vehicles.
“There was a man sleeping on a car this morning and there was urine on the ground. How can I report this incident live?” one customer asked. “Is there a way to let the driver know that there's a problem that can be dealt with at the end of the line but that is not urgent?”
SAFETY INCIDENTS HAVE DECLINED: TTC
At one point in January the TTC was logging about five serious incidents on the system each and every day but spokesperson Stuart Green told CP24 on Wednesday that there has been a “consistent downward trend” over the last few months.
He said that last month the TTC responded to about three serious incidents per day.
That is an "encouraging sign," Green said. But at the same time he says that it is “incredibly concerning” that at least some riders in March felt that their safety concerns weren’t being addressed.
“We do take all of these concerns and complaints seriously. It is one of the ways that we learn where and when we need to make changes and improvements to how we deal with safety concerns,” he said. “We are out there saying ‘if you see something, say something’ and we mean that. When people do that it enables us to deploy more staff, whether it be street outreach workers or special constables or alert the police, there are number of things we can do. So we absolutely encourage people to report these things and if people are feeling they aren’t being heard that is of great concern and we would ask people to let us know about that as well.”
Green pointed out that the TTC has added 20 Streets to Homes workers to the system to help individuals experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness access immediate supports. Another 50 security guards trained in mental health first aid and nonviolent intervention are also being deployed across the system, he said.
Green also said that the TTC has a number of other resources for riders to access help, including the yellow emergency strip on subways and streetcars and emergency phones on platforms.
“That is the equivalent of calling 911 but anyone wearing a TTC vest or a uniform has an ability to reach into transit control and alert them to something that is happening and we all do that,” he said. “If we see something, we do say something and that is our expectation of anyone that is approached by a customer, whether it be at a collector booth or out walking along the platform. Just let them know. Even if it is just a head up to say ‘I saw someone over there who might be in crisis or might be experiencing homelessness or an addictions issue.’ We want to know about all of these things because that is how we fix them.”
Pizey-Allen, however, said that many of the complaints show that riders don't always know what to do despite a desire to help people get supports. That, she said, needs to be addressed.
“Who do you talk to if there is something wrong? You know, cities like Calgary and Los Angeles have created new staff roles that are basically ambassadors and people you can go up to. You can ask them for directions but they are also equipped to provide support and just information and that's something missing (at the TTC),” she said. “So it doesn't surprise me that, you know, especially after this high profile and really tragic incident that people were thinking more about safety and approaching the TTC about it. But there needs to be a plan and the right kind of staff available to provide support. Right now there isn't.”