On September 12, Toronto commuters rallied on Sheppard Ave East, in front of the offices of Member of Provincial Parliament and Vijay Thanigasalam, the parliamentary assistant to the minister of transportation. 

The rally was organized by TTCriders, an organization which works to ensure the TTC is providing Toronto residents with adequate services. Saturday’s rally was focused on the public’s increasing concerns regarding TTC’s preparations for public safety as students and commuters begin using public transport to go back to school and work.

In addition to TTCriders, the public advocacy group Safe September has also expressed their demands for increased safety guidelines in the TTC. Safe September advocates for the Ontario government to “allocate adequate funding to provide enough teachers, custodians, nurses, PPE, and cleaning supplies for all 4,800 of Ontario’s publicly funded schools.” The TTC is no exception to the movement since students and staff rely on transportation services for safe, convenient travel.

Toronto residents have emphasized the need for permanent provincial transit funding. However, this must be done without a massive change in the existing structure of the system as it would make transit use significantly more challenging for residents who rely on public transportation on a daily basis. The establishment of such funding will allow for more bus-only lanes, thereby faster travel, lower fares, and enough bus service to maintain physical distancing during transit. 

The TTCriders rally organizing team member and public policy professional, Ketheesakumaran Navaratnam, spoke to The Medium about their initiative to improve overcrowding on TTC services as well as other transport companies. 

“The TTC is not running 100 per cent of its service levels right now, which is impacting transit users who are more likely to be essential workers, lower-income, and racialized people,” stated Navaratnam. “We want Mayor Tory to bring back full service and Premier Ford to provide permanent transit funding to address overcrowding.”

The federal and provincial governments have recently provided transit companies with emergency funds per the Safe Restart Agreement signed on August 12. However, Navaratnam believes that these funds are not enough and argued that the support of the government comes with arbitrary limitations.

“The first phase of Safe Restart funding is providing $404 million to the TTC this Fall, but the TTC faces a $700 million shortfall by the end of 2020,” stated Navaratnam. “Permanent transit funding from the Provincial government would ensure that the transit experience for each and every rider remains affordable, consistent, and reliable regardless of ridership.”

Until the late ‘90s, the Ontario government provided public transportation companies with stable operating funding and paid for 50 per cent of the TTC’s operating budget.

“Now, Toronto’s public transit system is the least-subsidized major transit system in the U.S. or Canada. Riders pay about 70 per cent of TTC’s operating costs,” continued Navaratnam. “Permanent transit funding would ensure that there is enough transit service to fix crowding, lower fares for all, and [provide] fair fare integration.”

To be eligible for the second phase of provincial funding under the Safe Restart Agreement, municipal governments need to assess the efficiency of TCC’s bus routes and potentially replace “low performing” routes with micro transit options.

“This could mean service cuts of bus routes and privatization with Uber or Lyft,” said Navaratnam. “Premier Ford is also asking the TTC and City of Toronto to consider ‘new governance models’ and ‘fare integration,’ but the provincial transit agency favours a ‘fare-by-distance’ model that would see riders pay more to travel further.”

In a press conference held by the TTCriders organization on September 18, student unions and organization across Toronto came together to call for improved transit services and permanent funding.

“TTCriders is continuing to make transit riders’ demands clear by organizing a day of action, press conferences, phone banks, and online webinars,” stated Navaratnam.

Moreover, the TTC has also shown it has heard people’s concerns regarding safety, assault, and other undesirable experiences they might come across while using public transportation services by starting an app called SafeTTC.

Reports placed via the SafeTTC app will be immediately directed to trained transit enforcement officers at TTC Transit Control, who will either be dispatched to the scene or directly connected to the individual submitting the report to gather more information on the incident.

TTCriders will be organizing another event on September 24, where Toronto commuters will be going around Toronto putting up posters on bus stops to increase awareness and gather support for the organization’s initiatives and invite all commuters to join their efforts.

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