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‘I take more Ubers’: TTC riders on edge in the wake of public transit attacks

A spate of violent incidents on the TTC — five in the past five days — has left riders feeling scared and changing their travel plans, despite assurances from the TTC and police that the system is safe.

In the latest incidents, a passenger on a TTC bus was stabbed near Old Mill station Wednesday afternoon, while just the day before a 23-year-old woman was stabbed in the head and face while riding the Spadina streetcar.

In the Spadina attack, police charged 43-year-old Leah Valdez on Wednesday with attempted murder. The victim is in stable condition. The victim in the Old Mill bus stabbing was taken to hospital with serious injuries, while police looked for a suspect.

The stabbings, which reflect a broader trend of increased violence on the TTC since the pandemic, have added to a sense of unease among the public. Some are looking for ways to protect themselves while on public transit, while others opting for other forms of transportation.

“I’m a bartender and I’ve started carrying around a wine opener all the time to protect myself,” said Emma Ly, a York University student. “I take more Ubers. I tell my girlfriend to take an Uber home.”

The hesitancy comes at a time when the transit system is desperate for customers. The TTC is planning on cutting service and hiking fares this year in response to lagging ridership, which was ravaged by the pandemic.

Perhaps most disturbing about the attacks on the TTC is the lack of rhyme or reason in which they seem to occur: in all parts of the city, at all times of day, on streetcars, buses and subways, inside and outside stations. In almost all cases, the assailant and the victim do not know each other.

In some of the most egregious cases over the past year, an Indian international student was shot dead outside Sherbourne subway station; a woman was doused in flammable liquid and fatally lit on fire on a bus at Kipling station; and a woman was stabbed to death at High Park station.

It’s enough to send chills through the spines of even the most committed riders.

“Taking the TTC is kind of questionable for me,” said Ella Wiley, another York University student.

“We’ve received lots of emails from the university warning us about recent TTC assaults … and there’s not really a lot of TTC security off-campus.”

One creator on TikTok promoted a portable alarm and dog repellent spray as new “Toronto girly essentials,” with several commenters mentioning they were perfect for a TTC commute.

A spokesperson for Toronto police said the force plans to increase the presence of officers on transit to reassure riders.

“As a result of the incidents taking place on the TTC, a directive has been sent to all officers encouraging them to engage with passengers and TTC operators during the course of their duties,” Stephanie Sayer, senior communications adviser for the Toronto police, said in an email.

A pledge from the city in the 2023 budget to add 50 more special constables has done little to assuage fears, while public health experts and criminologists routinely point to the need to address the root causes of violence, like the lack of housing affordability and mental health supports.

“I sometimes feel safe,” said Daniela Carreon, a student at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Carreon has had several run-ins with the same erratic passenger at St. Andrew’s station. She said when she spoke to a TTC Special Constable about it, not much was done.

“He didn’t really do anything,” she said. “They can’t always, really. And I get that.”

Recent headlines about violence on public transit have “confirmed” for Carreon that something needs to be done.

TTC CEO Rick Leary said he recognizes why some public transit users are scared, but emphasized that the system is safe.

The TTC moves more than one million people per day and most of them safely, Leary said, “but these high-profile cases really make people second guess themselves.”

“What’s important for us is to make sure that people know what we’re doing. We’re a transit system. We’re trying to get people back, help the economy, get people back and make this beautiful city more vibrant.”

His advice to riders who are worried about their safety?

“Be aware of your surroundings,” he said, adding that the TTC is planning to add more staff to stations.

Leary also suggested riders stand against the wall while waiting for the subway, far away from the yellow warning strip that lines the platforms, or in the designated waiting areas, which have security cameras and intercoms where riders can reach station staff. Riders can also report safety concerns on the Safe TTC app, he said.

Shelagh Pizey-Allen, executive director of transit advocacy group TTCRiders, said the responsibility for safety shouldn’t fall on the individual.

“It’s really up to the mayor to invest in services and supports to keep everyone safe.”

At the moment, she said, there’s no option for riders to seek mental health support for someone who may be in distress.

Lex Harvey is a Toronto-based transportation reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @lexharvs


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

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