Fenton Jagdeo is the youngest TTC commissioner in history. Here’s how he plans to get transit back on track
With ridership at historic lows, city hall is counting on Fenton Jagdeo, a 26-year-old management consultant, to get the TTC back on track.
Last year, you became the youngest TTC commissioner in history. How did you end up in the role?
The commission is made up of six city councillors and four private citizens. I saw there was an opening in the second category and I applied. I’m also only the third Black commissioner in the TTC’s history. My career so far has been in management consulting. I offer Fortune 500 companies, like Google and Suncor Energy, advice on how to handle their biggest challenges, and now I get to do the same for an agency that is important to the city and to me personally.
Meaning you’re a regular Rocket rider?
Yes, I grew up riding the Wilson line. I can remember being six years old and my mom taking me on the subway to the ROM. The TTC was how I experienced the city, and it still is. I live at Jane and Wilson and take the Yonge-University line downtown several times a week. That’s another important perspective, because the other commissioners don’t necessarily take transit
on a regular basis.
Shouldn’t regular transit use be a prerequisite of the job?
I wouldn’t go that far, but I think having empathy is an important asset. I know what it’s like to wait for a bus that never comes, or to be on a streetcar where someone is harassing the driver.
What are some of the big challenges the TTC is facing right now?
Connectivity is something we’re focused on as a way to attract riders. We’re currently testing free Wi-Fi on a number of buses. Yes, you can discuss this in a boardroom, but I’m actually on the 35 bus every day, whipping out my laptop and getting work done.
Right. Ridership tanked by more than 50 per cent during the pandemic. So Wi-Fi is one easy way to bring them back. What else are you doing to fix the ridership problem?
We’re providing the core fundamentals: safety, cleanliness, timeliness, effectiveness. The other thing we’re focused on is improving accessibility for everyone. For example, implementing an open pay system to complement Presto so that people can use credit or debit, which is something we hope to introduce by the end of this year.
Does being the only Black commissioner play into the work you do?
Of course. I might be able to see things like unconscious racial biases that others may not. There was a report that showed the disproportionate targeting of Black and Indigenous TTC riders by fare collectors. That would be something that I would have a perspective on.
So instead of just complaining about transit, which is an unofficial Toronto pastime, you’re trying to do something about it from the inside?
I know people like to hate on the TTC, but there are so many positives: for every dollar you put into transit, you get a fourfold return on economic improvements for a city. Transit also reduces air pollutant emissions and in turn reduces incidents of respiratory illness, which saves the health care system $137 million a year. How could you hate such an impressive tool?
There have been some random acts of violence lately, including a woman who got pushed onto the tracks. What would you say to people who think the subway is unsafe?
I think you have something horrible that happens and then people take that incident and create a stereotype. Let’s not forget that we’re one of the largest transit systems in North America. We have a $170-million budget that goes toward rider safety on the TTC, whether it’s adding more constables or making it easier to exit the station.
As if you’re not busy enough, you co-founded a men’s grooming company called Faculty.
The current cosmetic and grooming market only really serves half the population. I’m a cisgendered straight guy who likes to paint my nails, but a lot of people think that’s weird, which is crazy. We’re talking about a $650-billion market. Faculty has gotten $3 million in funding from investors, including Estée Lauder and Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones.
So let’s say you strike it super rich. Are you still riding the TTC?
Of course. The Rocket is the only way to get around.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.