“I’m more vigilant than I was before”: How Torontonians feel about the rise of violence on the TTC

“I’m more vigilant than I was before”: How Torontonians feel about the rise of violence on the TTC

After a string of attacks in subway stations and on streetcars, we asked transit riders whether they’re on high alert

It’s been impossible to go anywhere in the city lately without hearing about the uptick in reports of violence on the TTC—passengers getting stabbed, robbed, pushed onto the tracks, lit on fire, chased with syringes. Our transit system has seemingly transformed into a locus of terror, and TTC employees and police have boosted their presence. But how do riders feel? And do they plan on changing how they commute? We descended into the depths of Yonge-Bloor station to find out.

Sreerag Bullanhi, 26, master’s student at George Brown College

“I ride the TTC every day from Scarborough to get to my classes. I haven’t experienced any threats to my safety—I’ve only read about incidents in the news. But I’m still somewhat fearful. I’ve noticed police officers roaming around the station, which is a good thing. We need to be aware of what’s happening and take protective measures. I think there should be two or three police officers on every train, just in case anything happens. The TTC is the most efficient way for me to travel. Plus, it’s all I can afford.”

Leanne Baarda, 46, independent living specialist for visually impaired people

“I’m a lot more vigilant than I was before. I won’t take my phone out in certain areas for fear of it getting stolen. I’m more aware of where I’m standing. If I notice some commotion on the subway, like someone screaming, I stop what I’m doing and assess the situation. Then I decide whether I want to stay on the train or get off. I typically ride transit three or four times a week to work and back. I need to take it, one way or another, to get to my clients. I think the problem is that, these days, a lot more people are experiencing homelessness and using the subway as a warming station. There aren’t enough support systems for people with mental illness. The police should travel with a mental health crisis team that could de-escalate situations before they get out of hand.”

Niko Noah, 28, college student

“I take the train a couple of times a day, along Line 1, between St. Patrick’s Station and Bloor. I don’t pay much attention to the news, but I’ve heard about some of the recent incidents. I’m a bit of a ‘whatever happens, happens’ type of person. I just get on with my day—get up, go to college, head back home. You can’t control every situation. And I trust that the police are taking measures to protect people riding the subway. I’m not planning on changing my riding habits.”

Andrew Fuller, 18, high school student

“Riding the TTC is a little bit uncomfortable lately with the stabbings and everything. But I’ve got no other choice. I need it to get to school and to visit friends. I don’t think there’s much that the police can do to solve the problem. Even if they’re around, things are still going to happen.” 

Bob Smith, 75, retired systems analyst

“I only ride about twice a week, whenever I need to get to a medical appointment. There are a lot of unpredictable people on the subway. There always have been, but lately, I’ve been very cautious about going out. I try to pay more attention to who’s walking up to me, who’s behind me. I don’t doze off when I’m riding transit anymore, that’s for sure. Because I’m an old fart, I’m a bit of a target—I carry a walking stick, which makes me appear vulnerable. Ultimately, this isn’t a policing issue. We need to address the underlying cause of what makes people unstable. What’s the problem? I don’t know. If I did, I wouldn’t be standing here with you right now—I’d be making a lot of money.” 

Valeria C., 22, student

“All of the recent news doesn’t really bother me. I just see it as reality. My dad is from Buenos Aires, where he says riding public transit is extremely dangerous. So, oddly enough, I feel like things could be much worse here. I have been going home a little bit earlier recently, though. Before everything started happening, I might stay out downtown as late as I wanted with my friends, whether it was a weekend or weekday. Now, I’m more careful and aware of my surroundings. I don’t think a bigger police presence will solve the problem.”

Piper Boom, 23, student at Toronto Film School

“I hadn’t heard about any of the issues that the TTC is facing right now, but this is public transit, so I’m not surprised that there’s been violence. To stay safe, I try not to talk to people. I try to look intimidating even though I’m not. Sometimes crime is caused by homelessness or a lack of mental health care. I don’t really think that policing is the answer. We need to give unhoused people safe places to go and access to programs that will help get them back on their feet. Either way, I used to live in Edmonton, and Toronto feels safer.”

Fateh Ahmad, 19, student at Toronto Metropolitan University

“I take the TTC every day to get to my classes downtown. Hearing about everything is kind of scary. I’m six-foot-one, so I’m kind of big, probably less vulnerable than a lot of other riders, but I still need to watch my surroundings. I’m going to keep using transit regularly. I live two minutes away from the station, so it’s the most convenient way for me to get to class. I heard somewhere that they’ve upped police patrols. They can’t do much more than that. The police can’t check everybody who comes through a subway station or streetcar to see if they have a weapon on them. That’s too much work. You just never know who’s going to commit a crime.”