“There may be loud talkers”: Subway riders on the potential uses and abuses of TTC cell service
We asked commuters how the city’s long-awaited below-ground Wi-Fi would shake up their transit experience
Earlier this week, Rogers Communications bought the company that has exclusive rights to the TTC’s wireless network. They’ve now pledged to build a robust 5G system, and within a couple of years, more subway riders may have access to cellphone and internet services while underground—something that other major Canadian cities have had for years. The news comes after a string of violent attacks on transit passengers, so the stakes are higher than whether commuters get to play Bejeweled on the way to the office. We went to Dundas station to ask riders what they think about the prospect of below-ground Wi-Fi.
Khadijah Hussein, 23, articling student
Do you think cell service on the subway is a good idea?
This is the first I’m hearing about it, and I think it’s great. I would have gladly welcomed cell reception on the subway years ago. The only carrier that offers it right now is Freedom, and their reception everywhere else isn’t great. I commute from Markham, and it takes three hours every day. I’m articling at a law firm, and doing work on the subway would save me so much time.
Distraction might be a concern. Honolulu has a law banning phone use when crossing the street because pedestrians get distracted. Some people may think we should do that while we’re boarding and getting off the trains, but I’m not sure. I like the transit system in Japan. They have covers on the tracks so that people don’t fall, even if they aren’t paying attention. We might want to consider that or a simpler alternative, like putting up signs that remind people to be aware of their surroundings.
Related: How Scarborough commuters feel about TTC service cuts
Jennifer Hudson, 53, advertising account manager
Do you think Toronto needs underground reception?
Of course. Montreal has had it for years, and we’re a bigger city with a larger transit system. Shouldn’t ours be the best? I’m a Rogers customer, but I hope all carriers eventually offer it.
Do you think it would help keep the subway safe?
Definitely. I have a 16-year-old daughter who gets on the subway at Keele Station and travels east. There have been incidents at so many stations recently, and it makes me uneasy knowing I can’t communicate with her while she commutes. I didn’t realize until recently that Freedom offered cell service on the subway, which means we’ve known how to achieve this for years. Knowing that the option existed and that it wasn’t made widely available is terrible. We can’t even call 911.
Ray Walters, 26, parks and recreation worker
Would having cell service change your commute?
Absolutely. For work, I go between various community centres throughout the city. I don’t drive and am always on the trains. I could listen to music, carry on my text conversations, let people know my ETA. Right now, I tell people, “I’ll text you in half an hour.” They have no way of knowing when I’m delayed.
Do you think anyone would use their newfound freedom obnoxiously?
There could be people who abuse it—blast calls on speaker, stuff like that. Sometimes people like to test boundaries for fun. But overall I think it would just make commuting more convenient.
Roshni Roy, 26, pizza shop employee
What do you think of the potential for below-ground Wi-Fi?
It would be great. As it stands, sometimes I get a faint signal in select stations, but not always. Earlier, I had to completely leave the subway system just to answer a few pressing messages. That complicates things. That being said, the subway is the only place where many of us completely disconnect. Sometimes, that’s the best part of my day. We’re on our phones so much—it’s nice to have time to ourselves. It allows us to sit in peace and think.
Would it be useful to you?
I travel to work downtown. Cell reception would be helpful for sending emails and communicating with colleagues before shifts.
Do you think other commuters using the service might disrupt your downtime?
There may be loud talkers, but people speak loudly anyway. It doesn’t make a difference whether it’s on the phone or with their friends.
Arya Zarrinbakhsh, 23, master’s student
Are you in favour of subway cell access?
I think it would be great. Otherwise, you’re just in the dark for 20 minutes. I would use the time for leisure, but it would also greatly help my work. I’m working in a lab, and there are a lot of collaborative projects. When I’m in the subway, I can’t reach my peers. It slows everyone down.
Do you think it would ease concerns about violence on the TTC?
Implementing cell service would go a long way for safety. Imagine if people knew right away when something bad happened on the train. But that’s an extreme reason. I think most people will use cell service to catch up on work and call their loved ones—it would be nice to feel connected. I just bought a plan with Bell, so I hope they’ll offer the service soon after Rogers does.
Gaetan Mumba, 21, student
Would you be interested in cell service during your commute?
I think it’s a great idea. There’s reception everywhere else. Why not here too?
Do you think it would help with safety?
I moved to Toronto in October from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and I’m still getting used to the TTC. I hadn’t heard about the attacks, but I suppose that, if those things are happening, I’d rather know that I can call for help if I need it.
Harisham Kobalasingam, 21, student
What would you do with subway cell service if you had it?
I commute from Oshawa to Toronto Metropolitan University three days a week. It would make the trips go by faster.
Do you think anyone would abuse it?
I guess if certain websites could be blocked, that wouldn’t be a terrible thing. But it’s the TTC—I think people know how to behave. It’s just another place to be on your phone in public. People just need to remember to be respectful and aware of their surroundings.
Would it make you feel safer?
Yeah, it would be huge. Knowing that everyone has access to phone lines may make people think twice about being aggressive.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that more subway riders could have cell service in nine months. Rogers estimates that it will take nine months to upgrade service where the cell network exists, such as on station platforms, but two years to build out the entire 5G system.