It has become obvious to those who’ve watched the chaos and crime unfold that the Toronto Transit Commission is a train wreck.
In early December 31-year-old Vanessa Kurpiewska was murdered with a pickaxe while waiting for a subway train at High Park station – an innocent victim in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Back in June, 28-year-old Nyima Dolma was set on fire while on a bus at the Kipling Station. She succumbed to her injuries a few weeks later – another innocent victim.
Just before Christmas, a group of eight to 10 teen girls attacked several people at a variety of subway stations. Some of those girls are said to be linked to the killing of a 59-year-old homeless man near Toronto’s Union Station.
This list is by no means exhaustive and certainly does not include the homeless people pictured regularly using the subway system as their sleeping, eating and drug-taking quarters.
The criminal acts have become so rampant that once regular riders are saying publicly they’re now afraid to use the TTC. It used to be that they never thought twice about riding to downtown sports games and theatre performances.
The decline of Toronto’s once well-respected Red Rocket has followed in lockstep with a similar decay of the city it serves.
Like many cities across the country, this decline has been exacerbated and enabled by politicians who listen far too much to the activists, who have rendered law enforcement on the system and on the streets impotent and who have buried their heads in the sand, refusing to acknowledge they have a real crime or service delivery problem.
Take our weak federal transportation minister’s mishandling of the many airline and train cock-ups over Christmas. Omar Alghabra failed to deal with Sunwing, which cancelled flights and left passengers stranded.
It is indeed a trend no matter the politician or level of government.
Stuart Green, TTC spokesman who runs interference for transit CEO Rick Leary, contends that safety is the TTC’s top priority.
“The safety of our customers and employees is paramount to all we do,” he told True North.
That’s extremely hard to believe considering what inside sources have contended about the lack of law enforcement throughout the system.
In a series of e-mails to True North, TTC insiders said fare evasion is rampant and fare inspectors have been told “to walk away” if customers refuse to pay. A loiterer or panhandler won’t even be approached, they say.
That’s 100 fare inspectors making $85,000 a year told not to write tickets or do any enforcement, they say.
Fare evasion has been a problem for years. In 2018 a scathing audit revealed that the TTC had lost $64 million to the lack of enforcement. When the TTC was still dragging its heels in September of 2019, one commissioner noted, astutely, that fare evasion had become “institutionalized” in the system.
Then Covid hit, which has been used as an excuse for everything.
The insiders claim crime has escalated because Leary has sent the message that law enforcement is not needed on the system, ever since former CEO Andy Byford departed in late 2017.
The real chill came in February of 2020 following an altercation involving two transit enforcement officers on the 501 Streetcar.
The incident involved 34-year-old Steven Thackerberry, who was charged with two counts of assaulting peace officers. He pled guilty to the two charges a year later.
But in an expensive witchhunt, Leary hired a downtown law firm to investigate the officers. Even though Thackaberry pled guilty to assault, Leary demanded the officers be fired.
The firing was in part I believe to allow the mayor and four councillors to save face for tweeting about the officers’ guilt as soon as the incident occurred.
In December of 2020, the head of the Special Constable service, a Leary hire, issued a memo essentially telling special constables not to arrest a passenger unless serious crimes were taking place on the TTC.
“SCs must always seek to utilize opportunities through communication, de-escalation tactics, patience and other strategies to build rapport … and to use as much time needed to build trust in hopes of reaching a resolution,” the memo says, one that suggests SCs must act as social workers and put themselves in danger.
There’s little reason to doubt that in the wake of this, special constables and fare inspectors feared for their jobs if they actually did their jobs.
Green would not provide the report’s cost, advising me to ask for the price through a Freedom of Information request.
When asked about the claims by the insiders, he responded: “I’m not going to dignify anonymous allegations against the CEO…”
That notwithstanding the insiders say there’s no point increasing the SC contingent to 150 if they’re not permitted and even fired for doing their jobs.
They say they have told the TTC chairmen (before the 2022 election it was Jaye Robinson and now it’s Jon Burnside) and the mayor, but they’ve done nothing.
Instead Leary was given a raise in 2021 from $361,000 to $438,495.
“The situation is directly related to Leary policies and it has cost taxpayers millions of dollars in lost revenue,” the insiders say. “But what is worse (it) has cost people their lives while the TTC pays people to be silent.”
Do you have information about urban decay on Canada’s public transit systems? E-mail Sue-Ann Levy.