Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow backed a transit safety plan Wednesday to hire 178 new frontline staff, mostly new customer service agents, pitching the new measures as a way to help entice riders back to the transit system.
Chow said the proposed addition of 130 new customer service agents and 30 field supervisors will help deter security incidents and improve response times.
The plan proposes using a projected $10.3 million in savings this year from the delayed opening of two LRT projects to help bridge a funding gap until council tackles the 2024 budget.
The new initiatives laid out in the transit safety plan would require an additional $26.8 million in estimated Toronto Transit Commission funding for 2024.
"We cannot wait. We want TTC riders to be back," Chow said during a Wednesday news conference alongside Toronto Transit Commission CEO Rick Leary and chair Jamaal Myers.
"We don't want anyone to feel anxious. We want everyone to feel safe."
Safety on the TTC became a flashpoint last winter after a number of violent attacks, including the fatal stabbings of a 31-year-old woman in December and a 16-year-old boy in March.
Wednesday's announcement came as the TTC looks to ramp up service levels by November to about 95 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels across the system, and 99 per cent for bus service, even as ridership lags behind at about 76 per cent.
Chow suggested the new safety measures were a way to help stop the downward spiral triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, where decreased ridership leads to lower revenues, which leads to service cuts and further drops in ridership.
"We want to remain hopeful," the mayor said. "When people ride the TTC, we get more funding from the fare box, meaning we can improve the service even better."
The newly unveiled transit safety report set to go before a TTC board meeting next week also proposes extending contracts for security guards and outreach workers that had been previously approved in the wake of a number of high-profile transit incidents.
The report said a review of the system found those initiatives had a positive effect on transit safety, linking them to drops in offences against customers and employees since January.
Myers said the decision to bolster the customer service ranks was also informed by the review's finding that customers were twice as likely to report safety incidents to station staff than by phone, online or by passenger intercoms.
"These are tangible ways to improve the safety and well-being of our customers and employees," he said at the Wednesday news conference.
Along with more station staff, the transit safety plan proposes hiring six new bus drivers to help transport people to city shelters ahead of an anticipated increase in the use of the transit network as a place for people to escape from the cold.
But with city shelters routinely at capacity, the mayor continued to press other levels of government for support to ensure there was a shelter bed open for those in need.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.
Jordan Omstead, The Canadian Press