TTC to deploy special constables on buses, streetcars

(Canadian OH&S News) — The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is moving ahead with a plan to put special constables on some buses and streetcars, to discourage passengers from assaulting drivers.

The initiative is an expansion of a four-week pilot project that the TTC enacted in December, BUS STOP, or Bringing Uniform Support to Surface Transportation Operating Personnel. This program had special constables boarding 373 buses on seven routes to prevent violence while protecting revenue, according to TTC chief special constable Mark Cousins.

“What we found during that time was that because we were present, you had less fare evasion, you had less fare disputes, less assaults,” said Cousins. “We felt that we were having a positive impact in supporting the operator and also reminding folks of the proper rules of engagement.”

Nearly 400 TTC employees were physically assaulted by customers in 2016, and 285 of those were vehicle operators, Cousins said. About two-fifths of the operator assaults resulted from fare disputes. “We created BUS STOP because we saw the numbers and we said, ‘We’ve got to get out there and do something about this.’”

For the moment, at least, the extra visibility of security will be on selected buses, streetcars and routes. Cousins employs 41 special constables, and the TTC puts out more than 1,500 buses per day. Deployment of the constables will depend on which routes need the most assistance, as per the TTC’s data.

“So for example, if you said, ‘Every day, this guy gets on the bus at two o’clock, and he hits me or he spits on me,’ or whatever, well, maybe we should be there today at two,” said Cousins. “So it’s sort of hit and miss, and it’s fluid.”

Not everybody is optimistic about the TTC’s plan to curb transit violence. Bob Kinnear, the president of Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), expects little to change.

“We’re not holding our breath,” said Kinnear, whose union represents TTC operators. “There’s always talk about increased levels of visibility and things like that, and it never really generally comes to light.”

One of the biggest problems, he explained, is that neither the public nor the ATU takes the TTC’s special constables seriously as an authority. He cited the incident at Union subway station nearly two years ago — when Russell Gillman and son Jamie Gillman were involved in a scuffle with TTC personnel after a Toronto Maple Leafs game (COHSN, April 7, 2015) — as an example of their ineffectiveness.

“We have a special name for them,” said Kinnear about the special constables. “We call them the Rainbow Squad. They always arrive after the storm.”

A better solution, he suggested, would be a regular presence of Toronto Police Service officers aboard TTC vehicles. “When you ride the system,” he said, “and you see these constables or these fare-enforcement officers get on, it almost feels like a police state.” People would be far more responsive to outside police personnel, he added.

“These special constables,” said Kinnear, “it’s just not conducive to people having a heightened feeling of safety and security.”

Cousins said that the special constables would not be the only enhancement of security on the TTC. The system is also increasing its video-review process.

“Every single bus is equipped with CCTV,” he said. “As long as the equipment’s working, every single assault that’s committed on an operator is caught on tape. And so we review that tape, we look for the suspect; if the suspect can be identified and charges are appropriate, they’re charged.

“So we will be having a very robust video review of every incident.”

Of the assaults against TTC drivers, 34 per cent involve spitting, while another 31 per cent are physical strikes like slaps and punches, Cousins noted.