Toronto CA Jan 4 2017 In a move that John Tory says will help alleviate Toronto’s gridlock problem, the mayor is asking the province to grant TTC enforcement officers the power to direct traffic during transit disruptions.
In a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne dated Jan. 2 and obtained by the Star, Mayor Tory said that the enhanced authorities for TTC transit enforcement officers “would help the city keep transit and traffic as a whole moving and ensure that TTC riders get more reliable service.”
Granting TTC enforcement officers the ability to direct traffic during events like subway closures was among the recommendations made in a transit staff report that was approved by the TTC’s board last month.
The proposed change wouldn’t require amendments to provincial legislation, but would have to be approved by the Toronto Police Services Board and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
The target date for the changes to take effect is in the third quarter of 2017. In a statement to the Star, Tory said he wrote to Wynne “to ensure that any changes that need to be made at the provincial level are completed quickly this year.”
The mayor said he also supports a recommendation, also made in the December TTC report, that would give TTC officers the power to tag and tow cars that obstruct transit service. That measure would require a change to Toronto’s Municipal Code.
Tory said that plans to enhance TTC officers’ powers are “aimed at keeping our roads and transit routes moving without further burdening police resources.”
“I’m committed to making sure transit riders’ daily commutes are reliable and as free from disruption as possible. Over the last two years, I’ve made it clear that we have to embrace ways to move traffic that allow highly-trained police officers to focus on other priorities,” he said.
Tory has identified tackling gridlock as a priority of his administration, and has previously supported initiatives like downtown towing blitzes, better coordination of road closures, and strategically deploying police officers to prevent pedestrians and drivers from blocking busy intersections.
Although the mayor has claimed that such initiatives are effective, so far he hasn’t produced hard data that show the measures are working.
The TTC scheduled 41 closures on the subway and Scarborough Rapid Transit systems last year to perform track, signal and other work. The agency faced many more unplanned shutdowns as a result of issues like equipment failures and suicides at track level.
A position paper attached the report that went to the TTC board in December made the case for allowing transit officers to control traffic during such closures.
“Planned or unplanned subway service disruptions have the potential to create severe traffic and transit gridlock as the TTC has to resort to shuttle buses to replace the affected portion of the subway,” it said.
“TTC buses regularly have difficulty moving in and out of the affected subway stations due to traffic congestion on the adjacent roadways.”
At last month’s board meeting Mark Cousins, head of the TTC’s transit enforcement unit, said that Toronto’s police force can only supply about half of the necessary paid-duty officers to direct traffic during subway closures, and using TTC constables to fill the jobs would “put our fate back in our own hands.” He said that transit enforcement officers could also be enlisted to manage traffic during other circumstances, such as when drivers impede the flow of streetcars.
If the proposed changes are approved, during service disruptions on the subway or other parts of the transit network, TTC enforcement officers would have limited police powers under sections of the provincial Highway Traffic Act. They include the ability to direct traffic, close roads, and remove vehicles and other debris from the roadway.
The proposed amendment to the MunicipaCcode would extend the power to tag and tow vehicles to transit enforcement officers. Currently, only TTC route supervisors have towing authority.
According to the mayor’s letter, the TTC has a complement of about 50 transit enforcement officers.