TTC CEO asks for more emergency spending power amid transit violence concerns

TORONTO — The board for Toronto's transit agency backed a plan Tuesday to expand the chief executive’s spending authority, which could be used to extend contracts for 50 temporary security guards brought on after several cases of violence in the system.

The plan bumps CEO Rick Leary's delegated spending authority on emergency contracts and purchases to $15 million, a staff report to the Toronto Transit Commission board indicated. The money would be withdrawn from the TTC’s reserves, subject to city council approval, staff told the board.

The board backed Leary's request for expanded spending with a condition he provide them with detailed updates on how the money is used.

Leary said the TTC would let the board know how the funding was spent.

"What we've done is identify where we believe the money is being spent,” he said. “We would report back right away on anything that was initiated.”

In response to a number of high-profile cases of violence on transit in late January, the city and the TTC announced 50 contract security guards and 20 outreach workers would be added to the system as an interim response. Toronto police also boosted their presence on transit.

Unbudgeted interim TTC initiatives, including the contracts for security guards and outreach workers, are set to be assessed by staff in April, the TTC report said.

The CEO’s expanded emergency spending could be used to have the 50 temporary security guards continue patrols until early October, or "until the services are no longer required,” the report said.

Safety incidents targeting customers spiked at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, trended down in 2021, before increasing again through the end of 2022 to around five incidents a day, TTC staff told the board. The statistics account for a range of occurrences, from mischief to assault.

Critics have said the move to boost security and police presence on transit could risk further criminalizing Black and Indigenous riders, among others, along with people who are homeless or low-income.

A representative for advocacy group TTC Riders who spoke at the board meeting called Leary's request for expanded spending power undemocratic, especially without further clarification about how the money would be spent.

Another advocacy group also raised concerns.

"We deserve evidence-based approaches, regardless of the sensationalization of crime and safety that police, TTC and the various levels of government have been leaning strongly and actively upon," Audrey Dwyer, with the group Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, told the board.

The TTC said a $500,000 contract for 50 temporary guards with Star Security, who started patrolling transit in early February, covered about seven weeks of service. A $500,000 contract for 20 "community safety ambassadors" is set to expire at the end of April.

The TTC also tabled reports Tuesday outlining some of its recent plans to reduce service in certain areas, resume fare enforcement and pilot body-worn camera with fare inspectors.

TTC has said service cuts to 91 per cent of pre-pandemic levels will further align with ridership, which it projects will hit about 75 per cent this year of what it was before COVID-19. It has said an upcoming 10-cent fare increase, the first in three years, will be used to invest in safety, cleanliness and accessibility.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2023.

Jordan Omstead, The Canadian Press