Toronto Mayor John Tory’s plan to add 50 Special Constables (and a 10-cent fare hike) to the TTC is a direct response in the City of Toronto’s 2023 Budget to what sure feels like a crime wave sweeping the public transit network.
The move is part of a nearly $50 million proposed police budget increase amid a procession of violent attacks — some fatal — that dominated headlines in 2022 and into 2023.
Mayor Tory hopes to reassure transit riders through an increased presence of both TTC cops and Streets to Homes outreach workers. While that may be enough to dissuade public fears of riding transit, some worrying data from south of the border suggests that it might not be enough to make a dent in crime.
New police data from New York City reveals that subway crime increased by 30% in that city during 2022, outpacing the city’s increase in major crimes by 8%.
Crime is on a different level in the United States, so a comparison between Toronto and New York City will always be an uneven playing field.
But with that caveat aside, here’s why that New York crime statistic could be relevant to Toronto transit riders.
The increase in NYC subway crime is substantial on its own, but what really makes this figure alarming is that the uptick comes despite the city deploying thousands (yes, thousands) of additional police patrols on the transit network.
Like Mayor Tory, New York Mayor Eric Adams stated that the boost in patrols was rolled out to put riders at ease amid a concerning spike in subway crimes in The City That Never Sleeps.
But unlike the Big Apple, Toronto only plans to add 50 transit cops to its Transit Enforcement Unit (TEU) in an effort to deal with its spike in criminal activity.
Though this represents a tiny fraction of New York’s response, it is indeed an almost doubling of the 56 TEU officers that were on the payroll back in 2019.
— blogTO (@blogTO) January 4, 2023
Granted, New York blows Toronto out of the water in terms of population, transit service, and ridership. The Big Apple has 36 rail lines with a combined 472 stations, versus Toronto’s four lines and 75 stations.
So obviously, they’re going to respond with orders of magnitude greater number of police officers in NYC than the proposed 50-cop increase for the TTC.
It’s also worth noting that while crime is up on the NYC subway across the year, the increased patrols may finally be bearing results. NYPD Chief of Transit Michael Kemper told reporters last week that the patrols have actually resulted in a reduction in major crime by 4.6% year-over-year during the last two months of 2022.
Kemper was quoted as saying that the system “went from a very concerning increase in crime for the first 10 months of the year to a sharp turnaround during the last nine weeks of the year.”
In comparison, Toronto Star reported in late December that there were 451 offences against TTC customers in the first half of 2022 alone, well above the pace seen in 2020 and 2021, with 735 and 734 respective offences per year.
This increase in crime correlates to some degree with recovering traffic following over two years of mandates and lockdowns grinding down the TTC’s ridership figures.
In another interesting parallel with Toronto, the MTA (New York’s public transit system) announced a 5.5% fare hike in December, which the agency attributes to reduced ridership and revenue.
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Far hikes aside, the question here is really about how effective an increased police presence is in deterring crime and making riders feel more secure during commutes on the service.
It’s been less than three years since Toronto City Council voted down a motion to eliminate TTC Special Constables and reduce funding to the Toronto police during a period of extremely heightened tensions in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in the US.
Instead, Mayor Tory introduced a watered-down motion during that council session that called for a conduct review of Special Constables.
Two-and-a-half years later, the mayor has completely reversed course and now intends to hire more Special Constables.
Due to the ongoing TTC board meeting at the time of writing, representatives of the transit agency were unable to comment on the findings from NYC.
During that meeting, the TTC board approved hiring more Special Constables at a cost of $2.4 million.