T.T.C.: Commissioner Calls For Free Overnight Service During Extreme Cold

Update:

TTC commissioner Josh Colle thinks the overnight streetcar and bus service should be free during cold weather alerts. He wants to study the issue.
The transit commission will look at whether the free rides would result in a significant revenue loss. About a third of the TTC’s operating costs are subsidized. The other two-thirds come from fares. TTC commissioner Josh Colle thinks the overnight streetcar and bus service should be free during cold weather alerts. He wants to study the issue.

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Toronto has had 32 extreme cold weather alerts this year and more than doubled the tokens given out to homeless people seeking shelter beds.

The TTC’s overnight bus and streetcar service should be free for everyone during extreme cold weather alerts, says a Toronto councillor.

Josh Colle, who is a TTC commissioner, brought a motion forward last week asking the transit provider to study the issue along with Toronto Public Health and the city’s shelter, support and housing department.

Extreme cold this winter has forced more people into shelters and more than doubled the number of TTC tokens the city gives out to the homeless.

“On those rare occasions, when there are a lot of people who need to get to shelter or home, they could use the transit system,” said Colle. “Those buses are running anyways. We’re spending the money.

“The notion is that we do extend a lot of other services, whether it be shelters or street services, during cold weather alerts,” he said.

During alerts, the city opens warming centres, increases its street outreach to transport people indoors, provides more TTC tokens at drop-ins so people can get to shelters, and adds beds.

WIth 32 extreme cold weather alerts issued by the City of Toronto during this cold winter, this idea is both practical and reasonable, given the number of homeless and people that cannot afford to ride a bus/streetcar after the subway has closed.
WIth 32 extreme cold weather alerts issued by the City of Toronto during this cold winter, this idea is both practical and reasonable, given the number of homeless and people that cannot afford to ride a bus/streetcar after the subway has closed. The TTC operates 21 buses and two street car routes from 1:30 a.m. until 5 a.m. as part of its overnight Blue Line service

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As of Monday, Toronto has had 32 cold weather alerts this winter, compared with nine last year. Temperatures in March are forecast to be lower than normal.

And TTC tokens have never been in higher demand.

About 5,100 have already been given out through the city’s drop in-centres, compared with an average of 2,170 in other years. The tokens are issued to homeless people during extreme cold weather alerts from Nov. 15 to April 15 each year.

It can get cold out at night on Toronto streets and sometimes jumping on a bus/streetcar can provide warmth
It can get cold out at night on Toronto streets and sometimes jumping on a bus/streetcar can provide warmth

This winter, the emergency department at St. Michael’s Hospital, on Queen St. near Yonge St., is seeing higher numbers of people with severe cold-related injuries, including hypothermia and frostbite.

The free overnight transit service is a “great idea,” says Stephen Hwang, a physician at St. Mike’s who does research on homeless or marginally housed people and who has also worked at Seaton House, a men’s shelter, for 17 years.

“A lot of times people who are homeless are not in close proximity to where shelter beds are,” said Hwang. Or they’re sleeping in a ravine or park. The free transit “would lower the barriers for getting into a shelter.”

The TTC operates 21 buses and two street car routes from 1:30 a.m. until 5 a.m. as part of its overnight Blue Line service.

The transit commission will look at whether the free rides would result in a significant revenue loss. About a third of the TTC’s operating costs are subsidized. The other two-thirds come from fares.

“The motion speaks specifically to extreme cold weather alerts, so I don’t think we’re talking about a tremendous cost,” said TTC spokesperson Brad Ross. “But it is something we need to be able to report back on.”

The TTC operates 21 buses and two street car routes from 1:30 a.m. until 5 a.m. as part of its overnight Blue Line service
The TTC operates 21 buses and two street car routes from 1:30 a.m. until 5 a.m. as part of its overnight Blue Line service

Colle has asked the city to consider kicking in up to 10 per cent of the total operating cost of the Blue Line overnight service to offset costs.

GO Transit keeps almost all of its stations open during extreme cold weather alerts until the last train or bus has left, which varies from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. depending on station.

“We’ve always done that, but this year we’ve never had to do it this much,” said spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins. Typically, the stations close much earlier. “It does cost us money because we have to staff them,” she said.

Colle says the free service should extend to everyone during cold weather alerts, not just those who are homeless and trying to reach a shelter.

“I do expect our most vulnerable citizens who don’t have a home or shelter would probably be a lot of the people who would use it to get to those services,” said Colle. But “I think if someone had their 16-year-old kid out that night, who happened to be coming home late, then I think it would be fine for them to be using it, too,” he said.

“I’m not going to have a driver try and determine who’s homeless.”

The TTC is expected to report back in a couple of months.

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