80% of tickets for fare evasion, panhandling and other offences were ignored, but TTC officers currently have few other options.
TTC transit enforcement officers wrote 7,204 tickets last year for violations ranging from fare evasion to panhandling. But the city says only about one in five of those tickets was ever paid.
A likely reason is that one-third of the tickets written, 2,705, were issued to people with no fixed address, according to information obtained by the Star through an access to information request.
“The vast majority of these no-fixed-addresses relate to people who just refuse to give us an address,” said TTC spokesman Brad Ross, who stressed that transit officers don’t generally issue tickets to homeless people.
In most cases, transit enforcement officers simply don’t have the authority to compel people to provide an address.
(Fake tickets allegedly handed out to homeless people by eight transit officers who were fired in January aren’t included in the data obtained by the Star.)
In all only 1,441 tickets were paid last year. (Revenue goes to the city, not the TTC.)
The numbers raise questions about how to effectively police a vast transit network that carries 1.7 million riders a day, many of them on buses and streetcars where there is virtually no uniformed presence. They point to the complications of trying to eliminate panhandling and mischief in a system the size of the TTC.
The data also begs the question of whether TTC enforcement officers, who patrol the subway in addition to Toronto police, have the authority they need to do the job effectively.
Nearly half the tickets TTC officers issued last year, some 3,215, were for fare evasion, an offence that irks paying customers and costs the system about $20 million annually.
Panhandlers racked up a further 1,393 tickets.
But tickets are the last resort for TTC officers, who are more focused on deterring offences and educating people about what they aren’t allowed to do on the system, Ross said.
TTC chair Karen Stintz said the numbers show just how vital enforcement is to the system, but also the complications of policing it.
Fare enforcement shouldn’t fall to Toronto police officers, she said, but, “We know we have to improve our strategy to avoid fare evasion, because in the end we all pay.”
Subway collectors are reluctant to confront potentially aggressive panhandlers, who could just as easily ignore them, and tickets are often meaningless.
“It’s uncomfortable for everybody, but we haven’t developed a good strategy for dealing with that issue,” Stintz said.
She expects the TTC will be back at the Toronto Police Services Board by the summer asking to have special constable powers restored to transit enforcement officers.
That status, withdrawn by the police in 2010 after suggestions the TTC special constables were exceeding their authority, wouldn’t necessarily make it any easier to punish turnstile jumpers, said Fergie Reynolds, the TTC’s deputy chief and a retired police officer.
He’s in charge of the TTC’s uniformed force of 40, whose base pay ranges from about $60,000 to $80,000 a year. The rules under which they operate are complicated and strict.
Unlike the Highway Traffic Act, where police can demand identification, there are no powers of arrest for police or transit officers under the type of bylaw and provincial offences typically seen on the TTC, said Reynolds. Police, however, can lay charges for obstruction.
That’s something transit officers could only do with “special constable” authority, said Reynolds. TTC officers can, however, charge a turnstile jumper with trespassing.
Where special constable authority really matters, he said, is in giving transit officers powers of arrest on minor criminal offences. Under the current rules, enforcement officers have to witness an assault or theft personally to make an arrest. With special constable status, the TTC officer could make the arrest on reasonable grounds, such as the word of a witness.
The Toronto police transit patrol unit has doubled in size to 82 officers since it was formed in 2009, said Staff Sgt. Steve Reynolds.
About 12 to 15 Toronto police officers are patrolling the subway or attending to the TTC at any time, he said. They work in conjunction with police divisions throughout the city and TTC officers.
“Our mandate is to provide a high-visibility presence within the transit system,” he said. Police are deployed strategically, with officers focusing on trouble spots in the system.
Reynolds won’t comment on the special constables issue. But he admits more resources would help.
“Given my choice, I’d double our complement,” he said. “With 1.5 million people riding the TTC on a daily basis, there are a number of problems and crimes that occur. I would love to be able to address crime on the bus routes in a more efficient manner, but due to manpower limitations we’re not able to address it as effectively as I would like.”