Weekend TTC closure plagued by reports of unmasked drivers and overcrowded buses
TTC ridership numbers have remained historically low throughout the pandemic. Still, the latest round of weekend subway closures gave Toronto a taste of the 'before times,' harkening back to when overcrowded transit was a begrudgingly accepted norm of life in the city.
A significant stretch of the TTC's Line 1 subway — from Finch to St. Clair — was shut down this past weekend to accommodate work on the Eglinton Crosstown.
With every temporary subway closure comes the dreaded words "shuttle bus," hated universally for their chaotic crowds, unreliable travel times, delays, and all the related inconveniences.
This latest closure coincided with the worst weekend of COVID-19 case counts recorded since June as the feared Delta variant takes hold across Ontario, and people are, understandably, a bit freaked out.
Commuters were vocally frustrated about their safety on crowded shuttle buses over the weekend, calling out the TTC and local politicians for an apparent lack of preparation and enforcement in a barrage of tweets.
"Safety is paramount to all we do. Throughout the pandemic, we have introduced numerous protocols," TTC spokesperson Stuart Green told blogTO.
Even with a long list of screening and precautions in place, riders are clearly fed up with how the TTC manages subway closures, raising concerns about their safety in just trying to get from point A to point B.
In the months before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, the TTC reported that 35 per cent of bus routes were operating at greater than 50 per cent capacity (more than 25 passengers per bus). This figure had plummeted to just 4 per cent by June.
Ridership (46 per cent capacity as of the end of July) and vaccination numbers (approaching 72 per cent of Toronto residents) have been on the rise ever since. Cases of the Delta variant are also on the rise despite vaccination progress, bringing TTC overcrowding back into the spotlight.
Hi Sharon, I'm very sorry about the line up. Unfortunately we have some bunching at the moment. Our team is aware and will make adjustments where and when possible. ^KJ— TTC Customer Service (@TTChelps) August 7, 2021
Reports of unmasked drivers and riders are treated seriously by the TTC, though mass enforcement seems unlikely given the scope of the problem. Even the TTC’s own statements seem framed to minimize riders’ concerns rather than directly address them.
"Public Health officials advise risk of transmission on public transit is relatively low, and we're not aware of any cases linked to transit use. Regardless of that, the TTC has implemented various safety measures during the response and restart phases of the pandemic," said Stuart Green.
In the past 24 hours, I’ve seen three completely unmasked TTC bus drivers, and my current driver has his nose out of his mask. What other business has this little regard for public health?— benjaminboles (@benjaminboles) August 7, 2021
"We remind all customers and employees that masks are mandatory with very limited exceptions, and if we become aware of employees not following the mandate, we will investigate," said Green.
The TTC and Metrolinx are fighting an uphill battle here, under immense pressure to financially recover from unprecedented ridership losses since early 2020, while also rushing to deliver the overdue, pandemic-delayed Eglinton Crosstown LRT project in 2022.
Even with a slew of TTC measures like PPE vending machines for customers and enhanced active screening of TTC employees, the shortcomings of replacement shuttles are only getting worse as more businesses reopen and cars return to the streets.
Can you pleasr make a priority lane for people with kids and the elders in St. Claire please? Its hard to follow social distancing because its too pqcked in the station and on the shuttle.@TTCnotices@TTChelps#ttc #toronto #northboundttc pic.twitter.com/41qJznqyOW— Quackie (@YellowWizardo) August 7, 2021
"As [these trends continue] the potential for on-street delays increases so we deploy as much service as possible to keep the number of people on each shuttle vehicle as low as possible while preserving transit service across the entire city," said Green.
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