The TTC might add “some extra service” on a busy overnight route after a Toronto man posted an early morning photo on social media of the inside of a crowded bus filled with essential workers during the pandemic.
Daniel Monich, a food scientist at a meat production plant in Etobicoke, took the photo at 5:07 a.m. Monday on the 300 Bloor-Danforth bus on Bloor Street West between Keele Street and Dundas Street West. The bus was on what the TTC calls a Blue Night route, meaning it operates overnight.
“I wanted to share this picture from this morning because my commutes, like many essential workers, have turned from frustrating to literal nightmares,” Monich wrote in a Facebook post on Monday.
In the photo, which has received much media attention, the workers are standing shoulder to shoulder as they take public transit to their jobs. There is no physical distancing, even though TTC riders are encouraged to keep two metres apart. All this is happening as Toronto, with daily COVID-19 case counts climbing, is in the middle of a third wave of COVID-19.
Monich said he takes the bus every day to work, usually getting on the bus at about 4:25 a.m. from the east end. On Monday, the bus was 20 minutes late and a backlog of people were waiting at some stops. He said he counted 22 people in one third of the bus. His commute, which includes a transfer to a second bus, is about an hour and 15 minutes.
“It is my opinion that to provide safe service, they must be focused on providing on-time service. To me, this should be fairly easy when the streets are empty at 4:30 am,” Monich writes in the post.
“Every day I see the same essential workers heading out to their various jobs/plants near the airport and it’s like nothing I’ve seen before. In my 10 years of taking transit in this city, I have never seen more collective exhaustion and fear than I have now.”
Monich said it is a question of health and safety. Ideally, he said a 24-hour subway would be the answer, but more bus service is welcome.
“I would say I’m on a fairly crowded bus at least once a week,” he told CBC Toronto on Wednesday. “I had just had a really rough day commuting that I finally put some words to it and put it online.”
Monich posted the photo to his personal Facebook page. A friend later posted it on Twitter. At some point, someone posted it on Toronto Reddit. He said he has taken similar photos before out of frustration but always deleted them. He describes himself as a “huge supporter of the TTC in many ways,” but finally felt the need to speak out.
“It just builds up,” he said.
Once the bus gets busy, he said riders cannot physically distance and the public health guidelines go out the window. “It’s honestly frightening,” he said.
He said extra service would make a difference. “Absolutely, that’s great,” he said. But Monich added that not everyone follows health and safety guidelines while on the bus. “There’s always someone not wearing a mask.”
TTC says such photos are helpful
TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said on Wednesday that photos depicting conditions on buses, streetcars and subways are helpful. He said, for the most part, buses are not overcrowded, but such photos help the agency to determine where extra service is needed.
“They are helpful to us in that they can inform where we put extra service, and we have been doing that.”
Green said the TTC has been collecting its own data to determine the areas and times that are busiest and to decide which routes need extra buses.
“We’re trying to keep it to about half full. We’re doing that about 95 per cent of the time.”
Green said the TTC also has new technology that might help alleviate some of the congestion.
“On Friday, we’re launching new features with the Rocketman and the transit apps that will allow people to, through those apps, they’ll be able to see how full a bus is,” he said.
Green said the apps will help commuters “make that choice whether or not they want to wait for the next one,” if the bus that’s coming is too crowded.
Medical officer says opening windows would help
Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s medical officer of health, said there are things people can do to help protect themselves when on a crowded bus. Distance and ventilation make a difference, she said.
“Given that the weather is a little bit better, certainly opening up windows on the buses will help, and obviously, maintaining distance to the greatest extent possible and using a well-fitting mask are going to be important components of measures for self-protection,” de Villa said.
Monich said waiting for the next bus is not always the best answer because he could risk being late for work and he cannot afford that. He said there’s no guarantee that the next bus isn’t going to get crowded along the route.
What he would really like to see is the city start opening subway service earlier and sticking to the schedule. “The subway offers space and the bus does not,” he said.