The TTC plans to expand the use of cameras on transit vehicles to include external-facing cameras on buses and streetcars, a change that counsellors and constituents have been asking about for years.
TTC’s executive director of communications, Brad Ross, said the cameras will help TTC and Toronto police better investigate incidents involving collisions and disputes, as well as help insurance providers settle claims made against the TTC.
“We’ll have some visual evidence to support a claim one way or the other,” said Ross.
Not unlike the CCTV cameras around the city, Ross added that the cameras could also be used to assist police with nearby crimes, in the event one occurred while a streetcar was passing by.
However, the initial plan to implement cameras does not, at this point, involve cameras on streetcars that would allow for recording vehicles that sweep by open streetcar doors — a dangerous occurrence that has caused numerous near-misses and collisions when pedestrians getting off a streetcar are confronted with a car screaming past.
Currently, graphics for the location of cameras on streetcars only show a single external camera at the front.
As previously reported in the Star, Councillor Mike Layton, who represents Ward 19 (Trinity-Spadina), took to Twitter last year to call on the TTC to look into the idea, which he said would work similar to red light cameras.
He calls this latest development “unfortunate.”
“I know that the TTC was looking at the possibility of doing something with cameras that would review or catch people zooming past doors,” Layton said. “I thought it was the direction to go.
“It’s a problem for riders. They get on and off the streetcars and they don’t know if they’re going to be safe or not.”
A motion was put forward in 2015 by TTC board member Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, asking for the TTC to look into a possible pilot project attempting to cut down on drivers who break the law by passing streetcars letting off passengers. A 2017 letter by Councillor Josh Colle also urged that the TTC specifically investigate the possibility of using camera enforcement to cut down on these dangerous drivers.
Ross said he was aware of the need, but that there were difficulties in implementing a system to catch drivers who carelessly pass open streetcar doors.
“That’s something that has been discussed,” he said, “and it is something that we continue to work with the province of Ontario on, because — kind of like a red light camera — you need regulation to monitor that and who issues that ticket and the like.”
Ross clarified that “this consultation is not about that (because) that is something that would require a regulation, or a regulation change at least, at the provincial level.”
Is it a missed opportunity, leaving that discussion out of the current plan to bring external cameras to TTC vehicles? Layton thinks so.
“If there’s a way of having these cameras do double duty, it could be a worthwhile thing to evaluate,” he said. “It would be nice to see an evaluation on whether or not it can be done as part of this project. If we’re spending all of this money on cameras, if we can get them to do double duty then we should.”
In a press release Wednesday, the TTC outlined the plans for the cameras and explained that a public consultation for the cameras’ implementation would take place on Oct. 9.
The footage obtained on the cameras will be retained for 72 hours, the TTC said. The video footage on the vehicles that is not downloaded will be overwritten on a rolling basis (similar to internal camera footage on vehicles). The TTC will also release videos to law enforcement agencies when it comes to any criminal incident that is directly related to the TTC.
As soon as the cameras have been turned on, decals will be posted on the vehicles to let the public know that the exterior cameras are recording. The TTC will also notify the public through online posts and print ads. Civilians are legally able to access any footage that involves them by filing a freedom of information request.
According to the TTC press release, Toronto is one of the last municipalities in Ontario to implement forward-facing and external cameras on surface vehicles.
“This has been a long-standing gap in our incident investigations model,” the release reads.
The public consultation is meant to be a space for the public to share their thoughts and concerns, as well as for the TTC to increase public awareness on the topic.
This consultation, open to the public, will be held on Oct. 9 in the Burgundy Room of the North York Memorial Community Hall at 5110 Yonge St.
To attend the consultation, contact the TTC’s customer communications manager, Deborah Brown, at email@example.com or 416-393-3800.