Wellesley Institute is publishing a series examining how mayoral candidates can show leadership and deliver Toronto the Bold—a city that takes wellness, health, and equity seriously to build a better future for every Torontonian. The first in the series examined housing. Now, we’re examining how candidates can improve health equity through Toronto’s public transit system.
The positive health and social impacts of excellent and equitable public transit are clear. Access to affordable and conveniently located transit is critical for residents to reach their places of work and education, family and friends, and necessary supports and services. It promotes physical activity through transit-related walking, reduces commute-related stress, and decreases reliance on private transportation which plays an important role in reducing carbon emissions.
All City work on public transportation should support building and maintaining a truly equitable transit system that ensures these benefits are realized for all. This will mean improving the system over time to achieve a vision in which the system both provides equitable access and ensures fare affordability for all communities that rely on it. All policy and program decision-making actions should involve regular and meaningful community consultation.
Providing equitable access means having a future system that reduces inequities by supporting health and wellbeing. It ensures everyone can access services, educational and employment opportunities, green spaces, social connections, nutritious food, and other health-promoting activities.
Currently, not everyone in Toronto has equitable access to public transit. Recent cuts to TTC service levels and fare hikes threaten to exacerbate problems that disproportionately affect structurally disadvantaged groups including those who are racialized, low-income, people with disabilities, and newcomers. Many of these communities live in the inner suburbs of Toronto where there are higher levels of poverty, less frequent service, and fewer transit stops compared to the downtown core. Further reducing service in these already under-served areas means longer wait times and more overcrowding. These issues will be further exacerbated by the recent decision to return to pre-pandemic vehicle crowding standards, especially on routes servicing predominately low-income and racialized neighbourhoods.
Addressing service levels, crowding, and wait times in underserved areas is critical if we want to improve equity. Toronto must also assess then deliver on the transit needs of the many workers that work low-income, precarious jobs on non-standard schedules. Adequate transit should be available for those that rely on public transit during weekends, early mornings, and nights. The current system puts workers who work multiple jobs, shifts, and weekends at a significant disadvantage compared to workers with standard schedules.
For a system that moves towards equity on affordability, our work on Thriving in the City quantitatively lays out what is needed to be able to be healthy and Thrive in the Greater Toronto Area. Setting out a timeline to eliminate or drastically reduce the cost of transit for everyone below a Thriving level would improve equity.
To act on this and build an equitable transit system for Toronto, mayoral candidates must commit to the following:
- Establish, in consultation with community and experts, a vision and timeline for transforming our transit system so that it delivers on health equity for everyone in Toronto—that allows them to get where they need to go in a reasonable amount of time.
- Adequately fund and set municipal targets for transit expansion for City-identified underserved areas, ensuring that development is centred around ensuring everyone has access to essential resources such as affordable housing, employment and education, grocery stores, and childcare.
- Assess transit needs outside of peak periods to ensure there is reliable and frequent bus service for those who commute irregular hours and allow for service changes according to diverse and evolving needs, including by:
- Consulting upon, setting, then meeting targets to reduce wait times annually until they reach a level that communities and experts agree is reasonable and maximizes health.
- Reviewing and adequately increasing service on the Blue Night Network, in consultation with community members who work late and overnight shifts.
- Set and meet annual targets for the expansion of the Fair Pass Transit Discount Program to fully cover fare costs for people making under a Thriving Wage.
- Address overcrowding by increasing rush hour and off-peak capacity on all routes that regularly exceed community and expert defined reasonable and healthy vehicle crowding standards.
- Work towards permanently eliminating fines for fare evasion, which can pose additional challenges to low-income riders who cannot afford transit fares.
- Reduce reliance on user fees to fund transit operating costs by exploring options for new revenue streams.
Other Equity Concerns
- Recognize that public transit vehicles and stops are public spaces that are used by those who are unhoused or other individuals in need of assistance.
- Make permanent and expand upon partnership initiatives that conduct outreach and seek to connect people sheltering on the TTC with supports and services, such as housing and mental health supports.
- Align the development of the transit system with the City’s goals for reducing carbon emissions, which can have disproportionate health impacts on equity-deserving groups.
- Ensure the implementation of the City’s Net Zero Climate Strategy, which includes a commitment to a 50 percent zero-emission bus fleet by 2032.
- Rapidly expand and improve infrastructure that supports public transit, cycling, and walking.
Improving health through improving transit should be a priority for all mayoral candidates. Bold action is needed to create an equitable transit system that works for those who need it the most. This will require setting, measuring, and meeting targets to ensure accountability, working with communities who face the most barriers to accessing public transit, and regularly evaluating policy and program changes through a health equity lens.