Should the TTC install barriers at the edge of its subway platforms to prevent suicides?

Recommendations for platforms were part of a report made to the city's Board of Health and unanimously approved on Monday. The TTC gave in-principle approval to platform barriers back in 2010 but they haven't been built.

Board of Health chair Coun. Joe Mihevc (who is also a former vice-chair of the TTC) appeared on Metro Morning Tuesday to talk about why he feels barriers should be installed despite the significant cost they pose to the cash-strapped TTC.

How would they work?

Built with thick glass, the barriers would extend from the floor of the platform edge up to the ceiling at some stations or three-quarters of that distance at others. The barriers would include doors that match perfectly with the doors of an arriving train, making it impossible for anyone to jump, fall or be pushed onto the tracks.

What's required before they can be installed?

The barriers only work on subway lines with automatic train control, also known as driverless trains. That's because doors on both the train and platform have to line up perfectly each time the train stops. This can only be done with automatic train control. "The tolerance for those doors is about the width of a dime," said Mihevc.

Why install them? Reason No. 1: They would save lives

Coun. Joe Mihevc said most suicide prevention experts believe the barriers take away the suicide "impulse," the  temptation to jump onto the tracks that people in distress can often feel while standing on the platform.  Lindsay Hill, a Toronto lawyer and suicide prevention advocate, told CBC about her experience at a subway station. "I didn't know before I got there that suicide was an issue for me. The means presented itself. And I felt utterly compelled to go through with it." Hill, who has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, did not attempt suicide that day and has since become a proponent of subway platform barriers. "They will save lives," she said. "Anything that can be done to ensure people are safe when they are in that vulnerable situation can only be a good thing."

Reason No. 2: They increase efficiency

Because the barriers keep people off the tracks, subway systems with platform barriers can run their trains faster as they enter the stations. This leads to an efficiency increase Mihevc estimates to be about 20 to 30 per cent. He said this, combined with the added safety, "strengthens the case" for platform barriers.

So why aren't they likely to be built anytime soon?

Money of course. The barriers cost about $5 to $10 million per station. That's $300 million for the Yonge line (Line 1) where automatic train control is currently being installed. With the TTC already dealing with capacity problems and an expensive replacement of its 50-year-old signal system, platform barriers often fall "below the line" for budget approval. Still, Mihevc says he can see a day when platform barriers become a reality. "I could see the TTC coming forward with a multi-year plan and doing it in increments," he said.