66% of subway delays are caused by passengers, CBC Toronto data analysis shows

Whether it's an ill passenger, a blocked subway door or an alarm activated improperly, CBC Toronto's data analysis shows that most TTC delays are caused by passengers.

Most of the incidents are unpredictable, the TTC says

Passengers wait inside a delayed train at Toronto’s Bloor-Yonge station. (CBC)

Next time you are stuck on Toronto's subway, look around. The reason you're losing five, 10 or 45 minutes on your commute could be sitting right next to you.

Or it could even be you.

According to TTC data analyzed by CBC News, of the 411 service hours lost to subway outages in 2016, a total of 269 hours — 66 per cent — were caused by passenger-related emergencies and misbehaviour.

Most of the incidents are unpredictable, the TTC says, including passengers being drunk and disorderly, people walking on the tracks for the fun of it and litter causing fires. 

Last year, 2,373 unplanned subway outages lasting five minutes or more were reported. That's almost seven delays a day, with the worst time for stoppages on Friday nights at 6 p.m.

The longest delays were medical emergencies caused by 485 injured or ill passengers. The TTC says most of them were riders fainting or having seizures, especially in crowded subway trains during rush hour.

"We've seen a lot more medical-type calls. In the winter with a heavy coat, flus and colds, we get a lot more people feeling faint and requesting medical aid. That's definitely a trend," says the TTC's acting head of subway transportation, Michael Hazlett.

The data obtained by CBC News also outlines 25 unplanned outages caused when a passenger was hit by a train. With more than one medical emergency a day, the transit commission is now paying $200,000 a year to have full-time paramedics on call on weekdays.

In a big city like Toronto, medical emergencies are to be expected, says Hazlett. It's the hundreds of preventable outages caused by riders he is most frustrated about, such as the 177 times a train was delayed because a cigarette, newspaper or trash caused fire or smoke on the tracks, resulting in 20 minute delays every time.

That time could have easily been saved if only passengers would stop littering, Hazlett says.

This is one of the main reasons for subway delays, the TTC says. Litter sometimes ends up on the tracks and is ignited by the electrified third rail, causing fire and smoke.

"If we had a lot more people putting their newspapers in the garbage, we would have less trash blowing on the tracks and a lot less track fire.''

Drunk riders and track hoppers

Next come what the TTC calls "disorderly patrons," most of them drunk or intoxicated riders. Hundreds of them were disruptive, aggressive or drunk enough to force the operator to stop the train and call security, which means riders got stuck for an average of 11 minutes each time.

''Probably the most frustrating thing is trying to explain to people that it's other people causing the delay. At the end of the day, it's out of our control in most cases'', Hazlett says.

The TTC can't know for sure who these disorderly patrons are, but a look at when these outages are reported is telling. The majority of the 220 outages linked to a disorderly passenger happened on Saturday nights from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., mostly on trains travelling between Spadina, St-George and Bloor-Yonge stations.

How did CBC News analyze the TTC's outage data?

Through the city's Freedom of Information Act, CBC obtained the time, day, code and length of every unplanned subway outage self-reported by a TTC employee in 2016. Only outages that lasted 5 minutes or more were counted for this analysis, and every outage that happened in a maintenance yard with no impact on riders was left out. Station names were cleaned for typos. In some cases, two codes describing very similar situations were grouped.

Finally, if you think track hopping videos are funny or adventurous, consider this. Beyond the obvious threat of getting hit by an oncoming train, every time someone walked on the tracks in 2016, they also froze several trains for at least 20 minutes.

''Those delays can be so long because we have to cut the traction power and check the tracks. If somebody's injured, we are the ones that have to respond to that, and that's very troubling,'' says Mike Hazlett. 

According to CBC's analysis, Bloor-Yonge could be renamed track-hopper central, with 10 of these outages reported last year, mostly on Friday and Saturday nights.

Little improvement despite numerous campaigns, says TTC

Despite numerous campaigns to address false alarms, littering and disruptive behaviour over the years, the TTC says it is seeing little improvement in passenger-related outages.

''No, not that I can say honestly,'' says Hazlett. ''If we have mechanical issues, we are all trained to deal with them. The problems with people are the most challenging ... It's about trying to educate customers on the impact of their actions.''

TTC data shows unplanned outages have dropped since 2012. Hazlett says part of that can be attributed to signal work, track repairs and improvements on the Yonge-University line.


TTC employees also causing delays

Riders aren't the only one slowing down the system. TTC employees are responsible for eight per cent of the hours of service lost in 2016. Most of those 34 hours were lost because an operator violated a traffic signal or failed to monitor the train doors properly.

CBC News also discovered that the pilot project for the new video monitored system for train doors on the Sheppard Line led to one outage a day between October and December 2016. Riders paid the price: nearly 6 hours of service were lost in the four stations participating in the trial.

''It's definitely been a learning experience,'' says Hazlett. He says operators were learning to use CCTV cameras to monitor train doors during that period, and outages have since dropped significantly. The TTC says the new system of having one employee per train instead of two will save about $18.6 million annually.


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