By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Toronto transit users will now have free access to 5G cell service in the city’s downtown core. On Oct. 2, Rogers Communications announced that it has extended its services to stations and tunnels in the downtown core between Bloor-Yonge and Spadina–including Dupont Station –as well as all stations between Keele and Castle Frank.
There will also be cell service at Sherbourne and Castle Frank stations. However, Rogers is yet to announce services on the subway for stations east of the Don River.
That is a cause for concern for East Toronto residents who have been awaiting TTC cell services.
Although welcoming of the announcement, Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford told Beach Metro Community News that the “long overdue” TTC cell services, which he has long called for, now needs to be extended eastward.
“Riders out here pay the same fare and expect the same service,” said Bradford. “We shouldn’t have to wait until the Viaduct to get an update from our family or friends.”
Much of residents’ concerns about inadequate cell service in TTC’s tunnels comes from a feeling of a lack of safety as reports of violence on subways and at stations have become a growing point of conversation amongst community members over the last few years.
Bradford’s past campaign for cell services pointed out the dangers of riders having no access to help in case of emergencies.
“Not having the ability to use our devices – especially underground – is inconvenient, frustrating, and in some cases, dangerous,” he said.
“I’ve heard from a lot of parents who are nervous about letting their kids ride the subway. Instead, they’re driving them to school. My daughters are still too young to ride transit on their own, but I know that being able to reach them would make me feel more comfortable.
Bradford said that extending services to more stations will go a long way towards returning TTC ridership to pre-pandemic levels as he believes residents who need it for their daily commute would be more inclined to use it if their safety was ensured.
“Their only other alternatives – driving or taking ride-share vehicles – will only further compound the gridlock in our downtown core,” said Bradford. “Connectivity on this scale is one way to address both issues and encourage people to start riding regularly again.”
TTCriders, a membership-based organization of Toronto transit users, also spoke out in favour of an expansion of cell services to all TTC stations.
In an Oct. 2 letter addressed to Mayor Olivia Chow and Toronto Council’s Executive Committee, TTC Riders urged the City of Toronto to “work towards free public Wi-Fi on all TTC property, including subway tunnels” as free public cell services would “make transit users feel safer and help bridge the digital divide”.
With many unable to pay for a cellphone plan, TTC Riders believes the expansion of cell services would address the inequity in access to TTC cell services among commuters.
The organization also called for the inclusion of all transit infrastructure assets to ConnectTO. They highlighted City Staff’s 2021 recommendation that upgrades to city-owned facilities should assess the “inclusion of city-owned in-building wiring and fibre connectivity infrastructure, and use city defined standards and specifications”.
“Rogers’ telecommunications infrastructure build-out in the Toronto subway network is one such opportunity,” read the letter. “Provincial priority transit projects such as the Scarborough Subway Extension and Ontario Line should also include public fibre.”
TTC service was made available to all carriers following months of negotiations between Rogers, Telus, and Bell Canada. Having been unable to reach a financial agreement, the federal government intervened, mandating a Tuesday, Oct. 3, deadline to create terms that finally enabled services for all riders.
“If we want to truly make the TTC “the better way”, this is a step in the right direction,” said Bradford.
— Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.