More than a decade’s worth of data detailing tickets the TTC has issued to riders is raising concerns that Black transit users are fined for alleged offences such as fare evasion in disproportionately high numbers.
The data, which the Star obtained through a freedom of information request, shows that of the roughly 47,000 tickets given out between 2008 and 2018 that recorded the race of the transit user, 18.5 per cent listed the subject as Black.
Black people make up roughly 8.9 per cent of Toronto’s population, according to the 2016 census. The census also shows Black residents account for about 10.7 per cent of people who commute by public transit in Toronto.
The portion of tickets given to Black riders declined over the years covered by the data, falling from 23.5 per cent in 2008 to 15.2 per cent last year.
The TTC is adamant that its employees don’t discriminate against Black riders or any other group.
“Absolutely not,” said agency spokesperson Stuart Green in an email.
“Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world and the TTC is proud to deliver an inclusive transit service to our customers.”
He said all members of the TTC’s transit enforcement unit receive training on diversity and human rights, and more than half of them identify as racialized minorities.
Some anti-racism advocates say the ticketing numbers, which resemble data the Star reported on earlier this year about written cautions issued to TTC riders, are proof of what members of Toronto’s Black community have complained about for years — that transit officers single them out.
“I’m extremely disappointed but I am not the least bit surprised,” said Pascale Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto.
“We have been sharing our experiences literally for decades … Black people disproportionately are saying ‘we are being targeted.’”
The TTC says the statistics obtained by the Star aren’t reliable because TTC officers didn’t record race on more than 33,000 of the roughly 80,000 tickets issued over the 11-year period. The 18.5 per cent of tickets given to Black riders only relates to the tickets on which race was recorded.
The lack of race information on more than 40 per cent of the tickets makes any analysis of the data “difficult and problematic,” Green said.
He said the agency is currently reviewing how it collects and stores race-based information to ensure it conforms with established best practices.
Diverlus described the TTC’s position that the data isn’t reliable as an “avoidance of responsibility,” particularly when taken in conjunction with personal accounts from Black riders who say they’ve experienced bias on the system.
She argued any discrimination encountered on the TTC is particularly damaging because people require access to the transit system for basic needs such as getting to work, shopping for food and picking up kids from school.
“It’s an attack on Black people, but it’s a disproportionate attack on low-income Black people particularly who rely heavily on the transit system to navigate their daily lives,” she said.
Isiah Lea, 24, said he believes race was factor in why he was fined for not paying a fare last year.
He got on the Spadina streetcar with four or five friends at around 10 p.m. on Dec. 29, 2018, after visiting a virtual reality gaming centre downtown to celebrate his birthday.
In an interview, he recalled that he tried to tap his Presto card but the fare reader at the door he entered was broken.
When the streetcar pulled into Spadina station, Lea and his friends got off and encountered three TTC officers. His friends walked ahead but Lea — who is six-foot-one and at the time had his hair in an Afro and was wearing a hooded sweatshirt that had “Stolen From Africa” written on it — said as he walked by, the officers, who were white, stopped him but no one else.
A fare inspector used a scanner to check his Presto card, which showed he hadn’t paid. When he realized that he was the only one getting a ticket, Lea said he may have reacted angrily, at which point the demeanour of the officers became confrontational.
After they wrote him the ticket, Lea said two officers followed him down to the subway platform, which made him feel harassed.
“You already gave me a ticket. I’m already going away from you. Why do you feel you need to follow me?” he told the Star.
The TTC’s Green said it’s not agency policy for officers to follow riders over a fare evasion ticket, and it’s possible the inspectors were finishing their shift and intended to take the subway to a different location.
Lea was clear that none of the officers said anything about his race or engaged in any overtly racist behaviour during the interaction. But he was left with the impression that if he hadn’t been a young Black man in a hooded sweatshirt, he might not have received a ticket.
“Nobody else was stopped, nobody else was tapped. Just me,” he said.
The statistics obtained by the Star relate to provincial offences tickets issued by TTC fare inspectors and transit enforcement officers, who are responsible for the network’s security. The most common offences are related to not paying fare, but officers also wrote tickets for behaviour such as soliciting, trespassing or smoking on TTC property. The tickets carry set fines of between $235 and $425.
White transit users also appear to be over-represented in the data, although to a lesser extent than Black riders.
Roughly 56 per cent of tickets on which the person’s race was recorded listed the subject as white. About 43 per cent of people who commute by public transit in Toronto are white, according to the census.
Indigenous riders also appear overly represented. Roughly 4 per cent of tickets that recorded the person’s race listed them as Indigenous. Aboriginal Canadians make up only about 1 per cent of Toronto’s population, according to the 2016 census.
While some aspects of the data are disputed, others show clear patterns of inconsistent reporting. For example, between 2008 and 2014, the vast majority of tickets that listed the person’s race were given to either Black, white or Indigenous people. For those years, the number of tickets given to Asian riders each year was in the single digits. For instance, in 2008 the TTC gave out 3,532 tickets. Only two of them are listed as going to Asian riders. It’s unlikely that so few Asian customers got tickets that year.
By 2016, however, the number of tickets that recorded the customer as Asian jumped significantly. That year Asian riders accounted for 24.7 per cent of tickets on which race was listed.
That same year the number of tickets issued increased significantly as a result of various changes to agency policy, including the introduction of the honour-based proof-of-payment system on streetcars, jumping to more than 13,000 from less than 4,000 the year before.
As the number of tickets issued rose, patterns in the data appear to have grown more representative of Toronto’s population.
In 2008, men received about 84 per cent of all tickets. Last year, that figure was down to 56 per cent.
White customers accounted for 66.5 per cent of tickets on which race was recorded in 2008, dropping to 43.1 per cent by last year, which closely matches the percentage of commuters who are white.
In 2008, Black transit users accounted for 23.5 per cent of tickets on which race was recorded. That dropped to 13.5 per cent by 2015, but rose after that. The figure was 15.2 per cent last year — a number that is still higher than the 10.7 per cent of Toronto public transit commuters who are Black.
Green said the transit agency can’t explain any of the trends in the data and reiterated the TTC’s position that the statistics aren’t reliable. He noted however that the training for fare inspectors and transit enforcement officers is updated regularly.
He didn’t directly answer questions about what instructions officers receive regarding filling in the section on race on tickets, or how the TTC can be confident it’s not discriminating against Black riders if it has no reliable data on the subject.
Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s equality program, said the numbers are “certainly concerning” and “suggest an over-representation of Black people amongst those who are ticketed.”
Mendelsohn Aviv said it’s “frankly bewildering” the TTC doesn’t keep what it considers accurate data on the demographics of riders to whom its officers issue tickets. She said such information could be kept and published in a way that protects individuals’ privacy but provides transparency into how the TTC is treating riders.
“We need data that allows the public to determine whether they are treating the population fairly and without discrimination,” she said.
Earlier this year, the TTC stopped recording the race of people issued tickets, pending the outcome of a review of its practices. It also suspended the collection of personal information from people issued warnings.
The move followed a Star investigation into the TTC’s use of special forms to record the personal details of riders who were issued written warnings for suspected offences on the transit system but weren’t issued a ticket. That data, according to TTC policy, is to be kept for a period of 20 years.
A Star analysis of the written warnings suggested Black riders also made up a disproportionately high number of people in that database, at 19.3 per cent.
Some experts had likened the TTC’s collection and storage of personal information of riders who hadn’t been issued tickets to the controversial police practice of “carding.” The TTC strongly denies the database represented any form of carding or discrimination.
A report on the issue was supposed to be ready in time for the TTC board meeting on July 10 but Green said it has now been delayed, likely until the fall.
“With respect to race-based data, we believe it’s important to collect this information in a proper and consistent manner in order to be able to identify any trends. However, as we’ve acknowledged, our collection has been inconsistent and inaccurate, which is why it was suspended while we review best practices and prepare our report for the board,” Green said.
Councillor Jaye Robinson (Ward 15, Don Valley West), who chairs the TTC board, declined to answer specific questions about ticketing statistics. In a brief statement, she said the agency’s collection of race-based data was “an important issue” and she looked forward to the outcome of the review.
Data analysis by Andrew Bailey
Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr