It wasn’t long after Adenir DeOliveira, 47, (allegedly) pushed two teenage boys onto the Dufferin subway tracks last Friday when Toronto’s local media began whipping up public support for barriers on TTC subway platforms. CBCnews.ca wrote that the incident “spurr[ed] calls for the devices” without providing any attributive quotes. The Star felt it necessary to add the line “despite two frightening incidents in the past month” after reporting that TTC chairman Gary Webster believes Toronto’s subway stations are still safe. CityNews.ca chimed in as well, writing that Friday’s near-tragedy “has led to renewed calls for safety barriers in the subway” (the “renewed calls” being remarks made by city councilor Joe Mihevc and ordinary commuter Tony Wakelin).
Yet despite Friday’s shocking subway push, the TTC’s subway barrier proposal is a bad idea and not merely because, as the media reported last week, barriers would cost between five and eight million dollars per subway station and wouldn’t likely be completed until 2016. When proposals for Tokyo-style subway platform barriers first surfaced back in May 2008, Torontoist pointed out a number of practical problems with installation and maintenance that seemed to outweigh any benefits. Those benefits, as TTC chair Adam Giambrone laid out in a Facebook note yesterday, include cutting down on delays due to litter catching fire on the third rail, stopping subway suicides (for which the TTC provides no statistics), preventing pushing incidents like those of last Friday, and “help[ing] to make boarding and disembarking easier and more efficient.”
The advantages of preventing litter fire delays and making subway cars more accessible would have to be balanced against the potential costs and problems with barrier installation and maintenance. As for suicides, until the TTC releases reliable statistics, we won’t know how many lives the barriers could potentially save. That leaves pushing concerns. But as Giambrone himself remarked yesterday, fatal incidents are extraordinarily rare: the last major occurrence was 1997 when Charlene Minkowski, 23, died after being pushed in front of an oncoming train. The relative infrequency of incidents like what happened last Friday, weighed against the high volume of TTC passengers (one and a half million a day), suggest that Gary Webster’s claim that the TTC is still safe is still sound.
The TTC is currently awaiting the results of a feasibility study on subway platform barriers, which at the very least should provide a coherent cost-benefit analysis, in consultation with transport engineers and other industry experts, and actual projected numbers on delay times and anticipated repair costs. That, and not any media-driven hysteria, should be the deciding factor in whether or not the TTC decides to go ahead with platform barriers.