By Arya Bari
She paid for a mere commute, but it nearly cost her life.
On April 17th, 39-year-old Shamsa Al-Balushi was pushed onto the tracks at Bloor-Yonge station. As life flashed before her eyes, she managed to avoid the incoming train by tucking herself under the edge of the platform.
Al-Balushi sustained several injuries and ailments from the fall: a broken rib, chronic neck pain, and the aftermath of emotional trauma. Bruised and battered, she was unable to work, which took a toll on her mental and financial well-being.
Although the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is known for its shortcomings and abnormalities, in no way Al-Balushi could have foreseen or cautioned herself about the incident. Because our subway system is marketed for its safety.
“The TTC is one of the safest transit systems in the world,” says a page header on its website. John Tory, our mayor, reiterated that “The TTC is safe and must remain safe,” upon being inquired about Al-Balushi’s assault.
For Al-Balushi and much of our population, taking the subway is the only feasible mode of transportation; she states that she does not own a private vehicle and cannot afford taxis or rideshares. Al-Balushi has no choice but to take the transit.
After recovering from her most threatening injuries, Al-Balushi was obligated to continue commuting on the TTC daily, reliving the life-threatening assault incessantly. She, however, is not the only commuter who bears this burden because assaults on the TTC are not uncommon.
Just six months ago, Jordan Dallard, another commuter, was pushed into the tracks at Bloor-Yonge station. Though, he was not as lucky. The train actually struck him.
After Dallard’s incident, the TTC made no move to implement additional safety measures or surveillance at Bloor-Yonge, one of the most congested stations within the subway system. We were assured that the incident was an aberration from the usual environment of the TTC.
And yet, such an incident occurred to Al-Balushi as well. At the same station.
Like a broken record, our public transit system has been failing to mitigate recurring issues. Even though there are possible preventative measures that could be taken.
As a result, Al-Balushi has decided to take legal action, stating that her assault could have been prevented: she is suing the TTC for one million dollars in damages.
Since announcing her lawsuit, the TTC is contemplating taking safety measures more seriously, however, the same respect was not extended to Dallard, when he faced an assault of the same nature. The difference? Al-Balushi is not a silent victim.
After much deliberation, both John Tory and Stuart Green, the mayor and TTC representative respectively, have concluded that the solution to the ongoing issue is to increase police presence in the transit system. Green told newscasts that 56 new constables will be added to the security force in the TTC.
“We’ve used incidents like we’ve seen to guide our strategic deployment,” Green announced.
Adding more people to the equation, however, increases variability in human behaviour, which could be counterproductive. On the other hand, using inanimate objects as security measures would be proactive because we can’t control human activity, only the parameters of its consequences.
The use of inanimate objects to diminish the repercussions of assaults on the TTC is not a novel infrastructure. In fact, Al-Balushi’s case has rekindled the 15-year-old debate in city hall about implementing Platform Edge Doors (PEDs).
Made of protective glass, PEDs stretch from the bottom of the floor to nearly ceiling height. As trains arrive, the doors open automatically. They make it impossible for anyone to fall into the tracks and inherently increase its efficiency by allowing trains to travel faster
Although they come with a cost, anything with value is worth some trouble. Adding PEDs to our transit system would be an investment in public safety.
There are many ways in which we can distribute the costs to fund the process. PEDs can be implemented gradually: beginning with stations with the highest congestion. Furthermore, TTC could sell advertisements to large corporations to fund the infrastructure and seek sponsorships.
Having the aforementioned visible safety measures in place would in turn increase ridership, generating revenues while keeping civilians safe.
Everyday commuters are paying the price for poor safety measures on the TTC. Whether the issue is resolved by increased police presence or by installing PEDs, it is vital that we resolve such issues in our transit system.
For this reason, Al-Balushi is taking action with her lawsuit. She is advocating for further safety measures to be implemented.
This victim is taking control of her circumstances, and as the cacophony on the TTC loudspeakers echo intermittently: “If you see something, say something.”