After almost seventy years, the TTC is eliminating one of its key safety features — the Subway Guard

What is a subway ‘Guard’?

On each subway train, there is a 2-person crew — a Driver and a Guard. While the Driver concentrates on the track ahead, the Guard oversees all aspects of passenger safety inside the subway cars and on the platform. Since Toronto’s subway system first started operating in 1954, it’s been one of the safest in the world, in large part due to the two-person crew on each train.

What does the Guard do?

The Guard performs a wide range of tasks, from ensuring no one gets caught in the doors to responding to medical emergencies, assaults, suicides, unruly behaviour, harassment, lost children, power outages and fires. The Guard is also trained to lead an emergency evacuation of passengers through a darkened tunnel, where a live wire must be shut off.

If there is no Guard, who will perform the Guard’s safety duties?

Most of the Guard’s duties will be transferred to the Driver. This is called “One Person Train Operation” or OPTO, and it means that the Driver will be the only crew member on each subway train. Drivers will have to perform many additional tasks as well as their main job – driving the train as quickly as possible from station to station, while keeping a close watch on the track ahead and following traffic signals to avoid colliding with another train.

Will the Driver be able to handle both jobs?

It will be hard for the Driver, who is locked in a compartment at the front of the train, to monitor what’s happening to hundreds of passengers inside the subway cars and on the platform. As a result, many dangerous situations will go unnoticed, putting passengers at greater risk. In an emergency, the Driver will have to call for help from a Station Manager. But Station Managers are not located at track level, and may have to come by car from another station, making it impossible for them to be there in the split-second timing sometimes needed to avert a tragedy.

Will ‘One Person Train Operation’ help the trains run faster?

No, if anything it will slow things down. Most passenger safety issues can be handled fairly quickly by a Guard who is right on the train. If the Driver has to wait for a Station Manager to arrive on the scene, it will take more time, making delays likely longer and more frequent.

Has OPTO been tried anywhere else?

Yes, it’s been tried in other countries, where there’s well-documented evidence of increased safety concerns. OPTO has also been tried here in Toronto since 2016 on the less-travelled Sheppard line. The results have not been encouraging. There’s been a 50% increase in “red light violations,” in which the Driver fails to stop despite something or someone on the track ahead. This has raised questions about whether loading up the Driver with extra duties may be causing “distracted driving.”

When will the Guard be eliminated?

The TTC is planning to eliminate Guards on all trains on the Yonge-University-Spadina line before the end of this year. It is also planning to remove them from trains on the Danforth line at a later date, which has not yet been set.

Will TTC riders get to express their views before the Guard disappears?
The TTC has no plans to consult riders or the broader public before eliminating the Guard. That may be because TTC managers fear the public won’t like One Person Train Operation. A new city-wide poll found that 71% disapprove of plans to eliminate the Guard and 84% said it was important for the public to be consulted before OPTO is implemented.
Why is the TTC planning to eliminate the Guard? Is it all about saving money?
Cost-cutting seems to be the TTC’s motivation. But the savings may be limited, if they exist at all. The TTC intends to compensate for the missing Guards by hiring more Station Managers, who receive higher pay than Guards. In any event, the TTC has no plans to reduce fares.
As a TTC passenger, will my riding experience change once Guards are gone?

At first, perhaps no. But soon you’ll likely notice that unruly or aggressive passengers – once they realize there’s no person of authority on the train — will be more likely to interfere with other passengers. Certainly you’ll notice a difference in any kind of emergency, since there will be no one on the scene to help, and the train will have to wait for a Station Manager to arrive. Overall, riding the subway may feel less secure and comfortable — particularly during a pandemic when it’s necessary to keep a safe distance from other passengers.