Why is there no cell service on the TTC? Riders say it could increase safety
The Toronto Transit Commission signed a deal in 2012 to provide cellular service on the subway network, but over a decade later, few are able to make a call in an emergency—something the TTC board members, riders and parents say has to change in the wake of the death of Gabriel Magalhaes.
"I cannot fathom why we do not have cell service on the subway system," Toronto Councillor Chris Moise, who sits on the TTC Board of Commissioners, said Wednesday.
Why is hard to answer, depending on who you ask.
BAI Communications Inc. was awarded the contract in 2012, paying the TTC $25 million for the exclusive rights to build cellular signal and WIFI infrastructure along subway tunnels and inside stations for 20 years.
A consortium of Canadian carriers including Bell, Rogers and Telus submitted a bid for $5.4 million. In a 2012 report to the TTC board, the commission recommended the BAI bid "to further enhance the transit experience of TTC’s customers and to receive much needed revenue."
By 2018, over 75 km of fiber-optic cables were installed along subway tunnels, which now potentially allows users to make calls or answer text messages on the network at any subway station, in the tunnels for the downtown U—stations between Spadina and Bloor-Yonge—as well as between Sheppard West and Vaughan Metropolitan Centre Stations. However, only Freedom Mobile has signed on, while Canada's three largest carriers have refused to pay BAI to offer their customers the ability to use its subway cellular network.
City Councillor Paul Ainslie has been looking for answers since being appointed to the board. He sent a memo last December to TTC CEO Rick Leary, as well as former Toronto Mayor John Tory, and says he has also been speaking to the so-called "Big Three" telecom companies.
"Their big hang-up is not so much that they don't want to sign on, is that the technology is so antiquated they wouldn't be able to give the service to their customers that the customers would expect," he said in an interview with CTV News Toronto.
Bell said similarly when asked for comment.
“BAI’s 20-year, exclusive arrangement with the TTC prevents Bell and others from installing their own network infrastructure anywhere on the TTC subway system. The BAI infrastructure is outdated, and only installed in a small fraction of the TTC tunnels," company spokesperson Ellen Murphy said in an email. "We would like the opportunity to provide TTC riders with the connectivity experience that they’re envisioning when they call for cell service on the TTC."
Bell is the parent company of CTV.
CTV News first sought comment in February. Rogers declined to comment, and Telus did not return any requests.
"BAI Communications has forged strong partnerships with some of the largest telecommunications companies around the globe," Vivan Kobeh with BAI Communications, told CTV News Toronto. "We are eager to work with all carriers to provide cellular access to all TTC riders."
TTC spokesperson Stuart Green says 911 service is available to all on the downtown U and western edge of Line 1, regardless of their cell carrier.
"The yellow [emergency] strip on every vehicle is the best thing to do in an emergency," he added.
Otherwise, it is not uncommon for subway riders to see others making frantic calls and text messages during the precious moments when the train emerges above-ground.
Ainslie says the contract with BAI may warrant being evaluated.
"Eleven years to do WiFI in a subway system, compared to New York or Montreal, in particular, I think is reprehensible," he said.
New York's subway has cell service for major carriers, managed and operated by a subsidiary of BAI. It also built the infrastructure for Hong Kong's transit system.
In Montreal, a consortium of Canadian carriers began outfitting the metro tunnels in 2013. The entire network of 71 kilometers and 68 stations has had 4G-LTE cellular service since 2020.
Calls to get cellular service on the entirety of Toronto's subway have been renewed after 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes was fatally stabbed last weekend while sitting on a bench at Keele Station.
Police say he was attacked unprovoked. On Wednesday, Toronto police said another incident on March 12, inside an eastbound Subway near Islington Station, was a hate-provoked attack.
In 2012, the original request for proposal gave the winner bidder twelve months to establish contracts with "sufficient" wireless carriers, and a grace period of another year.
In an email, Kobeh with BAI said "we adhere to TTC's operational schedule for our expansion plans.”
But Moise says Toronto can't wait for BAI and Canadian carriers to play nice.
"[Whether] my phone is from Bell, Rogers or Telus, when I get into the subway I should be able to use it," said Moise, "and we as a city need to push them, or perhaps embarrass them to do the right thing."
Blaize Rafferty is one of the few who still has service on her way to work: she is with Freedom Mobile.
"It's a really important safety feature that I think everyone should have access to," she said outside Islington Station on Wednesday.
"And I don't think having a contract with Freedom Mobile is a reason I should have access to it and others do not."
Toronto Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Johnston to launch foreign interference hearings in July, calls allegations of bias 'quite simply false'
Canada's special rapporteur on foreign interference David Johnston calls the allegations swirling around his objectivity 'quite simply false,' and said Tuesday he plans to push ahead with his work, launching public hearings next month
Ford calls for ouster, Poilievre decries Liberal response to Bernardo prison transfer
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is calling on the Liberals to keep "multiple murderers" in maximum-security prison, as fallout continues over the transfer of convicted killer Paul Bernardo to a medium-security institution in Quebec.
Sex harassment case involving Trudeau Foundation should be heard in N.L., lawyer says
The lawyer representing a woman who alleges she was sexually harassed by a former Northwest Territories premier says her client would likely have to end her lawsuit if a judge determines the trial should be moved to Quebec.
Travellers from 13 more countries now eligible to visit Canada without a visa
Canada is expanding the list of countries whose residents are eligible to visit this country without a travel visa.
Canadian military joined recent U.S. forum on UFOs; Pentagon trying to identify 'metallic' orbs
The Canadian military has confirmed it participated in a May 2023 forum for Five Eyes intelligence partners that was held by the director of the Pentagon's UFO research program.
Global News defends reporting in face of Han Dong lawsuit
Global News and its parent company Corus Entertainment say in response to a lawsuit filed by Han Dong that their reporting about the Toronto MP was based on a detailed investigation involving multiple sources.
A killer rabbit, jousting bear and Robin Hood walk into a bar: Ancient manuscript reveals new details on medieval comedy
A rare manuscript detailing comedy shows and drinking songs from the 15th century revealed what medieval audiences found funny more than 500 years ago.
Conservative filibuster threatens potential citizenship for children born abroad
Andrea Fessler found out her third daughter didn't qualify for Canadian citizenship -- even though her two older daughters did -- when she arrived at the Canadian consulate in Hong Kong to register.
Rent across Canada climbs to 20 per cent above pandemic lows: report
Across Canada, the average price of rent climbed back up after pandemic lows, with the monthly rate new tenants face now 20 per cent higher than it was two years ago, according to just-released rental data.
Quebec politicians pass bill that will give themselves a $30K raise
Quebec MNAs are about to get a significant pay raise. The National Assembly adopted Bill 24 on Tuesday afternoon, which will increase the politicians' base salaries by $30,000 per year.
'A situation that's unprecedented': Quebec confronted with more than 150 wildfires
As one Quebec city that had been threatened by wildfires lifted an evacuation order Tuesday, authorities turned their attention to communities in the northern and northwestern parts of the province where firefighters worked to beat back threats from out-of-control blazes.
Judge allows eviction of homeless encampment underneath Montreal highway
A Quebec judge has authorized the eviction of a homeless encampment underneath Montreal's Ville-Marie expressway to allow for repairs to the road to proceed after several delays.
VIDEO | Londoners remember the Afzaal family
Marking the two year anniversary of the alleged terror attack that took the lives of four members of the same family, the board has announced an Anti-Islamophobia Strategy.
VIDEO | Muslim community seeks healing and safety amid lingering shadows of alleged terrorist attack
On this day in 2021, four out of five members of a London, Ont. family were killed while they were out for a walk and struck by a vehicle, in an apparently deliberate attack.
Special air quality statement in effect for Forest City
As wildfires continue to burn in Northern Ontario and Quebec, a special air quality statement has been issued for London and neighbouring counties as of Tuesday evening.
Wildfire smoke from Quebec, northern Ontario lingers in K-W
A haze is lingering in the air and there’s a faint smell of smoke in areas across southwestern Ontario as wildfires continue to burn in Quebec and northern Ontario.
Trustee brings school board to court over temporary suspension for alleged breach of conduct
A trustee with the Waterloo Region District School Board brought the board to court on Tuesday, arguing that a suspension handed to him in 2022 was unfair and unreasonable.
OPP turn to Six Nations residence in search for Amber Ellis
The search for Amber Ellis, a Hagersville woman reported missing in March 2021, is returning to the community where she was last seen.
Emergency orders expanded in northeast Ont. due to forest fires
While firefighters get more forest fires under control in northern Ontario, travel restrictions declared under an emergency order are being expanded in several communities.
Northern Ont. teen, 13, facing new sexual assault charge, 10 total
A 13-year-old male from Elliot Lake in northern Ontario has been charged with sexual assault again, bringing the total to 10, after another survivor came forward.
3 people attacked by dog in Burlington, animal shot dead by police
A dog has been shot dead by police after three people were attacked in Burlington Tuesday afternoon, police say.
Air quality risk in Ottawa high as wildfire smoke blankets the city
A special air quality statement remains in effect for the National Capital Region because of wildfire smoke blowing across the region. Environment Canada's air quality health index is at its highest level of risk.
How to take care of yourself and your pets in smoky conditions
The wildfire smoke blanketing Ottawa can cause a variety of health problems for people and animals. Ottawa has already seen an crease in emergency room visits for respiratory issues as thick smoke hangs over the region.
Centennial Lake fire 'greatly suppressed', area mayor says; evacuation order still in effect
The wildfire burning at Centennial Lake, about 150 km west of Ottawa has been significantly reduced and is being held with a burnt area.
Active police investigation on Northway Ave
Windsor police are on the scene of an active investigation near a new housing development in the city’s west end.
Estranged husband charged with first-degree murder of missing woman
Windsor police say they have arrested a Michigan man for the murder of his estranged wife, who was reported missing last month.
Windsor's air quality impacted by wildfires across the country
Smoke from wildfires burning across Canada is beginning to cause poor air quality in Windsor.
Multi-vehicle collision in Midland construction zone sends 4 to hospital
Provincial police are investigating a serious collision in Midland.
Air quality concerns mount as the smell of smoke fills the air in Simcoe County and Muskoka
Residents in Simcoe County and Muskoka are advised to be cautious as forest fires in Quebec impact the air quality, prompting a special statement from Environment Canada.
Barrie, Ont. man arrested in human trafficking investigation involving student
A Barrie man faces charges in connection with a human trafficking investigation where police believe there could be more victims.
Rain has helped Shelburne firefighting efforts, crews now hoping for a break in showers
Firefighters battling the 25,000-hectare Shelburne wildfire say the wet weather has helped crews directly attack the blaze, now they’re hoping for a break in the rain.
New N.S. Health website shares estimated ER wait times
A new website created by Nova Scotia’s health authority shares hourly estimated wait times for many emergency departments across the province.
Murphy’s Logic: Fox News should not be banned
Steve Murphy makes the case for keeping Fox News on Maritime screens.
Expected hot, dry summer means more fire, smoke coming to Alberta
As the definition of a typical Canadian summer evolves, experts say 'hot' and 'dry' could be the buzzwords of the season.
Survey finds high rate of workplace sexual harassment in Alberta, new online tool launched
A new survey finds that being sexually harassed at work can be a common and challenging occurrence, prompting one non-profit organization to create a new online resource for Alberta workers.
Man charged with arson in connection with Pearce Estate Park fire
After allegedly admitting to starting a fire in Pearce Estate Park in Calgary's southeast on Monday, a man now faces a charge of arson.
RCMP investigating abandoned home in connection with disappearance of woman in 2020
The search for a Manitoba woman reported missing three years ago has lead RCMP to an abandoned home in western Manitoba for an investigation.
'Something we need to prepare for': ECCC says warm summer expected in Winnipeg
The heat in the city of Winnipeg will moderate in the next few days, but Environment Canada says residents should expect a hot summer this year.
Manitoba Crown corporation explains departures of senior executives
Manitoba's Crown-owned vehicle insurance corporation offered more details Tuesday on recent turmoil that has seen the departure of senior executives and a big jump in the cost of technology upgrades.
B.C. prepares for fire evacuations, displacements amid healthcare staffing crisis
The officials tasked with preparing for and responding to natural disasters in the province are bracing for widespread evacuations of B.C. communities amid tinder-dry conditions that are already prompting dire wildfire predictions.
Drinking alcohol will be allowed in some Burnaby parks this summer
Visitors will be able to legally drink booze in some Burnaby parks starting June 23, as city councillors voted in favour of an alcohol in parks pilot project on Monday.
Vancouver lifeguard shortage not to blame for reduced West End pool hours, park board says
The chair of the Vancouver Park Board says he has received several complaints since expanded hours at Second Beach Pool went away.
EPS constable, former peace officers charged after 2020 custody death
An Edmonton Police Service constable and two former peace officers have been charged after a man died in a cell in 2020.
'We never give up': RCMP helicopter joins search for 14-year-old boy in North Saskatchewan River
An RCMP helicopter is assisting with the search for the 14-year-old boy who went missing in the North Saskatchewan River nearly 48 hours ago.
Charges dropped against Alberta woman accused of mailing animals
Crown prosecutors say charges against an Alberta woman accused of mailing two puppies and a kitten have been dropped.