New TTC chair committed to improving the service

by Lincoln Depradine
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By Lincoln Depradine

Municipal politician Jamaal Myers has expressed a commitment to improving the operations of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), whose problems include complaints of poor service in some areas such as Scarborough, where the Light Rapid Transit derailed last July, leading to a permanent closure of the line.
Across the city, including in “Little Jamaica” – the area from Marlee Avenue along Eglinton Avenue West to Keele Street – commuters also have been inconvenienced by years of construction work on new and expanded subway lines.
Myers, councillor for Scarborough North and TTC chairman, says he’s steadfast in his desire for a better transit system.
“I’m dedicated to work hard towards a better, more equitable, inclusive and accessible transit system for everyone,” Myers told an audience, which included TTC workers attending a Black History Month (BHM) event.
“As chair of the TTC, I’m committed to ensuring that Toronto’s unique diversity is reflected in all of our decision making.”
Myers was one of the speakers as TTC’s management and staff, including members of the commission’s Black Transit Workers’ Association (BTWA), held a first-of-a-kind Black History Month launch.
The TTC’s observance of BHM continues through February. The theme of the month-long commemoration is, “Building on Legacies: Celebrating Black Excellence in Toronto”.
As part of the BHM commemoration, some TTC buses and streetcars are wrapped with portraits – designed and curated by Astrosankofa Arts Initiatives – of Black Torontonians that have played an important role in civil rights, law, culture, government, health, sport, education and transit.
They include images of the late city politician Beverley Salmon, former Ontario cabinet minister Zanana Akande, and deceased lawyer and activist Charles Roach.
The works of the Astrosankofa artists are also displayed as murals at TTC subway stations and on bus shelters.
As well, the commission is featuring two former TTC employees, Irma James and Walter Alexander Foster.
Foster joined the Toronto Railway Company, which later became the TTC, as one of the first Black transit conductors. James was hired by the TTC in 1983, becoming the commission’s first Black woman to drive a streetcar in Toronto.
For many generations, the TTC “has been a source of upward mobility for Black Torontonians through either direct employment or connecting us with education and employment opportunities”, said Myers, who worked part-time with the transit system while he was a student.
A transit user, Myers said the TTC has assisted in shaping his life.
“I spent three summers working at TTC, the overnight shift, 8 pm to 5 am, cleaning trains to pay for my university degree,” he recalled.
The first degree, Myers added, “allowed me to get my Master’s at the London School of Economics and then to go to Law School at New York University. And then, to enjoy a successful career on Wall Street and Bay Street for nearly 10 years. None of that would have been possible without that first job with the TTC, cleaning trains”.
Myers is the second African Canadian to serve as TTC chair. The first was Frederick Langdon Hubbard.
Hubbard, son of prominent Black Toronto politician William Peyton Hubbard, was chair in 1929, when the TTC was then known as the Toronto Transportation Commission.
The significance of TTC’s inaugural Black History Month launch also was recognized by transit CEO Rick Leary, BTWA president Kyron Lewis, Marvin Alfred – the first Black president of Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union – and Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow.
“Black History Month is a celebration of strength and resilience,” Chow said. “It’s a time to reflect on all the work, hard-won progress, towards freedom and equity. Let us all take this opportunity to learn, appreciate and celebrate the diversity that enriches our city.”
Toronto’s public transit system “plays a vital role in connecting communities” and TTC is “proud to celebrate and honour the incredible contributions Black Torontonians have made to our community”, Leary said.
Alfred, initially hired as a TTC bus driver, commented on the “journey” of himself and other Black transit employees.
“We have a long journey ahead of us but we can look back with pride at how far we have all come,” said Alfred.
The BTWA was instrumental in the hosting of the BHM launch at the TTC.
Lewis said he was “happy” with the launch, but hopes to make each year’s Black History Month observance at TTC a “bigger and bigger” event.
“I’d like to do it on a grander scale. But we’ll take what we get now until we can expand to a bigger thing,” Lewis told Share.

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