TTC drives safety home

Toronto's public transit agency takes on harassment with a new app and ad campaign.

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The Toronto Transit Commission is confronting harassment and promoting safety on its transit system with the launch of an app and ad campaign.

The public transportation agency’s SafeTTC app allows customers to anonymously report incidents of harassment and other safety concerns directly to the TTC. (In areas without cellular connectivity, such as the subway, the report is stored and then automatically sent once an internet connection is re-established.) The launch has been accompanied by its “#ThisIsWhere” campaign to raise awareness of the harassment faced by its customers.

“#ThisIsWhere Agatha leaned away when someone leaned in to kiss her,” reads one of the ads, posted in TTC vehicles and stations. “#ThisIsWhere Galen was threatened because of his disability,” reads another. The experiences are real, but the names have been changed to protect privacy.

“By using real stories, we are able to show the true nature of harassment, how ugly it can be and how it affects people with the TTC as the conduit to tell the stories,” Cheryn Thoun, head of customer communications at the TTC. “For some who may not have this experience of harassment, the hard-hitting nature of these true stories really humanizes the issue for them.”

The public awareness campaign, led by the TTC’s agency of record, Publicis, follows an increase in the reporting of harassment on the TTC over the last few years. The company received 67 complaints of harassment in 2015, and 85 in 2016. As of the end July, 55 complaints had already been filed. However, the TTC estimates these numbers are low compared to the actual number of incidents as many go unreported or are filed directly to police once off TTC property.

Thoun says the company has anticipated a potential spike in reports now that the app has launched, but that “it will more than likely be a more true reporting of what’s actually happening.” Moreover, Thoun believes the data collected will allow the company to better understand safety trends or harassment “hotspots” to which the TTC should allocate more security resources.

To avoid discouraging ridership, however, the TTC has needed to remind riders its system is safe through media relations efforts. In the end, Thoun says, “We felt it was worth taking some risk in being honest and open and talking about the issues that are out there.”

Although the TTC didn’t specifically ask more women to contribute to its latest campaign, Thoun says it drew a large number of female contributors from within the TTC (across multiple departments), the Toronto Police Service and Publicis.

“We understood the importance of having women in the room speaking about this issue and how we might address it in a campaign,” she says, adding that the insights helped them address harassment affecting many different diverse communities.

Historically, the TTC has been perceived as a male-dominated workplace, but the company has made a concerted effort to become more diverse in recent years. According to the  Toronto Star, three of the company’s 10 executive positions were held by women as of July 2016. Today, Thoun says, the proportion is closer to half.

The SafeTTC app was downloaded approximately 1,000 times within the first week-and-a-half, but it’s too early to tell whether downloads will translate to long-term use.

Although the use of customer experiences in its creative resembles the work Publicis has done with the TTC’s “You Said It” campaign from earlier this year, “#ThisIsWhere” was already in the works.