It ain’t lit out here

By Jean-François Obregón

March 26, 2023

Imagine finally being able to get off work at 6 pm sharp on a weekday and being able to catch the overcrowded rush hour subway back uptown. The news articles of recent stabbings, pushing, and unruly behaviour have flooded your mind. The last thing you need is an over-suspicious and cold walk from the bus to your home, where you can finally relax – but, that intrusive thought has already made you order a ride share service instead of taking the bus. 

The Situation

The TTC reported 116 incidents of customer offences (e.g. assaults, robbery, theft, mischief, harassment, etc.) in January 2023. Some of these incidents may have involved perpetrators motivated by unknown causes, leading to more confusion and a sense of danger. All these reasons along with residual paranoia left from COVID-19 restrictions as well as the winter’s cold weather have made TTC riders feel uneasy and unsafe. Are there other things making TTC riders feel unsafe?

Aside from focussing on high-profile criminal incidents, we at A Voice For Transit began looking into other reasonable causes contributing to the public’s lack of trust in transit safety. We found that lack of lighting at certain bus stops, and walkways along Wilson Station, McCowan Station and Dufferin and Steeles West, may be contributing to safety concerns and discouraging riders’ from taking public transit. Seventy one percent of Ontarians say they feel unsafe taking public transportation and sixty five percent of women across Canada claim they feel less safe taking public transportation since last year. How does lighting affect ridership safety?


On February 7 and 8, 2023, our leadership team visited Wilson and McCowan TTC stations. We also included the northwest corner of Dufferin St. and Steeles Ave. W., where a streetlight had not been working since at least mid-April 2022. We focussed on the quality of lighting around transit stops and stations in these areas. In February 2023, we noticed a TTC ad at a Spadina Avenue parking lot, highlighting the agency’s parking lots at subway stations.

The streetlights we selected were based on our commuting experience and using Toronto Hydro’s Streetlight Map to corroborate our observations. The Toronto Hydro resource details where streetlights do or do not function, where work is needed, and where an issue has been reported. In the process, we  considered indirect light sources that contribute to the overall brightness that commuters experience on their routes. Then, we visited Toronto Parking Authority(TPA)-run parking lots at McCowan and Wilson stations to assess tall street lights that contribute to transit safety. 

Our definition of safety on transit includes the quality of lighting around transit stops and stations in addition to what exists within the system. We believe that poor lighting discourages ridership, particularly women. To measure the quality of lighting brightness, we used the Lux Meter (Light Meter) app on our phones.

What We Found – McCowan Station

The Toronto Hydro map indicated that there were several streetlights not functioning around McCowan station. (Figure 1) We walked around McCowan station during the evening commute of February 8, 2023. Along McCowan Ave.’s east side, we saw numerous temporary lights running off diesel generators. (Figure 2) We were surprised to see a time counter that had been running for 5,603 hours at 1,368 RPM. We measured a lux count of 247 Lux. For context, a day with overcast is typically 1000 Lux and a well lit office space is typically around 500 Lux. (Figure 3)

Figure 1 – Toronto Hydro Streetlight Map – Vicinity of McCowan station

Credit: Toronto Hydro

Figure 2 – Numerous Streetlights on McCowan Ave Running Off Temporary Lighting Powered by Generators

Credit: Jean-François Obregón

Figure 3 – Screenshot of Lux Light Meter app outside McCowan Station, (bus stop for 129,130,131,134,169,302 Blue Night)

The area for commuters to wait for their connecting busses was well-lit by the temporary lighting. (Figure 4) However, the parking lot across the street from McCowan station had almost no functioning streetlights, which is not indicated on the Toronto Hydro map. We saw only a handful of parked cars. The streetlights were also not working on the sidewalk north of McCowan and a protected sidewalk along Progress Ave. (Figure 4) Residents in the neighbourhood south of McCowan station have a dark stretch to walk through on their way home. (Figure 5)

Figure 4 – McCowan Station – Temporary Lighting Powered by Generators (left) and Damaged Streetlight on Progress Ave. Bridge Crossing McCowan Ave. (right)

Credit: Faizan Ahmed, Jean-François Obregón

Figure 5 – Damaged Lighting at Public Parking Lot South of McCowan Station

Credit: Jean-François Obregón

Wilson Station

A member of our team visited Wilson station the night of February 7, 2023 to confirm the Toronto Hydro map of non-functioning streetlights. There were a mix of streetlights in and out of service. (Figure 6) There were a handful of parked cars. This parking lot is a longer walk from Wilson station than its counterpart. (Figure 7) The lack of lighting provides commuters with one reason less to park here. No Lux Meter (Light Meter) app was used here.

Figure 6 – Lighting at Wilson Station Parking Lot

Credit: Jean-François Obregón

Figure 7 – Wilson Street and Transit Road Parking Lot (Circled in Red)

Credit: Google Earth

Dufferin St. and Steeles Ave. West

We noticed that the streetlight at this intersection’s northwest corner had not had a functioning streetlight since April 2022. This is an important intersection because pedestrians walk longer to Steeles Ave. W. to take the TTC to avoid paying the double-fare if they rode York Region Transit. There are also shift workers at nearby factories, who would be exposed to getting hit at night or in the early-morning.

A member of our team raised the concern with York Region in May 2022 and was referred to the City of Toronto. He asked again during this project in February 2023 and shared the Toronto Hydro map, indicating that the streetlights on Steeles Avenue’s north side are not the Toronto utility’s responsibility. We were referred to the City of Vaughan, who told us on March 1, 2023 that it could take 2-6 weeks to have the streetlight fixed.

In our three sites, we saw the importance of lighting. When measuring brightness using Lux, we were able to measure brightness in square metres. If light sources neighbouring the TTC are out of service for long periods of time, it could feed riders’ safety concerns. This is the case during cold, dark winter nights or on warmer summer evenings. 

Figure 8 – Dufferin and Steeles Streetlight on May 14, 2022 (left) and March 25, 2023 (right)

Credit: Jean-François Obregón


We wrote to TPA, the TTC, Toronto Hydro to ask about streetlight repairs. In our outreach, Toronto Hydro responded that they get notified by reporting through email, social media, phone, and the “report a street light out” link on its website. We did not ask Toronto Hydro how long it takes to repair an issue once it has been reported. 

We raised the issue of non-functioning streetlights at McCowan station and Wilson station to the TPA, but we never received a response. The TTC told us that once the agency is aware of a lighting issue that it will immediately deploy staff to address with responses put in priority order. However, the TTC told us: “If the lighting is on non-TTC property, we will advise/ engage with the property owner. But the response time will be up to them.” 

Lastly, the City of Vaughan told our team member on March 2, 2023 that staff regularly drive and identify streetlight outages. When asked when the last time was that staff had driven through this street corner, no response was received. We observed that the streetlight repair occurred between March 18 and 25, 2023.

Increased accountability about streetlight repairs could help alleviate rider safety concerns. This includes clear repair timelines for streetlight outages. We will be sharing our findings with the aforementioned agencies with the expectation that it prioritizes repairs.


At a time when security issues on the TTC are raising riders’ anxieties, the agency has to work on every front to remedy the situation. Toronto is a beautiful city of urban and suburban neighbourhoods as well as commercial areas that are upheld by front line workers, families, students, and entrepreneurs. They rely on the TTC every day. If a commuter has a 20 km round trip and sees a vital streetlight unfixed or waiting to be serviced, it may lower their confidence in the service. 

Whether it is winter or summer, improved lighting is one thing that can help to make your trip safer wherever you are in Toronto. Peace of mind is what many seek as we return to the office or school. Better lighting makes riders feel safer. If public transit and neighbouring lighting repairs are met across  Toronto at the same pace, confidence and trust in the commission will be reinforced. It will help keep riders coming back to the TTC. 

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