Toronto Transit Commission passengers aboard Line 4 (Sheppard) trains may notice a distinct difference when they board this Sunday, October 9.

That's when the TTC starts its "one-person train operation" program or OPTO, eliminating the necessity for guards watching the doors from the middle of each train. Instead, the drivers of the trains will open and close the doors while the trains pause at each station. Three cameras at each station will provide the drivers with a view of the entire platform. Screens in their cabs will allow them to monitor the safety of passengers boarding and exiting from the trains.

Train drivers can monitor the platforms from screens in their cabs, image by Robert Mackenzie

At a technical briefing for media in Don Mills Station yesterday, the TTC's chief executive officer, Andy Byford described the change as part of the TTC's ongoing efforts to modernize and make its systems more effective.

OPTO is not a new idea. Many major subway systems around the world use similar programs to safely operate rapid transit trains, including Paris, London, Hong Kong, Madrid, Chicago, Montreal and Vancouver. OPTO is not even new to Toronto – the TTC's successfully operated one-person trains along Line 3 (Scarborough) without incident since 1985.

According to Byford, the Sheppard line is the perfect candidate as the next line to receive OPTO service. It's short, without any curves, and has just five stations. The TTC will exclusively assign four-car Toronto Rocket trains to the line, starting Sunday, while the older T1 trains will only roll along Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth). Byford explained that the TTC requested Bombardier to design the newer subway trains for one-person operation. By 2019, the transit agency expects that all trains along Lines 1, 3 and 4 will have OPTO service.

"Our operators are superb", Byford said, responding to a question about the future employment status of TTC train drivers. OPTO will not result in anyone losing their jobs at the TTC, he said. The organization will redeploy staff who worked as guards along the Sheppard line to other positions in the system. Even though one-person train operation will effectively reduce the subway operations staff in half, the TTC expects that positions will still be available for all current employees. Byford expects that, allowing for attrition, everyone working for the TTC now will continue of have a job.

The TTC also intends to have more subway operator positions available in the near future because it will require even more trains along Line 1 (Yonge University) when it opens the extension to Vaughan late in 2017. The TTC also continues to install automatic signalling on Line 1, which will allow it to operate even more trains than it does today.

Once the TTC has fully implemented OPTO and Toronto Rocket trains on all lines, Byford expects operating efficiencies of about $30 million annually, money which, Byford says, the TTC can use to improve service.

4-car Toronto Rocket trains with one operator will replace T1 on Line 4, image by Robert Mackenzie

Not everyone is happy with the program though. A recent news release from Local 113 of the Amagamated Transit Union quoted its president, Bob Kinnear: "Eliminating the Subway Guard is a very fundamental change that worries the half billion passengers who take the TTC every year. It is not the kind of decision that should be made alone by Andy Byford and Mayor Tory, who has demanded TTC budget cuts at a time when transit is more important than ever," Kinnear said.

The local recently commissioned Mainstreet Research to poll Torontonians about the plan. It found two-thirds of Toronto residents oppose getting rid of the guards, due to safety and security concerns. Only nine per cent of those surveyed supported the TTC plan. The rest were undecided.

Local 113 cites a recent article by Byford in the Toronto Star in which he claimed that eliminating the guards would save $18 million per year. That works out to 3.3 cents for each of the 540 million passengers expected to take the TTC in 2016.

"We challenge TTC management to conduct public meetings to discuss this issue and determine if passengers are willing to pay the extra 3.3 cents, which is one per cent of the cost of a single TTC cash fare of $3.25", Kinnear said.

"Mr. Byford wants to save money, we get it, but cutting corners on passenger safety is not a very good idea and it defies common sense to claim that eliminating staff trained in security issues will have no impact on safety."

A T1 train loads passengers in Don Mills Station, image by Robert Mackenzie

Meanwhile, the TTC says that guards suffer 25 per cent of on-the-job injuries for subway workers. By eliminating the need for guards to open subway-car windows, the TTC hopes to also eliminate incidents like passengers throwing objects at, or spitting on, the guards, or debris striking them.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour reviewed the TTC's OPTO plan on September 27 and determined that implementing OPTO posed no additional risk for operators. In May, the American Public Transit Association concluded that "the technology being introduced to support OPTO has incorporated state-of-the-art resources to enhance safety and minimize operational hazards."

What is your take on One-Person Train Operation that is about to start on Line 4? You can get in on the discussion in our dedicated thread, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page!