This Law’s An Ass

From time to time, the enthusiast community, be they locals or visitors, runs afoul of TTC officialdom by actually taking photographs of TTC operations.  This leads us into the quagmire of policies and bylaws regarding photography on TTC property.

Yesterday at the Commission Meeting, the makers of a student video “I Get On the TTC” were celebrated by all present including Chair Giambrone and Mayor Miller who observed that they had managed to make this entire production without official authorization.

Not long ago, a new policy regarding photography on TTC property was before the Commission, and a letter was simply “received” (ignored) raising problems with how this applies to amateurs including tourists and transit enthusiasts.

The problem begins with the text in the policy itself:

“Filming/photographing on TTC property means commercial or non-commercial requests as follows:

“3.1 Commercial Film production agencies to film television commercials, feature films, etc., and photographic agencies for magazines, billboard advertising, etc.

“3.2 Non-Commercial Requests from the news media, students and other non-professional individuals and groups for productions requiring TTC assistance and authorization.”

The policy directs people to various other documents about property permits and the need for supervision. Moreover, it can be read to imply that if I want to take a photo anywhere on the TTC, I have to have a property permit, I have to tell you where I am going to do this and Transit Control must know about it. This is an onerous, unreasonable and unenforceable restriction.

However, TTC Bylaw Number 1, quoted directly from the website, mentions ONLY “Commercial” photography in:

“16.b No person shall operate for commercial purposes any camera, video recording device, movie camera, or any similar device upon any vehicle or premises of the Commission without authorization.”

The bylaw is silent on non-commercial photography.  Just to complicate things, many types of “commercial” photography such as a newspaper event shoot are not covered by 3.1 in the policy. 

The two documents — policy and bylaw — are not in harmony with each other.  Although I wrote a lengthy critique of the new Bylaw No. 1, this appears to have been completely ignored by the TTC (it has many, many more problems than the definition of photography).  The problem is that badly drafted policies and bylaws give leeway for TTC staff to harass people who are in no way interfering with their operations and may even be providing free publicity and goodwill.

If “security” is the issue, then say so explicitly.  Publish the policies and procedures for complying with them online, not hidden away in documents nobody can access or even know about.

The makers of “I Ride On the TTC” are an interesting case. They were not making their video for “commercial” purposes as defined in 3.1 above. What they were doing clearly did not require TTC “assistance”. All that they lacked was “authorization”.

The key words in 3.2 are “assistance and authorization”. I hate to split hairs, but legal beagles will tell you that “and” means that both conditions must be present for the clause to be operative.  If they didn’t need assistance, then the question of authorization is moot because it has no bearing.  I should also note that “supervision” is not the same as “assistance”.  If I want to take a photo on a streetcar, I don’t need anyone from the TTC to help me do it even though they might want to be sure I don’t catch anything as unseemly as a grafitti covered seat, a scratched up window or an overcrowded car.

I hate to say this again, but this is the sort of petty-minded and ineptly executed “policy” that makes me cringe when I consider matters of substance like the Richmond Hill subway or a contract for hundreds of streetcars.

9 thoughts on “This Law’s An Ass

  1. There is the by-laws at the front car (the back of the driver’s cabin/whatever you want to call it), 16B says that you need a permit for commercial photography. so now there are new rules?

    Steve: I have cited 16B from the bylaw, but there is a separate internal policy document that outsiders have no access to. Moreover, the two documents don’t agree, and yet the public is expected to somehow be accountable to a policy they cannot possibly know about.

    How many times have I taken photographs with my cell phone when I have used the ttc to go home after spending hours on the clubbing district on a Saturday ……

    Steve: Naughty, naughty boy!

    By the way, am I committing a crime when I take a photograph going westbound from Broadview and over the dvp/bayview/don river/train tracks?.

    Steve: I believe the issue is of taking photos while “on” TTC property as opposed to “of” TTC property. If I stand on my balcony and take a photo of a subway train going across the Viaduct, the TTC can’t touch me any more than they could if I were standing at Queen and Yonge. However, if I try to take a picture of my building from the train, then I am on TTC ground.

    “Crime” would be extreme because the TTC bylaw does not have the force of the Criminal Code. However, their friendly staff might seize on this as a chance to protect the world from valley photographers and give you a hard time.


  2. With cell phones that multi task as cameras, video recorders, I-pods, MP3 players, etc. this is going to be almost impossible to enforce.

    Steve: I think that most of the TTC legal staff must be stuck in the era of tripods, glass plates and flashpowder.


  3. The letter to the Commission on this policy was mine. I’d stumbled across the proposed policy a day before the meeting and so I wrote something up as quickly as I could. I thought about trying to enlist blogs like Spacing to help, but there just wasn’t time.

    What bugs me is that this was billed as merely a housekeeping update to the policy, but it actually added a whole lot more text (and in my view, a fair bit more confusion). It also seems silly that they missed legitimate safety issues: flash (at platform level), tripods, etc. should be explicitly called out as requiring a permit or supervision.

    Anyway, I got a pleasant voicemail a couple of days later from a woman at the TTC saying “your point is taken”, that they’d try to get more info up on their web site, and that they’d clarify the non-commercial photography issue in the next update to the policy. No timeframe was given.


  4. I once took a photo of the Hillcrest Yard from the Bathurst Streer driveway where there is a gap in the public sidewalk because of that driveway. I would say I was on a public right of way when I took the photo. I was focusing on a streetcar in the yard. A workman came out of the guard house and ordered me to stop taking pictures. I complied but at least I got one photo.

    Steve: And that workman had no right at all to tell you to stop taking photos. Just one more example of how the officious, but not terribly bright, mindset filters down from TTC management to the grunts on the street.


  5. The only times I really encountered problems with taking photos was after 9/11, when TTC officialdom was concerned anyone with a camera was working for Al-Quaida. They really need to lighten up.


  6. I took a cell phone picture of the bus at Midland RT station and had the police show up at my door within the hour. Although it was the evening of the wildcat strike (after service resumed), I’d argue it was quite the over reaction!

    Steve: I am amazed that the Toronto Police even took the issue seriously as you broke no law of interest to them.


  7. “The law is an ass”. Like all laws, the TTC bylaws are open for interpretation. One could be a “hardass” and apply the rules to the letter or one could be more accomodating. Do you make people stop resting their elbows on the open window sill of a bus (no passenger shall project any part of their body outside of the vehicle) or ignore it? If I were to be this “hardass” driver, I would spend more time with my bus out of service than actually operating in service. As well, I would end up being one of those operator assault statistics. I have a large personal collection of pictures of buses and other vehicles that I have taken on TTC property. I have pictures of crash damaged buses that I have photographed in yard of the garage that i work out of. These photos are personal and will never be shown on the internet where I feel that I would lose control of their use and reproduction. Some of these photos have been taken for my own protection, by the way, when I have been involved in an “occurance” such as being rear-ended by a motorist. I go into my meetings with the superintendant armed with proof after one “occurance” where I was assessed fault even though my vehicle was stationary when the motorist hit it.

    In general terms, photos of TTC vehicles and facilities can be taken from public property (sidewalks, etc.), your apartment, etc. with no recourse. Photos taken on TTC property are in a legal grey area as TTC property (although owned by the City of Toronto) are considered as having been taken on private property. TTC property is technically private (as is all government owned property) for purpose such as trespass, etc. I have been a hobby photographer for years and have made sure that I know and understand my legal rights as to what and where I can enjoy my hobby.


  8. I tried to take every station name when I first come to Toronto. As I was in Kennedy, a staff came and ask me not to take pictures because of the terrorist thread. He said I know you don’t look like a terrorist but please don’t make people think you are the one. Ohh, taking a picture for memory purpose in the TTC area = terrorist!

    Steve: 9/11 was only an excuse to continue the sort of harrassment TTC provided to its admirers but wrapped, as so much is these days, in the guise of “security”.


  9. I just got another voicemail from the same woman at the TTC to let me know their web site has been updated as promised. The filming on TTC property page now notes:

    Tourists, families and individuals filming or photographing within the public areas of the transit system for non-commercial purposes, are not expected to contact the TTC to obtain permission or a permit so long as such filming/photographing does not interfere with the safe and orderly operation of the transit system and/or our customers.

    Steve: Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! Now if they will only put it explictly on the public notices so that we can rub their officious staff’s noses in it. Photographers should take a hardcopy of that page with them on their travels.


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