Jane Station: the Politics of Surveillance and Transit Design


Someone was tapping on the glass behind me.

“You’re not allowed to take pictures in here!” 

It was the man in the fare collector’s booth. 

“What? Really?”

“Yeah, you need a permit from the TTC first.”

“No no, this is just for a personal project.”

“That’s what I’m saying, it doesn’t matter, you still need a permit.”

I pocketed my phone and decided to call it a day. It was the last shot I needed anyways. At a nearby coffee shop, I did some research to make sure I hadn’t violated some obscure  Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) bylaw regarding photography in a public space.

“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” it said on the TTC website. I thought so.

It makes me wonder, though. Why would taking pictures in a public space in a completely lawful way make this TTC fare collector so uncomfortable: uncomfortable enough even to make up a law in order to intimidate me into compliance? What is at stake, what is there to hide?

I have always felt that things were just a little off at Jane station. If you’ve passed through it, perhaps you’ve sensed this, as well. If my encounter with the fare collector at Jane station is any indication, perhaps the TTC knows it too.


What’s with Jane?

So what makes Jane station stand out from other stations? In order to appreciate the answer, first we need to take a look at how the TTC transit system works for pretty much the rest of Toronto.

Imagine this. You are on your way to work one morning. You enter at Ossington Station on Line 2, fish through your pockets for your token, or your presto card, or your 3.25 in change. You make it past the presto gates; you’ve paid your fare.

Presto gates at Ossington station. Source: yelp.com

Now you could head down the stairs to the subway and take the train to work, but you decide instead to continue straight down the hallway that leads to the bus platform.

Your bus pulls up to the platform curb, you hop on.  No need to pay again of course – you already payed your fare to enter the station, granting you access to both the trains and the buses that service the station. So, you’re off to work.

Pretty simple right?  

At most stations it is that simple. But things work a little differently at Jane station.

Jane station has what the TTC calls a “bus platform, unpaid area.” What this means is that the bus platform at Jane station is not actually considered a part of the TTC fare zone. In other words, to board any of the buses pulling in to Jane station, you’ll have to pay your fare or present a transfer.

It also means that if you took a city bus to Jane station in order to transfer to the subway, you’ll have to purchase a fare or present a transfer to pass through another set of fare gates at the underground subway entrance, despite that fact that you just purchased a fare when you boarded the bus bound for Jane station.

So what’s the big deal? A lot of TTC stations require you to purchase a fare or present a transfer at the juncture point between surface level buses and the subway line. This makes perfect sense when a subway station does not have an attached bus platform isolated from public streets. In these cases, buses simply pull up to a public street curb near the subway exit.


A bus pulls up to the curb on Dufferin, a major public access street, boarding passengers transferring from the Dufferin subway station. Passengers boarding from this public access bus stop are required to present a transfer or purchase a fare. Source: cbc news

On a public street, there is no way of knowing who is transfering from the subway having already paid their trip fare, and who just walked up to the bus stop from the street without paying any fare at all. In these cases, it makes perfect sense that you would have to purchase a fare or present a transfer to board these street-access buses.

But Jane station does in fact have a bus terminal attached to the train station – train passengers exit the subway system directly onto the bus terminal, not onto a public access city street.


Bus platform at Jane street. This street is for TTC vehicle use only; it is not a public acces street.

In other words, despite the presence of a bus platform attached to the station which is isolated from public access streets, the TTC still treats the Jane station bus terminal as it would a street-access bus stop. Why is that?


An Urban Planning Dilemma?

One explanation to consider is that this is simply the product of a unique urban design dilemma – that Jane station and its attached bus terminal are too close to public access streets to incorporate the bus terminal into the TTC fare zone.

Source: Google maps

Here we can see Jane station is located at the major intersection of Jane and Bloor. The bus terminal, that circled shape on the map directly touches two public streets, Jane street on the west end and Armadale avenue on the east end.

This exceptional proximity to public access streets, the argument goes, means that it would be too difficult to separate subway customers who already paid their fare looking to transfer to buses, from casual pedestrians strolling onto the bus terminal from nearby public streets. As a result, the bus terminal at Jane station is treated as an unpaid public space, where it is assumed the people waiting there (including those who just got off the subway) have not yet paid their fare, and are required to present a transfer or proof of payment to prove that they have.

That’s kind of understandable right? Well it is, except for the fact that this urban planning dilemma is hardly unique to Jane station. The Jane station bus platform is not exceptional or unique in it’s close proximity to public access streets.

For example, let’s take a closer look at Ossington station from my earlier example:

Like Jane station, Ossington Station is located near a major intersection, in this case Ossington and Bloor:


Source: Google maps

Here, Ossington Station appears almost as a mirror image of Jane station, with two direct access points on either side of the station: Ossington on the east end and and Concord Avenue on the west end of the station.

According to the “practical urban design” argument, it seems the planners of Ossington station would be faced with the same planning dilemma that they faced at Jane station; the station is just too close to public access points, making it difficult to cordon off fare zone customers from “freeloader” pedestrians hoping to sneak in to the station without purchasing a fare.

The crucial difference between these two stations is that the bus terminal at Ossington station is a part of the TTC fare zone, while the bus terminal at Jane station is not.

At Ossington Station, there is only one paid entrance for pedestrians on the east side of the station with direct access to Ossington Avenue. But wait a second, what about the access point on the west end of the station touching Concord Avenue? How does the TTC prevent those sinister freeloading pedestrians from simply strolling in to the fare zone bus terminal? This is how the TTC solved that problem at Ossington:



Why was it decided that a “no entry sign” would suffice to keep out fare zone intruders at stations like Ossington but not at Jane? We are getting closer to our answer.


A Peculiar Transit History

In his article A History of Fares on the TTC, James Bow provides some helpful historical context surrounding the Jane station peculiarity. As it turns out, Jane station, along with a few other key stations, played an important role in the evolution of Toronto’s transit system.

Up until 1973, Toronto’s Metropolitan core and surrounding regions operated under a fare zone boundary system, where regions outside of what was deemed the Metropolitan core of Zone 1 operated under a tiered fare structure. In other words, if you wanted to travel beyond Zone 1, you would have to pay an additional fare.


Source: torontoist.com

As it happens, Jane station was at a juncture point, at the boundary of Zone 1 and 2 to the west, with Main street station acting as the boundary station to the east.

When the Line 2 subway was extended to Islington and Warden in 1968,  the TTC was met with yet another planning dilemma. Line 2 trains would now cross the Zone 1 fare boundary beyond Jane and Main Street stations. As Bow explains, “either passengers would all have had to carry some sort of ticket while riding, or Zone 2 stations would have to use a payment-on-exit system, which would also have constrained the fare structure.” To avoid this administrative hassle, the TTC decided instead to make the entire subway a part of Zone 1.

However, this decision generated an administrative hassle of its own. At Jane, Main Street, and stations beyond, the subway platforms were now a part of Zone 1, while their corresponding bus terminals operated as a part of Zone 2.

This might explain the design of Jane station we observe today, where the Jane bus terminal is located outside of the subway fare zone so that Zone 2 bus passengers would be required to pass through another set of gates to enter the Zone 1 train station.

Except for one thing of course: the two-zone fare boundary was eliminated in 1973 for the entirety of Metropolitan Toronto.

The elimination of the two-zone system necessitated significant renovations at stations at and beyond the former boundary of Zone 1 in order to incorporate what used to be Zone 2 bus terminals into the fold of a universal Zone 1. Interestingly however, Jane remains the only station in the TTC network with an attached bus terminal that was not renovated in order to reflect the universal Zone 1 system.

Why was Jane singled out? Why is it that post-1973 renovations to incorporate bus terminals into the subway fare zone were deemed justified at all stations except for Jane?

The answer, I would argue, is not simply a matter of practical urban design or the result of historical inertia. The answer is the politics of surveillance and structural racism.


The Jane Station Panopticon

The concept of the panopticon was popularized by the French philosopher Michel Foucault who argued that the unique design of this particular architectural structure functioned as a highly effective instrument of disciplinary surveillance.

Source: medium.com

The tower structure in the middle of the dome would be manned by an agent of authority; the cages surrounding the tower would house the individuals under surveillance. This structure is such an effective technology of discipline because it ensures that the population being surveilled is constantly seen by the figure of authority. From the panoptic vantage point of the tower, there is no escape from the tower’s gaze. The psychological impact of this implied perpetual scrutiny was meant to ensure that not only would the surveilled be punished for any wrongdoing they were caught in the act of committing; they would also discipline themselves and regulate their own behavior in order to avoid the threat of punishment from which it seemed there was no escape.

In a similar manner, Jane station is designed to function much like Foucault’s panopticon. Consider the interior spatial layout:

Source: TTC

There are three unpaid pedestrian entrances to the subway station, as shown here. Each of these entrances are paired with a set of stairs or an elevator:


This hallway is partially split into twocorridors by this eerily lit, lone telephone booth:


The left side of the hallway is primarily used by passengers exiting the subway headed upstairs to either catch a bus or exit the station onto the nearby public access streets. This entrance is blocked off from customers entering the subway by a set of presto gates:


The right side of the hallway is used primarily by passengers entering the subway fare zone. This side of the hallway is also blocked off at the end by a set of presto gates, where the collector’s booth is stationed:


This is a clearer view of the collector’s booth at the end of the hallway. The staircase in between the two sets of presto gates, like the other staircase entrance on the other side of the hallway, leads passengers from the upstairs bus terminal downstairs directly into plain sight of the collector’s booth:


From the vantage point of the collector’s booth, the fare collector can then effectively monitor incoming and outgoing traffic on both sides of the hallway:


In this way, the network of entrances, hallways and corridors at Jane station functions as a kind of bottle neck, herding prospective customers down a narrow hallway where they are forced to enter the panoptic gaze of the fare collector so that they can be disciplined and monitored effectively. From the vantage point of the fare collector booth, the fare collector can see all the objects of discipline, monitor their movements, and police prospective fare intruders.

From the vantage point of the bus platform, the bus drivers themselves become the mechanisms of panoptic surveillance. Positioned outside of the TTC fare zone, it is presumed that customers waiting to board buses from the platform are de facto intruders or fare evaders – and it is their responsibility to either purchase a fare or present a transfer in order to prove otherwise.

In order to facilitate the proper monitoring and inspection of the public, bus drivers at Jane station will often keep their back doors locked so people are forced to enter from the front door where they can be seen, and thus, adequately disciplined.

While the mechanism of panoptic surveillance at Jane station is highly effective as an instrument of discipline and one might it expect it to be the design of choice for the neoliberal TTC, apparently this panoptic mechanism was not deemed necessary at all or even most TTC stations.

The economy or practicality of having a single, narrow bottleneck passageway for monitoring fare transactions clearly isn’t the primary concern, as other TTC stations with an attached bus platform either rely on multiple, unmonitored presto fare gate entrances or unmonitored “no entry” signs at stations like Ossington.

One of the two unmonitored presto gate entrances at Spadina station.   Source: yelp.com

The fact remains that Jane is the only station in the TTC network with an attached bus terminal that relies on this particular mechanism of panoptic surveillance to police TTC customers.

Why would the TTC elect to maintain this particular means of disciplinary surveillance at Jane station? We have already established that Jane station is hardly exceptional in its infrastructural history or in it’s proximity to public streets; so what is it, in the eyes of the TTC, that does make Jane station unique? What warrants the maintenance of this striking architectural technology of discipline?


Jane and Finch Politics

Those who frequent Jane station probably already know the answer, and have known it all along. For while the mechanisms of corporate (and by extension, state) surveillance may shift in different contexts and spaces, the primary targets remain the same: the poor, immigrants, newcomers, refugees, and people of color more broadly.

Jane station lies to the south of the Jane and Finch neighborhood. Jane and Finch is widely recognized as one of the most diverse neighborhoods in an already exceptionally diverse city – it has also become associated with poverty, youth crime, and general deprivation in the collective imagination of the Canadian public.

The racial makeup of the neighborhood began to shift in the 70s following the development of major public housing projects in the area, and today the neighborhood has one of the highest proportions of sole-supported families, refugees, immigrants, and public housing tenants of any community in Toronto. Composed predominantly of racialized minorities, the community, and especially youth in the area are disproportionately and aggressively policed by the Toronto Police Service and corporate businesses in the area.

Prior to the completion of the 2017 subway extension, Jane Station provided the most direct means of accessing the TTC subway system by way of the 35 (or 935 express) bus running along Jane street. Even today with the freshly-minted Finch West station nearby, the route via Jane station remains convenient for Jane and Finch residents bound for the west end and offers comparable travel times for those headed downtown. As a result, it does not take an exceptionally astute observer to notice that the primary customers passing through Jane station are predominantly people of color.

The uniquely engineered system of surveillance at Jane station then operates as an extension of the state’s surveillance apparatus targeting what it deems to be a problem population, or “priority” communities in Toronto’s neoliberal parlance.

The notion that systemic racism underpins the unique architectural design of Jane station may seem far fetched at first, but is it really so far fetched when we consider the TTCs track record when it comes to structural racism?

Earlier this year, the Star reported that TTC officers have been secretly collecting the sensitive personal information of riders suspected of, but not charged for committing an offence, including the race of suspected offenders. Unsurprisingly, black Torontonians were disproportionately represented in the TTCs surveillance database, indicating a racial bias in the cases TTC officers deemed worthy of investigation.

Additionally, activist community groups like the Jane Finch Action Against Poverty have long denounced the TTC’s racial profiling and aggressive policing practices targeting Toronto’s youth and people of color. The epidemic of racial profiling on the TTC was dramatically exposed last year in the case of Reece Maxwell-Crawford, a young black man who was violently assaulted jointly by TTC and Toronto police officers.

The Jane station peculiarity should not be understood simply as a quirky anomaly then, but as the architectural articulation of systems of power and control deeply embedded in all aspects of our society; even subway station design.

Of course, the surveillance apparatus at Jane station represents a much more subtle, and in its subtlety perhaps an even more insidious exercise of capitalist state power. The problem with power that is seen is that you can resist what you see, you can point to it, call it by its name, organize, and fight against it.

It is not that Jane station customers are doubly charged – no, that would be a much too obvious injustice, much too shown, much too seen. Rather, Jane station customers are doubly surveilled, a much more subtle and seemingly innocuous exercise of power. After all, is it really such a big deal? So Jane station customers are mildly inconvenienced by having to bear the burden of proof as legitimate transit customers at each juncture of their journey – who cares? If they are upstanding, law abiding citizens, they should have nothing to worry about, right?

It is precisely the seeming innocuity of this system of double surveillance by which this technology of disciplinary power is rendered almost invisible. Almost.

To return to the encounter I had with the fare collector at Jane station, I think we can finally understand why taking pictures inside the station would cause a TTC official such unease and discomfort. Jane station is designed to make the public, it’s objects of discipline seen, not to be seen itself. We are not invited to gaze at the tower, the tower is supposed to gaze at us. With my camera, I managed to momentarily reversed the direction of the panoptic gaze.

That’s right, TTC. We see you.


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jane Stn is not unique in this design. One stop east at Runnymede or west at Old Mill and you will find the same design. The fare gates remain between the buses and the subway. It is the same at High Park Stn too. In all of these cases there was simply no practical way to move the gate line to incorporate the bus terminal into the paid area of the subway station. I will agree that there are issues of structural racism in this city, but this is not one of them. As for the collector at Jane saying photography is prohibited, you will unfortunately find front line employees across the system who are unaware of the official TTC by-laws and policy.

  2. Thanks for your comment Dave. It’s true, we see a similar design at Runnymede. (Although, I don’t think High Park or Old Mill are really comparable to Jane. After all, High Park has a set of unmonitored Presto gates at the Parkview Gardens entrance, and Old Mill is suspended on a bridge, with no real attached bus terminal.

    Runnymede is the most similar to Jane, and it may be telling that all of the stations you mentioned are close in proximity to Jane, all located on the West end of Toronto and they all lie directly below the Jane and Finch corridor to the North. However, I think Runnymede is still slightly different, because the attached bus terminal is not an enclosed structure, so the structure of the station would not lend itself so easily to incorporating the bus terminal into the subbway fare zone.

    I’m not sure I agree with you that “there was simply no practical way to move the gate line to incorporate the bus terminal.” I don’t think it’s a matter of practically, it’s a matter of the politics of priorities. Note for example, that stations like Main Street and Islington were rennovated to incorporate bus terminals into the fare zone. Main street for example, was practically identical to Jane station before the rennovations – but for some reason this rennovation was deemed necessary (despite considerations of practicality or cost) at Main Street and not at Jane.

    My claim is not that Jane station was uniquely designed to monitor it’s customers. What is more interesting is the fact that renovations were deemed justified at all stations except for Jane (and Runnymede as you pointed out, although that would require a much more intensive – and expensive – redesign. The renovations that Jane station would need to incorporate its bus terminal would actually be quite simple – the bus terminal is already attached to an enclosed strucutre, all they would need to do is install a set of presto gates at each of the three entrances.

Leave a Reply

Close Menu