June 8, 2015 / 9:10 PM / 3 years ago

Toronto mass transit shutdown troubling sign ahead of PanAm Games

TORONTO (Reuters) - Toronto’s subway system shut down for more than an hour on Monday during the morning rush as the city prepared for an influx of thousands of athletes and spectators for the Pan American Games next month.

All four lines on Toronto’s spartan and overcrowded subway system were shut down for 95 minutes during the morning commute after a power failure caused all communications systems - including radio, email and phone - to fail.

With just over four weeks before the start of the Pan Am Games on July 10, even the Toronto transit agency’s top executive said the system could not be relied upon.

“The system is unreliable ... ever more people are using an ever-aging system on the lowest subsidy in North America, so that’s the triple whammy we are faced with,” Toronto Transit Commission Chief Executive Andy Byford told reporters.

“Obviously, we want to get it right during the Pan Am games. This kind of incident - whether we have the Pan Am games coming up or not - I‘m very disappointed this happened today.”

About 125,000 passengers were evacuated from subway stations, but the system had no extra buses to pitch in, stranding riders citywide.

Frustrated commuters tweeted that car-hailing service Uber was charging up to four times the usual rate as taxis were quickly overwhelmed by demand.

Byford said Monday’s shutdown came down to a defective circuit board that controls communications for the system’s 60-year-old signal and track system.

The Pan Am Games, a summer sports tournament held in July and August, is expected to draw 250,000 visitors and 10,000 athletes at 32 venues across Toronto, its suburbs and nearby cities. Ticketholders can ride free on Toronto’s public transit to attend the games, which is expected to bring more riders onto the overcrowded system.

The games run until July 26, and are followed by the Parapan Am Games for disabled athletes Aug. 7-15.

Games organizers have said they are prepared for any problems that may arise and have set aside special high-occupancy lanes on major highways while encouraging employers to help staff work from home during the games to lessen traffic.

“We’ve put an enormous amount of thought into this ... and we think we have contingency plans for everything,” said Pan Am chair David Peterson.

Reporting by Andrea Hopkins, editing by G Crosse

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