A reason to take public transit

The Toronto Transit Commission used to be touted as the best public transit system North America. Not any more. The joke is that TTC stands for “Take The Car.” And that’s exactly what I do most days.

I can bypass the centre of the city, taking main arterial roads and highways, and get to work – just south of the downtown core – in about 35 minutes; 25 on a good day. And I get to stay in the comfort of my own car. Listening to whatever radio station I like.

Interacting with other drivers – usually to honk or swear, sometimes to wave thanks – never really connecting.

For the last week, though, I’ve been on jury duty. It’s a shorter distance than when I drive to work, but it’s right in the centre of the city – so there’s no way to bypass. Taking the car is an option, but transit is more direct and less costly.

So I took transit. Experience told me to leave an hour for a journey that would have taken 25 minutes by car, even with traffic, so that’s what I did.

There’s a transit debate going on in this city over the efficacy of subways vs. light rail lines. Under a previous mayor it was called Transit City. I live on the cutting edge of transit expansion: on a new streetcar right-of-way that is supposed to make travel faster. I have a mere 15-minute ride straight to the subway. Once there, it takes just minutes to get downtown.

Streetcar

I was almost late the third day. The streetcar broke down. We had to get off, run for a bus, then wait while it stopped twice to pick up more displaced travelers. When I finally got on the subway, an “unauthorized person” on the tracks at another station caused a further 15-minute delay.

My fellow passengers and I sighed and shrugged. Rolled our eyes at each other. What can you do, we’re all in this together. Some smiled and offered their seats to the pregnant or the elderly. We were a crowded, sweaty mass of humanity, crushed in cheek to jowl, all simply trying to get to where we needed to go on time.

When I was younger and took public transit all the time, I had a cache of what I called my subway people. I met them on the TTC. Usually I met them underground. And that’s where their stories stayed.

There was the lady who had a signet ring. But the initial wasn’t hers.

The shoeshine man with a daughter and grandkids in Niagara Falls. He says he didn’t know why she wouldn’t talk to him; I think he did but just couldn’t admit it.

The man on the streetcar who wouldn’t stop talking; intelligent and informed, if drunk as a skunk, I wondered what he used to be.

These are just a few of the people who make up my Transit City. Maybe it’s time their stories saw the light of day.

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9 comments

  1. I love public transit, it’s what our city needs in order to thrive, I’m just so sad and frustrated that it’s been neglected for so long. I’ve been taking the subway daily for the past 2 1/2 years and in that time it has definitely improved – the stations are cleaner and brighter and there aren’t as many delays as there were. Andy Byford (TTC Chief) has done what he could with the baling wire and string he’s been given to work with. Unfortunately there’s not much more he can do until someone ponies up some money, but our citizenry, and particularly our politicians, just want to pass the buck onto someone else, anyone else, but themselves.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Judy. Yes, it’d be nice if we actually got beyond the funding arguments, beyond the subway vs. LRT argument and simply made a decision. Perhaps that’s the strategy: make us so desperate for any kind of new transit as long as it curtails the gridlock (which is costing Toronto alone up to $11 billion a year: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/story/2013/07/11/howe-congestion-study.html) that we’ll accept anything.

  2. BTW I hope you’re going to tell us about your jury duty experience!

    1. Thanks! Yes, I’ll be writing about that soon … still in court, though, so it’ll have to wait. I’m quite enjoying the process, though.

  3. “a crowded, sweaty mass of humanity, crushed in cheek to jowl, all simply trying to get to where we needed to go on time.”

    This is the best description I’ve ever read for a typical rush hour ride on the TTC. We may not have the most expansive subway line, and the street cars might not be very reliable, but I still love them any way. My favourite thing about taking public transit is how much time I get to have inside my own thoughts. For 30 minutes every day I can ponder away and enjoy the ride.

    Great post! :)

  4. Hey, Smash, thanks for that. Made my day! When we drive to avoid the bad parts of the TTC then we also miss the good things – particularly the connection or, on the flip side, the anonymity if you want to spend time with your thoughts without having to pay attention to anything except what stop you need to get off at.

  5. […] Here, the first of the “subway people” I mentioned in my last post: […]

  6. […] Read more Transit City stories: The lady with the gold ring; What is to be done?; A reason to take public transit […]

  7. […] A reason to take public transit […]

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