Do Councillors Dream of Electrified Rail?

Typical morning on the TTC. Image via BlogTo.

Typical morning on the TTC. Image via BlogTo.

1. Each morning, I board the 24 Victoria Park bus, which I take to Victoria Park station. At the station, I’ll take the westbound train to Bloor/Yonge station and then transfer lines to take the train southbound to Union. Alternatively, I may take the 95 York Mills bus to York Mills station and go straight down to Union.

All in all, it can take an hour. In the peak of morning rush hour, it can take even longer. At times, this can be blamed on traffic. Many times, in fact more and more, it has to do with mechanical failures on the train itself or perhaps signal issues. Often, it’s because busses take ages to show up and when they do, they may be so overcrowded that I have no choice but to wait for the next one. The same applies when waiting for a train.

Once I board, the experience does not improve much. Spending an extended amount of time in a claustrophobic environment is not a good way to start one’s day. Nor is standing on a platform that due to delays in trains arriving becomes so dangerously overcrowded that it is actually life threatening. There are places on a train where you are forced to stand during rush hour where there is nothing you can hold on to for safety. This is a reality for countless residents; unnecessarily long and unpleasant commutes that require multiple transfers.

I manage to get by because I am an able-bodied man in his 20s. Were I disabled or a parent trying to get a stroller across the city in the morning or evening rush hour, I couldn’t imagine how I’d survive. Many stations remain inaccessible and wait times have consequences that cause ripples into all aspects of our lives.

We are easily approaching the point, or perhaps have passed it, when there is more that is wrong with our transit than is right. If Toronto’s working class, its disabled, its low-income citizens, its students, and so many more, can’t rely on our public transit, then it has surely failed in its mission. With each trip I take on the TTC, I fear we are approaching that point.


Transit has been talked about endlessly throughout this current election cycle. Every mayoral candidate has had their opportunity to share their vision, or lack thereof, for what transit in this city should look like. So too have most councillors. Much of the substance of the conversation, or again lack thereof, left me with a lingering question, namely, “WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME ANY OF THESE PEOPLE ACTUALLY TOOK PUBLIC TRANSIT IN THIS CITY?” (more…)


What’s Really Truly Absurd About Rob Ford…

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is saying a lot of insane things. The entire month of November, which began with Ford’s admission that he had indeed smoked crack-cocaine during his tenure, while in a drunken stupor no less, has essentially turned Toronto into a city-wide version of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room for a global audience, an absolute gong-show fiasco that people will turn their attention to again and again simply to revel in its awfulness.

Torontonians know that our city is more than this bumbling idiot of a mayor, but there is no denying that the man’s mouth is out of control. For someone who was known throughout most of his reign as hostile to the media and constantly refusing to address matters head on, the valve seems to have suddenly opened, spewing forth copious verbal versions of a ten car pile-up.

Toronto Life has helpfully compiled a list of the most outrageous things said by the Mayor. No doubt that the list has grown since its initial publication.

Most of the items on that list concern persona rather than politics, reflective of Ford’s volatility and outrageous behaviour rather than his actual beliefs or worldview as a politician. That, it seems to me, potentially gives way to what might be the greatest tragedy for Toronto in the midst of this grand farce, that Rob Ford might be treated simply as a trivialized cartoon and gaffe-machine and not as a perpetrator of a cynical and divisive brand of politics that is ultimately good for politicians, but devastating to those they govern.


The Essential Service

At the beginning of this month, I returned back home to Toronto after a short time away. I came home on a Saturday and on Monday I was immediately reacquainted with what has been a fixture of my life growing up in Toronto, that being the Toronto Transit Commission. Since returning home, I’ve been regularly making the commute to the University of Toronto campus, just as I did for four years as an undergraduate, to spend the day working on my Master’s thesis.

One of the great past-times of anyone living in Toronto is complaining about the poor quality of our public transit system. Most of the time, they’re not wrong in doing so. Transit workers may often be disgruntled and unhelpful, the underground subway system never seems to fail to produce delays that for many commuters are the difference between being punctual and tardy, and the costs that the rider must bear seem to be ever increasing. This is to say nothing of the cramped quarters on the train and the vast array of “colourful” characters that one encounters on a daily basis.

Commutes are usually excruciating. Nothing about them is really meant to be enjoyable, no matter what your chosen method of travel. They’re something like Limbo or Purgatory, or maybe even Hell – I’m not a theologian so I can’t quite nail the analogy. Nonetheless, commutes are time spent with people you really don’t care for and have no reason to be around, whether they be fellow public transit users or other drivers. Commuting is the time in between getting to work or school so that you can tend to what really matters or the time before you arrive at home, which is where you’d usually like to be as quickly as possible at the end of the day. Kevin Fanning, in his essay entitled “How the Dead Live,” describes what is likely the average state of mind for any commuter,

But, holy Jesus fuck, do I spend time wishing I were somewhere else now. Have you seen traffic? This commuting thing, are you familiar? Have you seen these assholes out on the road, going to their shitty jobs in their shitty cars their whole shitty lives? Have you seen us? It is wasted time, doing no one any good of any kind. We just sit there, burning hope and spitting out carbon monoxide.

Sometimes, on a rare night when there is no traffic, and I’m rushing down the highway at 65 mph, and I’m being passed on both sides by cars doing 85 or better, I think: I get it. When this is your life, you probably wouldn’t mind getting in a terrible car accident, just to break up the day a little. Just to have a memory of something happening during the time you were between other things.

Complaints about the Toronto Transit Commission are valid. The service is poor and seems to be getting worse each day with no sign of improvement. It’s a little extra salt in the wound of commuting, something no one really enjoys doing. In Toronto, we say that TTC stands for “Take the Car.” It’s not really, as it claims, “The Better Way.” For many, if public transit can be avoided, then one should do so and should be nothing more than a last resort.

This is typically the discourse that we find in discussions about public transit in this city. It is a system that is incredibly flawed when it should be serving us well and doesn’t deserve our support when it subjects those its customers to such poor service. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone such complaints and I myself am not immune from them. For many Toronto residents, public transit is indeed an option that they can avoid making, and if it is clearly an inferior choice, then Torontonians shouldn’t bother opting for it. This being the case, it is left to politicians to ensure that an effective and worthwhile system is in place so that consumers do make the decision to choose public transit. Efficacy should no doubt be at the center of any debate over the issue of public transit in Toronto.

My concern here, however, is something that is too often missing from these debates, namely why public transit is so vital to this city. We know that millions of riders rely on this service every day and that the city is always at risk of a shutdown should the TTC grind to a halt. Knowing who many of those riders are, however, brings to light the fact that a secure, reliable, and robust public transit system is a matter of the city’s very livability and quality of life in both the local and international context. For the latter, it is vital to Toronto’s attractiveness on the world stage, particularly as a potential home for investment. With regard to the local context, however, it is a matter of social justice that calls for the cooperation of all levels of government.


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