The Tussle over Transit

So I heard all about last week’s city council session, to discuss the fate of the previous council’s transit plan.

I would have spent my commute reading the paper for all the juicy details.

But I was too busy holding my tote bag between my feet, and holding a subway pole to keep from falling over.

Ah, the joys of living close to the downtown core. The commute’s only a third of the time. Occasionally, though, I do miss those times living in the east end, when I could score a seat at Kennedy or Finch, before other passengers started to fill the aisles of the subway trains.

But, you can’t always get what you want.

Perhaps that’s a phrase Mayor Rob Ford should consider.

He seems mighty determined to spend lots of money our city doesn’t really have, to scrap a plan that would bring more routes to the city relatively faster than putting the money into years, possibly decades, of putting subways underground.

And he’s donned his superhero outfit as Champion of Scarborough (and Other Suburbs).

Full disclosure: When I first heard about the previous council’s plans to replace the Scarborough Rapid Transit with streetcars, I wasn’t happy. I was also still living in northern Scarborough, where I had to ride a bus for 20 minutes, so I could reach the closest point on the rapid transit/subway line, and sometimes cram myself into crowded cars in hopes of making it to work on time.

I’ve moved closer to the core. But I still rely on the system to take me into Scarborough to see family. And the subways are just as crowded, if not more so. Something needs to be done. And soon, because I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure if I’m willing to wait years and years for it to be completed. (Hello, Dufferin Street, anyone?)

Do I think Scarborough is in dire need of a better transit situation? Totally. But so do other parts of the city.

Would I prefer to see a subway built? Absolutely. But frankly, I think we’re 27 years too late. The transit unveiling at Kennedy Station in Scarborough on that spring day in March 1985 should have been for new subway stops, not rapid transit.

But due to the events that led the city council of the day to its decision, that’s not what played out.  The city could have already been well on their way to building the transit system of every urban planning nerd’s dream. But I kind of think they blew it.

Times have changed. Things are even more expensive. Cities like ours are struggling to stay afloat financially.

And considering our mayor and his allies have just spent the previous year in office trying to convince residents (or fight them, depending on your perspective), that there’s fat to be trimmed, services to be done away with, that they can’t afford frivolous things … The last thing they should be doing is taking our money, and flinging it at something that a model that – in this current context – doesn’t make sense.

Unless he’s got a tin box with billions buried under some old tree in a country field, below-ground transit is an unrealistic luxury Mayor Ford cannot afford.

And he also needs to stop using Scarborough as the angry sidekick to bolster his case. As a Scarberian, I’d like that part of the city to receive less vitriol and scorn from the rest of Toronto, for a change.

In any case, it’s going to be interesting to see how things play out from here. And whether this time, things will be different … or if bureaucracy and politics will, once again, keep things from moving forward.

The Subway That Hardens People

In recent weeks, I’ve had a few experiences on the subway that have kind of clouded my belief that people are, generally, nice and good.

It also has reminded me to (a) keep surrounding myself with the good moments in life and (b) remember to keep being nice to others.

Sunday, September 6. I was en route to my friend Angela’s place. She was holding a last-minute bridal shower for a mutual friend of ours. Going north on the subway line, I kind of noticed this middle-aged man get into my subway car. Scraggly beard, stringy hair. I didn’t really pay him any mind after he got on.

At St. Clair West station, I exited through one set of subway doors to make my way towards the streetcar platform upstairs. He also exited, but through the doors at the farther end of the car.

On the platform, we were walking in opposite directions. As we got closer, I noticed he seemed to be kind of walking towards me – but he wasn’t looking at me. It wasn’t until it was too late, that I noticed he was going to deliberately walk into me. I actually tried to avoid him, and said “Excuse me”.

But he obviously didn’t care, and smashed into my right shoulder, pushing me into the station wall. The oddest thing about it all was, there wasn’t really anyone on the platform.

I turned and momentarily stopped to look at him. The guy just kept on walking. Who knows? Maybe he was on drugs. Maybe he was angry at the world and thought trying to knock me over would make him feel better. But I didn’t have the time, nor the desire to run after him. I started to jogging over to the escalators,. gift bag in hand, so I could make the St. Clair streetcar.

But the exchange shook me a little, and I’m glad I was pushed against the wall and not off the platform.

Saturday Night. I had just finished work, and was hurrying along to meet my friend Lori for Nuit Blanche.

At St. Andrew Station, I whipped out my Metropass and prepare to enter one of the reversible turnstiles, just as this older woman and her companion were approaching. (While not overdressed, they looked like they were going to attend an evening at the symphony nearby.)

Apparently only one of us was aware of the “reverse” function.

The woman and I stopped in front of the same turnstile. I deferred, and stepped to one side to let her through.

I only expected her to pass through and mumble a perfunctory thank you.

Instead, she decided to say, “It says ‘exit'”, as she clicked through the turnstile.

This made me stop and say nothing for at least a couple seconds. I was thinking, This woman actually thinks I’m an idiot!

Instead I said, “It’s also ‘enter’,” swiped my Metropass and passed through the turnstile. I didn’t even look at her when she left my sightline, and chances are she wasn’t really paying attention after her oh-so-(not-so)-smart comment, either.

Later that evening, while travelling home, I was sitting in a two-seater, iPod cranked and head buried in a NOW Magazine, when someone sat down close beside me. Because it was after midnight and there was already one drunk guy in the subway car, I didn’t want to take any chances encouraging whomever was sitting beside me by looking at them.

Several stops later, the guy – who STILL hasn’t given me so much as a microscopic buffer zone – starts nudging me. I’m thinking, who on earth IS this? I pull my head out of the news paper and turn … only to stare into the face of my work-friend Errol … who, by now, is giggling because he’s found the whole scene hilarious. My subway game face gives way and I just start laughing – at my own ridiculous behaviour, and his response to it. We must’ve been laughing for about 4 or 5 subway stops, until he eventually got off at Main.

It’s just made me realize how cold the subway – and city – must sometimes be to people who come here from other places.

If a homegrown resident can see it, I can’t even imagine what a transplanted citizen must see.

Toronto’s Transit Troubles

While at work a few evenings ago, I ran into a colleague of mine.

In the midst of our chat, he told me about going to buy subway tokens on his meal break … and having to go to THREE subway stations for tokens.

At the first two stations, the ticket booth collectors told him they were out of tokens. When he arrived at the third, there was an enormous lineup.

It’s stories like these that I’ve either read or heard, since the TTC approved their impending fare hikes last Tuesday.

The approval was then followed by the official announcement on Wednesday …

And was almost immediately followed by a colossal shutdown on two sides of the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line.

(Which – while completely unrelated, and coincidental in its timing –  was unfortunate, but somehow symbolized the problem with the whole situation.)

The TTC’s decree resulted in people running to subway stations around the city, to buy as many tokens as they could get their hands on. But not before the commission clamped down – first by limiting the number of tokens per person to five, for the princely sum of $11.25 …

And then by ceasing token sales outright … announcing they would only be selling temporary tickets from now into January. (When fares go up, those tickets will have to be supplemented by a quarter to make up the full fare.)

I think there are a few places where they’ve got the five token rule back – for now. But what a mess, indeed. And it’s not just tokens being affected.

Patrons like myself, who use the subway system more than 10 times a week, have to brace for an 11 per cent fare hike …

From the $109 we pay now for monthly passes, to a whopping $121.

And as I read a couple of days ago in one of the commuter dailies’ transit columns, forget about investing in the yearly subscription plan at 2009 prices. They’ll be sold in January at the new prices … which, after taxes, probably puts the total monetary amount somewhere in the mid-$1500 range.

Excuse the crude visual, but talk about bending over and grabbing your ankles.

To be fair, I don’t think the fare hikes are to help pay workers’ wages. Believe what you want, but I don’t think so. It’s a bigger issue of subsidizing – or in our case, a lack thereof. The TTC isn’t exactly at the top of the list when it comes to well-subsidized transit authorities.

In the meantime, the only thing commuters such as myself can feel, is an increasing sense of frustration.

Will things on the transit lines EVER get better, even with the promise of Transit City, some 10 years away from completion?

And will THAT mean we should just prepare for more fare increases to come?

Personally speaking, I also don’t think this latest announcement is going to help encourage people to use transit as an environmentally-friendlier alternative to commuting around Toronto.

If anything, I wouldn’t be surprised if it drove (or kept) them out of the seats of subways and streetcars, and right back into the seats of sedans and SUVs.

Or maybe it won’t change a thing.

Only time will tell, come January 2010.

Return of the Cabbie

Early this morning, at minutes to 2 a.m., I was trudging up the stairs at Kennedy Station towards the taxi stand.

I’d had a great night, and so far a great weekend.

I also had $27 in my wallet and was hoping I’d get an understanding taxi driver. As I neared the front of the line, toward a mini-van taxi, I suddenly thought to myself, I really hope I don’t end up taking a ride from that taxi driver I ran into a few months back.

I approached the van, slid the door open and, as I sat down, came (almost) face to face with …

The Pick-Up Cab. (This is the point at which you click on the link to refresh your memory.)

Motherfucker, I thought.

“Hi,” is what I actually said. “How are you?”

“Fine,” said Mr. Pick-Up Cab.

I gave him the intersection where I wanted to go, and almost simultaneously, he said, “Yeah, I think I’ve driven you home before.”

Aw sheeit, I cursed silently.

“Oh, really? Yeah, probably … you kind of look familiar,” I said, none too convincingly.

As we drove home, he asked me about where I was coming from, where I worked (again), what I did, and asked whether I was just coming from work (although I’d JUST said I was coming from downtown from a social function.

He kept the conversation about work (except for the two seconds that he asked whether I’d always had braids), pretty much up until he pulled onto my driveway.

And as soon as I’d settled up my cab fare, he said, “Nice to see you again … even though you never called me.”

And then he turned and looked right at me.

Play me off, Keyboard Cat.

The Pick-Up Cab

“Hello, how are you?” I asked hoarsely, as I wearily lumbered inside the minivan-taxi early Friday morning.

“Good, how are you?” the driver asked in return.

“You know,” he added a moment later, “Nobody ever asks me that.”

“Well,” I replied, “They SHOULD.”

I quickly found out why “they” don’t.

Within two minutes of pulling out of the subway station’s taxi stand, and turning onto the main road, this guy disclosed that he was looking for “a mature woman, yeah …”

And was likely eyeing me in his rearview mirror while I looked out the windshield, oblivious. 

But his random statement said it all.

You have GOT to be kidding me, I thought. I had a horrible cold, was losing my voice, and all I wanted to do was get home and sleep. This guy decided that 2 a.m. in the morning was a good time to make a love connection?

He then proceeded to pepper me with questions. Which I wouldn’t normally mind, except that given his previous statement, these were likely part of the impromptu interview for the position of Mature Woman.

Where do I work? What do I do? When’s my birthday? Where did I go to school? (Oh, yeah? Him, too!) What years did I go there? What kind of music do I like? What kind of movies? Oh, not action so much? So, I like to read, then? 

And as we pulled into my area, he mentioned he’d like to hang out with me and asked me for my number. So I said something along the lines of “I don’t think so.” 

“Okay, so I’ll give you mine instead,” he said. Which was fine by me, ’cause this would make disposal of it very easy.

Of course, my cell had fallen out of my bag onto the seat, so I spent a couple moments fumbling around in the dark for it. And, of course, Mr Taxi Driver decided to take a second shot at getting my number, to which I said, “um, no, that’s okay.”

Luckily I found it – went through the motion of programming it into my phone.  

By the time the van pulled into the driveway (which could not have come fast enough), he’d given me his number and his name, and I’d given him my fake name.

I also noticed, as I paid for the ride, he hadn’t even bothered to turn the meter 0n.

As I said good night, I didn’t escape without one last question:

“How tall are you?”

I cursed my living situation for the umpteenth time as I made my way up the steps and into the house, slamming the door.

THAT’s a First …

I’ve had my share of “characters” who decide to try and “chat me up” (and I use the phrase loosely) while waiting for a bus …

But I’ve never had someone do it to me while waiting for a train. 

Picture it: Scarborough, just this afternoon.

I’m on the Scarborough Rapid Transit (SRT) platform. It’s cold. My iPod is blasting in my ears.

This dude passes me on my left and stops just next to me. He’s facing me – which means he wants to talk.

Inwardly groaning at which one of two things he’s going to say to me, I reluctantly pull out my left earbud … and the conversion went something like this:

Guy: Hi.

Me: Hi. (I’m looking at him, tight-lipped.)

Guy (extending his hand): My name is Glen.

Me (weakly shaking it): I’m Denise.

Glen: How are you today?

Me: Fine, thanks.

(Awkward Pause # 1 as I lean a bit sideways to see if the train is coming yet. Sadly, no. He turns and does the same.)

Glen: So … are you coming from work?

Me: No. I’m coming from … home.

Glen: You go to school?

Me: No, I work … downtown.

Glen: What kind of work do you do?

Me: I work at a bank – I’m a teller. (Complete lie # 2.)

(Awkward Pause # 2. Still no train.)

Glen: So … do you have a cell phone?

Me: No. I disconnected it last week.

(Where’s the damn train?)

Glen: Do you have an e-mail address?

Me: Yes.

Glen: Can I have your e-mail address?

Me: No.

At this point, I hear a weird noise behind me, so I turn away from what I hope is the end of the conversation with “Glen” to watch some semi-crazy guy pick through the litter receptacle and extract a cup from a fast-food place that used to carry someone’s pop.

I watch him for about 20 seconds. And then I turn around to see that Glen is still standing there.

Following Awkward Pause # 3, in which he turns to see whether the train is FINALLY coming, he turns back to me and says, “Good to meet you. Have a nice day,” and walks away.

Seriously? Seriously. Does any of that stuff actually WORK? I’d be interested to find out how successful he’s been. 

Not that the weirdo factor would be completely eliminated … but I now firmly believe that I really, really, REALLY need to move out of Scarborough.

On The TTC …

Seeing as I just finished a late-night subway commute home after a Friday night dinner and a movie, I thought it fitting to post the following video.

I saw it for the first time yesterday. But no doubt that – if you’re from Toronto – you may have already seen this on local TV newscasts and the like.

All I have to say is that I relate to it completely and that it’s awesome.

So for all you fellow commuters – and bloggers like The Daily Commuter, who have linked here from time to time (I see you!) – this one’s for you:

Mad props, Randal and Syrus. It’s viral-worthy. For real.