Michelle Roberts clutches her bag tightly to her chest as the crowd surges forward and she is nearly knocked off her feet. She is surrounded by a sea of faces and an overwhelming mixture of anxiety, anger, and aggravation. She braces herself, and is shoved forward once more.
As the final warning sounds she squeezes into a tiny gap between the crowded bodies. The doors close heavily behind her, sealing Michelle and fifty strangers into the sweaty, cramped space.
This is rush hour on a Toronto subway platform.
Michelle, like many other commuters, relies on public transit to get her to and from her job each day. But that doesn’t mean she has to like it.
“It’s especially ridiculous when you live on the Bloor-Danforth subway line and you have to transfer at Yonge to go south in the morning,” Michelle complains, noting that Danforth residents who commute downtown are disadvantaged because they must try to squeeze into cars that are already full of commuters who live further north. When you add the difficult weather conditions that TTC drivers face at this time of year, you get a season full of long, stressful commutes.
Having moved onto the Danforth just one month ago, Michelle cites access to public transportation as one of the deciding factors during her hunt for a job and an apartment. Indeed, the TTC is an essential service for many Torontonians; in 2009 alone the TTC accommodated 471 million transit riders. Based on this figure, an environmental report released in November 2010 estimates that without the TTC, traffic would increase 60 per cent on city roads and Torontonians would burn approximately 140 million more litres of gas a year.
But the TTC is at a turning point.
Former mayor David Miller was a strong advocate of the Transit City Plan, an initiative to expand the TTC with light rail transit — streetcars. However, new mayor Rob Ford voted against this plan when it came before city council in 2007, and he won 2010’s mayoral race with a campaign that supported expanding subways. His plan would extend the Bloor-Danforth line from Kennedy station to the Scarborough Town Centre. His proposed 2011 operating budget rejected a 10-cent increase in TTC fares, but now 48 “low ridership” bus routes — including 8 Broadview and 62 Mortimer — may be facing cuts to off-peak service hours.
Public meetings have been held this past week to allow customers to voice their opinions on the service cutbacks. The TTC is hoping that these resources can be shifted to busier routes during peak hours, relieving some congestion in the downtown core.
What’s becoming clear in all this confusion is that it may be some time before TTC users see any positive changes. Yet solutions for transit problems are needed now, which is why some people are coming up with their own strategies for beating the crowds.
Sue St. Denis, a web developer at a small Toronto marketing firm, takes the 81 Thorncliffe bus east from Pape station every morning. When Sue first started her job she worked the usual 9-5, but when she discovered that a small adjustment to her work hours would allow her to miss the majority of the rush hour chaos, she negotiated a schedule shift with her boss.
“I’m a bit claustrophobic, so having some breathing space is nice,” says Sue. “Leaving half an hour later gives me much better travelling conditions.” She also recommends carefully positioning yourself on the platform so the doors open right in front of you, and picking out empty seats before the train stops so that you can plan the quickest route to them. She laughs, but, as she says, “it works.”
Find out if your bus route is affected by the proposed cutbacks at http://www3.ttc.ca/Public_Meetings/Public_Meeting_on_Route_Changes/index.jsp