I know many people blog about the horrors of public transit, so my tale of woe is not a new one, but I do feel compelled to add my voice to the milieu.
Benefits of Public Transit
In theory, I love to ride the bus or subway: Not having to fight (or pay) for parking downtown affords me the freedom to read the paper in the morning on my way to work, often while enjoying a leisurely breakfast on the go.
My current commute consists of a 16-minute bus ride from Lakeshore to the subway, a 20-minute subway ride downtown, and a 10-minute walk down Bay St to Wellesley.
Not all Roses
I blogged earlier this fall about the horrors of the Toronto Transit System, which I had not ridden with any regularity for some years until this this past fall.
The new normal in Toronto now seems to feature crammed busses and streetcars, delayed trains, rude operators and fellow passengers… the latter in particular drive me bonkers, especially on days when I can’t get a seat, and have to spend the better part of my commute pressed up against strangers I am not particular interested in snuggling with preceding or following a long day of work.
(Not) the King of Bedside Manner
One driver in particular stands out recently… notoriously underserved by public transit, our busses in the west end are often jam-packed during the morning ride to the subway.
On one such bus the week before last, the driver had apparently decided he’d had enough with people not moving back of their own volition: After a few rude barks at us to indicate that he was not moving the bus until everyone was behind the white line, he simply stopped communicating altogether.
Several passengers who tried to get on at stops after mine were glared down when the driver stopped the bus and opened the door, or were told flat out that there wasn’t any room on the bus, when they attempted to climb the steps anyway.
One poor gal had to guess why the bus wasn’t moving after she got on (I and a few of my fellow passengers explained that the driver was -- albeit not the king of bedside manner -- well within his safety rights to wait until everyone was behind the white line and out of his line of sight before moving the bus forward). She then squished as far back as she could and made herself skinny so the guy could drive on.
He thanked her for her efforts by yelling at her for having not yet paid her fare, which in the stress and uncertainty of being able to board at all, she had not yet gotten around to.
I considered myself lucky on that trip for living so close to the end (start) of the line; at subsequent stops, Mr. Crankypants just kept driving through, leaving large swaths of morning commuters shivering, stranded and confused on the cold sidewalk as a full but not unsurmountable bus drove right on by.
This sort of nonsense sometimes prompts me to pursue alternate routes, such as the Queen Streetcar for example.
An Unlikely Apology
Riding the 501 Streetcar is a fascinating study in humanity. If you were a writer looking for inspiration to compose a memoir about the human condition, an hour spent on this route, pretty much any time of day, any day of the year, would not disappoint. And you wouldn’t even need to look out the window to find fodder for your work!
But the scene I became enmeshed in last month while desperately seeking an alternative route to the crowded subway ride home was of a genre I’d not experienced before.
It started with some bulky-looking fellow complaining generally about people’s cell phone use, and their unwillingness to engage with one another, preferring instead to succumb to the tiny screen in their hands.
So, when the guy’s general commentary became personal, I chose to get involved.
The perpetrator attempted to engage a woman nearby who was minding her own business, just texting on her personal device. When she ignored his unwanted advances, our uncouth friend continued to beleaguer her, shouting, “hey, you!” rather obnoxiously.
By now, several people had begun to shift uncomfortably in their seats; the poor "offender" with the cell phone was doing her best to ignore the guy and continue her texting.
At this point the guy said loudly, “Hey, bitch!"
When no one came to her rescue, I leaned sideways over my fellow passenger and seatmate, turned to the guy, and firmly told him, “Okay, you know what? That’s enough, you need to stop!”, to which he replied, “What’s your problem? I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to this bitch”, and gestured towards the bitch with the phone.
When Stupidhead retorted that no one else seemed to be bothered by his language, since no one else had said anything, another woman commented loudly that she didn’t like it either, and had wanted to say something earlier, but hadn't been sure what to say.
The neanderthal then quieted down, but a few stops later approached me as though he were going to attack, and I felt my heart pounding in my throat in a way that only the prey approached by the predator can understand. As it turned out, though, he was getting off the streetcar, and wanted to apologize!
“Eh, thanks, eh?” He mumbled to me, “Figures not a single man said anything. Had to be a woman! Thanks for speaking up.” He further muttered, and wished me happy holidays before disembarking!!!
Like I said, never a dull moment on the 501 Queencar.
Old, Tired and Run Down
Although that heading could describe me, in fact I selected it to summarize our city’s once-great public transit system, which is another con of commuting by public transit in Toronto.
Views like the one captured in the photo below are not uncommon on the TTC; leaking ceilings, ripped out floor tiles and/or giant sections of walls -- not to make things bigger, better or newer by design, but to manage critical conditions and various stages of disrepair, apparently in the moment, as they happen…
I cannot begin to count the number of times I've had to text my partner and/or kids to advise that Mommy would be home late -- yet again -- due to some sort of subway delay.
The aging, mechanically questionable, run-down system, combined with the equally questionable folks who seem to make up an inordinate percentage of the ridership (we didn't even get into any great detail on my favorite topic: Jerks who insist on blasting their pop music too loudly!), and the daily delays make me constantly on the quest for an alternative method of getting to work.
One such way has been my bicycle.
Environmentally and economically comparable to public transit (cheaper, actually, if you don't insist on fancy and overpriced bags and other unnecessary but nice-to-have gadgets like I tend to), biking to work takes me roughly the same amount of time as riding public transit, minus the loud music of idiots who surround me, and with the only risk of delay being an unexpected flat (a significantly reduced risk, I might add, since I got some fancy-ass bike tires last year that are more resistant to flats)!
Some people wonder how I can ride in winter, but with the right gear (waterproof pants, warm boots, a balaclava and ski goggles are must-have items for winter riding), the cold weather is a non-deterrent. Actually, in some ways I prefer winter riding, as there are fewer other cyclists on the road that require circumnavigation, and drivers are more alert to me, since winter cyclists are such a rare sight in the GTA.
A number of additional benefits bring biking into the role of serious contender when it comes to commuting to work; the top two for me are fitness and inspiration.
An obvious benefit of cycling to work is that I get in a workout without having to commit additional time or financial resources to a gym or special class of some sort. At approximately 12 km, my destination lies a perfect distance from my starting point for a morning physical freshen-up before work or an after-work ride to decompress from the day.
Inspiration Along the Way...
Another reason I enjoy riding in to work is that I get to see a lot of things the average car or subway-dweller misses due to speed or being underground.
One of the things I love most about my morning ride in, when I do it, is the sunrises. My Instagram acct will attest to the fact that I am frequently mesmerized by the pastel rainbow enroute downtown, especially along the waterfront during the first half of my commute.
Sunrises aside, however, there are art installations (both human-created and naturally occurring) and lots of wildlife. I also like to feel the breeze on my face as I cycle, so long as it isn't too strong!
Speaking of strong breezes, sometimes the headwind can be so powerful, it doubles my commute time (yes, I am old, and fat and slow to begin with; strong wind from the north east is not helpful in the morning!)
The main downfalls to biking for me are never having a chance to just sit around and read the paper, and being "stuck" when I am sick (case in point; I got a virus of some sort just as the holidays started, and have not felt well enough to bike since then!) I'm also not crazy about the bike locker in my building, which is in a dark corner of the parking garage, and adds 10 minutes to my morning commute.
Ultimately, there is no one way for me; I'll enjoy reading and relaxing on public transit while raging inside about the guy two seats over who insists on watching a video without headphones and becomes aggressive with I politely by firmly ask him to turn off the volume (even though I am well within my rights to do so, according to section 3.23 of the TTC bylaws), and eventually become so fed up that I will ride to work the next morning on my bike, but then be desperate for a chance to sit and read the paper and eat a bag of cheezies in peace, so will leave my bike locked up at work and ride the subway home and get frustrated with the constant delays over the next few days, so will end up back on my bike for a bit... and so it goes.
At least I don't have to walk two hours uphill in the snow. Both ways.