Public Transit: Telling Tales on Two Cities

Recent stories and editorials in The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star and elsewhere have accused a surprising number of Toronto Transit Commission employees of unprofessional conduct, ranging from sleeping in their ticket booths, to texting behind their wheels, to pushing the passengers around. To add to the TTC’s besmirched reputation, several of its vehicles have recently been involved in accidents that have left motorists and pedestrians seriously injured and even dead.

There are two sides to everything of course, and out of the hundreds and hundreds of drivers and other employees, this rash of incidences of inattention and frustrated behaviour is probably representative of a small minority. Most of the drivers I’ve run into as I wend my way through Toronto almost exclusively by public transit have been helpful, friendly, attentive and — for the most part — apologetic when something wasn’t working or they couldn’t answer questions. Some have even gone out of their way to help passengers with problems, remind them of an upcoming stop that they have asked about, and patiently listened to the nutbars who stand next to them and yak on and on about religion and politics as the drivers try to steer through traffic and snow to their appointed destinations.

My sympathies for transit staff increased when I read this excellent article in Toronto Life about the impact of “subway jumpers” on the drivers who become their unwilling killers.

It’s true that there are lots of problems with the transit system here — long subway delays (sometimes because of the aforementioned jumpers) are part of the fabric of daily life. When I was at a hospital recently for a minor procedure, I noticed a form that staff needed to fill out to indicate the status of scheduled patients, and one of several boxes that could be checked to indicate the reason for a patient’s non-appearance was “delayed on subway.”

Still, it hasn’t been so long since I lived in a city where the only “rapid transit” was the occasional cab driver who drove too fast, where buses sometimes appeared earlier than the appointed hour and if you missed them, you could be left standing in lethal cold for an entire half hour or longer before the next one came along, and where driver rudeness and inattention seemed more the rule than the exception. On one occasion a bus I was taking to a meeting drew up to a regular stop, and the driver quietly called in to central office for a repair team and then sat and waited for it, without bothering to inform the passengers that the bus would not be going anywhere for quite a while. In the meantime, several other buses went past to which we might have transferred.

So I am not complaining here in my new city. I am still astonished at the number of buses and streetcars that show up on a regular basis throughout downtown Toronto, and I still see the subway as a modern miracle—even if it is apparently outdated and slow compared to those of other large cities. But I also understand why everyone else here is frustrated. This, to them, is like Saskatoon Transit was to me (and apparently still is to those who continue to reside in that otherwise warm, friendly and accommodating prairie city).

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Note: I have pretty much stopped posting to this blog. After a year and a bit I no longer consider myself a newcomer to Toronto. But I do still blog, fairly often, and you can check out my other writing locations here:

I’m All Write: Some thoughts and an occasional update for those who don’t follow me on Facebook or Twitter

The Militant Writer: My flagship blog — I am militant about lots of stuff, and I think other writers should be too

Notions: Observations on life that I can’t think where else to put

Book Reviews:  An occasional blog

Film and Movie Reviews: Another occasional blog

Fiction Tips and Writing Tips for Bloggers are even more occasional

Some of my Short Stories

2 responses to “Public Transit: Telling Tales on Two Cities

  1. Regardless of the profession there will always be those “bad apples” whose poor performance makes the whole group look bad. Nothing in life is perfect and this definitely isn’t something that would make me reconsider relocating to Toronto.

    • This is true, Myra, and in recent months, transit here in Toronto has been a lightning rod of interest and discussion. I don’t know what we’d do without it on many levels. And I still love riding the subways and the streetcars even after two years here.

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