Paying Dearly for Getting Squished

Rating: NNNNNHere's a bit of trivia from the municipal Wishful Thinking files. Did you know the TTC has Service.

Rating: NNNNN

Here’s a bit of trivia from the municipal Wishful Thinking files. Did you know the TTC has Service Performance Standards? It’s true. This January 1, as you dig in your pocket for that extra dime to cover the fare increase passed last week, you might want to reflect on the fact that, according to the TTC’s own mandate, the number of people standing in a subway car is never to exceed half the number of seats. Really?

It’s true that sometimes you can actually score one of those red-lint-brush seats. But most of the time you just want to stab people in the eyes. Or, if you’ve managed to keep your wits about you, you can remember that it isn’t their fault you’re packed in like anti-social sardines, but the fault of some vague spectre of government. Still, it’s your fellow riders who are shouting to friends through your ear like it’s a megaphone, not the government.

And for that privilege we pay $2.25 a pop. Remember when it was $2? I do. A quarter fare hike didn’t seem like much to some, but suddenly the tips from work that used to get me home weren’t enough. And while the extra $2.50 a week might not seem like much, two and a half bucks can get you a lunch.

During my stint at York University, trying to get home or just about anywhere other than York University, after a late class or meeting, I’d often wonder if the TTC had forgotten there was a university all the way up there. I did that sometimes, too, so I forgave them. After all, it wasn’t the heart of the city, where they couldn’t afford to make the people wait. The people wouldn’t take it.

But during the daily Dundas rush — roughly 25 hours long — it’s always a gamble whether walking or “riding the rocket” will get you there first. The Dundas streetcar is one of those “really good ideas” that didn’t quite survive its first encounter with reality — like Communism or the smellavision. Taking it would be a wonderful way to avoid all that traffic if all that traffic weren’t in the way. People keep realizing this and keep deciding to drive, and keep making it worse for the rest of us.

Gord Perks of the citizens’ transit action group Rocket Riders calls this the Transit Death Spiral. That spiral threatens, as it has in other cities, to keep fares going up and service going down. Perks says there’s “zero chance” of the province or the feds stepping in to help with needed funding.

But there’s one last level of power, and that’s the citizenry. You’ve probably met them on the subway — they’re the ones with the elbows. Hundreds attended the Rocket Riders’ recent public forum on saving public transit, and they’re the ones Perks ultimately has faith in.

Believe it or not, thanks to citizen self-respect, Torontonians at the turn of the last century didn’t pay if they didn’t get a seat. It seems strange that these days protest movements will spring up about nearly anything, but we can’t be bothered to look our droves of daily fellow riders in the eye and say, “Hey, this stinks. Let’s do something.”

Typically Toronto, Perks is incapable of slagging the TTC without at the same time marvelling at its tenacity. “The TTC delivers the most service for the least money anywhere in the developed world.” So at least we’re efficient.

“Too efficient. There’s no more money to take out of it.” In other words, we deserve a Better Way that’s, well, better. And we deserve more direct involvement in a system that we pay for and that’s often also the Only Way. That means more than a few of us getting our cutesy transit stories on posters in subway stations.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that those posters do manage to touch the part of me that is very much a Torontonian. In my less cynical moments, I’ll always romanticize the TTC. But my reasons don’t fit on posters and aren’t the stuff around which a transit riders’ union is built (yet). They’re the memories of my first solo trips downtown, or heading out in anticipation of visiting a lover. It’s the view of the Don you get riding east toward the Danforth, or the times when you catch someone’s eye across the subway car and they don’t look away muttering, “I am a rock, I am an island,” but smile right at you.

And lately, it’s the sound of the Spadina streetcar sliding through a snow-muffled night, heard through my bedroom window. I’ve always found that sound strangely comforting, evoking the things I like about this city, and the perfect sound to transport me toward the night’s dreams. Increasingly, though, the claustrophobic reality behind the sound is a nightmare.

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