One of the biggest drawing features for living in Toronto is the TTC. What a scary concept, but it is true for me and it seems to be true for a lot of others as well. When people have asked me how I am enjoying life in the big city my answer usually involves something along the lines of how great it is to be able to access so many parts of the city without a car. My reply often elicits a nonchalant form of agreement. Few people seem to understand how big of a deal this ability truly is for me. I will certainly discuss this topic more thoroughly in the future as car culture and being unable to drive is a constant and reoccurring theme in my life.

Since moving to Toronto and using the subway, streetcars and buses frequently, I have noticed two major things. First, on some days (and at certain times) riding the TTC can be a full on contact sport, and second, riding the TTC is primarily focused towards the able-bodied and fully sighted.

I guess neither of these two observations are ground breaking and if you are a frequent or even occasional rider you will certainly identify with the first part. I am not sure if it is because I have been away from the city for too long and am now just remembering what it is like. Perhaps in my absence I had created in my head an idealized form of transit where workers are polite and helpful and riders give up their seats to one another. Now that I am back in the city the reality of constant queue jumping, pushing, refusing to move for others etc etc etc is hitting me quite hard. I have recently read some funny articles from Huffington Post and The GridTO that describe the kind of people, or I would say behaviours one might encounter on public transit. Clearly, I am not entirely alone on this point.

Empty seats inside a subway car

The worst part about it is I feel myself becoming more defensive in anticipation of taking transit and sometimes even angry during the ride. I often have to remind myself en route that others may be reacting the same way I am or that perhaps the person who shoved me to get through the door first is having a particularly bad day. However, yesterday as I observed the actions of the crowd during rush hour on a very busy streetcar, I could not help but wonder.. if this is how people act towards one another on a regular work day, what would happen if there was some kind of emergency? All for one and one for all has certainly gone out the window.

The second issue I mentioned, and the reason I decided to write this post in the first place is the many barriers to accessibility I have noticed with the TTC. I mean, just looking at a streetcar it is obvious that they were not designed with this feature in mind! My journey yesterday was one of those days where nothing seemed to go right. I was on my way to a meeting at a place I had never been before. I did the usual Google maps directions and found the best route to take. When I got on the subway I soon realized that “the voice” was absent and no stops were being called out. I looked out the window of the train as we entered the next station, hoping I could make out the station name on the wall. Thankfully, I was just able to read it but not confident enough in my vision to be sure. I looked around on the train and no one else seemed to notice something was missing from our ride. People just sat calmly waiting for their stop as I tried to careen my neck past my seatmate to get closer to the window. I, thankfully, got off at the right station and ascended onto the platform where the buses were waiting. I had never taken this bus route before and when I looked for the signs, they were all too high and in too small of print to read. Great, but not atypical. I asked the bus driver politely if his bus went to the stop I needed to get to. He simply stared at me, no answer, no acknowledgement, nothing. Again, not atypical, but still frustrating none the less. So I said thank you, sat down and hoped for the best. Thank God for GPS!

In this case I made it to my meeting with plenty of time to spare and no further incidents. However, there are many times when that has not been the case. It may sound silly but it is unbelievable the amount of stress this can cause. Most times when I reach my destination without incidence I am filled with a sense of accomplishment. Likewise, when I am derailed by a missing “voice”, an improperly signed exit or an unhelpful driver, it can be very disorienting and cause a great deal of unnecessary stress. All unbeknownst to the oblivious crowd pushing by to grab the next train.

* Originally posted January 24, 2013

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