That time the TTC lured customers with a bunny girl
Of all the gimmicks used to promote public transit in Toronto, this one is definitely the weirdest - and the most sexist. In 1969, at the suggestion of a conference on urban transportation, a bunny girl was dispatched (by who it's not entirely clear) onto a Toronto Transit Commission bus to drum up ridership.
As the awkward photo by Toronto Star photographer Reg Innell shows, "Bubbles" - a waitress at the Town and Country Palace on Mutual Street - was dressed in a skimpy gold lamé costume and black net stockings, despite the February weather. She had "the sure footedness of a trapeze artist and the charm of a Bell Telephone operator," writer Michael Cobden gushed.
Two teenage students on the Eglinton Avenue bus clearly liked the idea: Sal Sapienza, 17, said girls like Bubbles could become, like, totally cool. "Man, it would be groovy to chat up the hostess. I mean, you can't chat up the driver, can you?"
"I ride this bus every day and, oh boy, wouldn't I like some company like this bird," said 19-year-old Henry la Fiura.
The Star reported that a man missed his stop and another asked to hold hands because he felt unwell. The intention appears to have been to find out whether public transit would benefit from airline-style hostesses - someone to guide passengers to their seats, provide information, and generally boost spirits - but how the outfit came to be that of a Playboy model is decidedly murky.
The 1,000 delegates at the First Canadian Urban Transportation Conference at the Royal York Hotel also suggested relaxing music and free rides as gimmicks to entice people out of their cars. The "bunny girl" idea seems to have been the only one tested.
The wife of an elderly passenger, 87-year-old Jim McCormack, certainly didn't approve of the look. "It'd do beside a swimming pool, but not in a bus," she said. "If we're going to have hostesses, why don't they dress like the girls on the airlines?"
The Twitter account of the Toronto Star photo archives sent out a photo from the risqué stunt earlier this week.
Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.