My experience with transit in other cities shows Toronto is getting ripped off by the TTC
I left Toronto two years ago to work in Taiwan, and while the experience was incredible, I did occasionally miss home. When I finally spent a summer back in this city, there was plenty to look forward to, like walks in the park, trips to the island, the odd Jays game, and a wider variety of food and culture.
I also expected a degree of re-entry shock and adjustment. For example, people in Taiwan are much friendlier than the rushed residents of Toronto.
Crime in the city is more salient than when I left and it's generally less safe than the respectful streets of Taipei. But one thing I didn't anticipate readapting to was public transit.
I took the metro twice daily in Taipei, for a 45-minute trip each way, which included transferring to the bus. My ride was always smooth and problem-free. The subway came every 2 to 8 minutes, depending on the time of day.
Cool, clean plastic seats lined the train, which was always bright and spotless. Every rider wore a mask or risked being removed by the security guard waiting at each shiny, spotless station. No delays. No vomit. No construction. No waiting.
In short, I'd been spoiled rotten.
My first TTC trip in Toronto after a two-year hiatus was a shock. Were the stations always this dirty? Was the red velvet always this stained? Did it always feel this unsafe? To my fresh eyes, everything seemed cramped, dark, and dangerous.
Apart from the aesthetic of the TTC, there were also delays, which I never fully forgot about, exacerbated heavily by the Eglinton Crosstown construction.
There were so many holdups that in my second week back in Toronto, I started to keep a record of my transit trips, eventful or otherwise.
Here's what I found.
In 3 months, I took the TTC 89 times: to work, to visit friends, to run errands. Of those 89 trips, I experienced delays 51 times, or 57.3 per cent.
The delays I experienced can be divided into scheduled closures (13.7 per cent), investigations (7.8 per cent), mechanical problems (3.9 per cent), crew changes (3.9 per cent) and slow-moving traffic (70.6 percent).
I took shuttle buses when the subway was closed 11 times.
I was often late to interviews, work, and appointments. Instead of hello, my standard greeting became, "I'm so sorry I'm late, the TTC…". The amount of time I lost to delays and long shuttle bus rides was a whopping 852 minutes, a little more than 14 hours over the course of the summer.
Let's contrast that with Taiwan. I spent ten months in Taipei, with twice daily travel during the week and sometimes on weekends, upwards of 400 trips. In all that time, I didn't experience a single delay, not even for a minute.
That means no track upgrades during service hours, no police or fire investigations, and no signal problems. You could forgive a person for struggling to return to the land of shuttle buses and service announcements.
Beyond delays, I also realized I took accessibility and safety for granted. Taipei MRT has elevators at nearly every exit of every single station.
There are platform doors that separate the public from the tracks, so there are no track-level injuries, and rush hour feels less like a narrow brush with death. Security is everywhere and injuries are unheard of, at odds with the sharp rise in violence on the TTC.
And then there are basics comforts that I thought were normal but now seem downright luxurious in Toronto. Taipei metro stations all – ALL – have bathrooms, and cell service works everywhere. If you're running late (you won't be) due to delays (there aren't any), you can warn whoever is waiting for you.
The cost of Taipei's smooth, safe, regular service is a mere $55.50 CAD per month. My daily trips in Toronto cost three times as much. Relative to income, the TTC is one of the most expensive transit systems in the world, with riders paying $156 for a monthly pass.
I'm certainly not alone in hating on the TTC, a Toronto reality so common it has its own online communities.
Delays are so frequent that when I did the math, 14 hours in lost time over the course of three months didn’t seem like much. That is unfortunately the problem with the ubiquity of poor service; eventually, you start to find it normal.
Having lived in this city for 6 years, I had gotten used to the endless struggle of getting around on the TTC. Moving away and experiencing the improvement in quality of life that comes with safe, timely access to transportation, made me realize how poorly Toronto is served.
I'd always felt that this city deserved better from its public transit, but now I know better is possible, and for less money. The contrast in experience has made me more frustrated than I was when living here full time.
But no change is imminent, and so the summer crawled forward between transit trips. I saw a woman help her elderly mother slowly and painfully down the steps of a station without an elevator, as everyone behind them waited to get downstairs.
A few staff members directed hundreds of grumpy people at Lawrence station when the subway unexpectedly shut down. The doors of a train at St. George closed before people had finished exiting, briefly trapping a woman with a baby stroller.
I watched an elderly man sigh in frustration when he found the bathroom at Bloor-Yonge, one of the only toilets in the whole system, was closed for maintenance.
Anxious people waited 28 minutes for the St. Clair streetcar, as the crowd grew larger and larger.
Separate investigations shut down the subway on both lines one morning, impacting thousands of people. This could truly be one of the best cities in the world, if only it didn't take an hour to travel a dozen city blocks.
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