While in Toronto for the last week, I noticed something quite profound about transit here in TO.
Say what you like about OC Transpo drivers, but they’re a good deal more polite than the staff who work for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).
The first time I bought transit tokens at Union Station, the booth operator mocked my British accent, and made a sarcastic joke about “bringing us culture.” My colleague from North Carolina was mocked even more by the TTC worker and his buddy. Her crime? Putting her token in the cash fare box rather than the slot in the turnstile.
The Toronto subway can be an intimidating place. It’s not immediately obvious how to do things for a newcomer. OC Transpo drivers have taken a lot of stick recently, but, if you’re lost, my own experience is that they’re usually polite and happy to help. When I encounter a grumpier one, he or she usually stops short of openly making fun of the passengers, which seems to be a fairly regular occurrence here on the TTC.
It’s obvious, however, that apart from the staff, Toronto’s transit system is vastly superior to Ottawa’s in every possible way. I understand this statement is hardly a revelation. But the difference is just embarrassing. In Toronto, streetcars run regularly along every major road until the early hours of the morning. In Ottawa, a bus runs down Bank Street once every 15 minutes on the weekend.
It’s often argued that Toronto inevitably has a better transit system than Ottawa because it’s a bigger city. Thanks to Toronto’s size, it has a system of remarkable complexity, covered by the TTC, Viva and GO Transit.
Using a combination of the TTC and the sleek Viva buses in York Region, I once travelled to watch the Canadian national cricket team play in King City, some 40 kilometres from downtown. In the country’s capital, there are fewer main roads and less miles to cover, so it should be easier to run a transit system well. Instead, we can’t even get OC Transpo and STO to operate from the same bus stop.
It’s clear Ottawa has an inferiority complex. Our decision makers have long been paralyzed by fear of big decisions and big projects, which is why we’re still debating light rail many years after it should have been built. It’s not impossible for Ottawa to have a transit system as good as Toronto’s. It’s just that we’ve never really tried.
– John Holmes is a writer for various publications in Canada and the U.K. He’s never had a driver’s licence, and has relied on public transit all his adult life; firstname.lastname@example.org