506 to High Park Loop

January 17, 2024

Some friends met me for a drink on Saturday night at E.L. Ruddy, or neighbourhood boîte on Dundas St. West. I am doing a Dry January, so that was the first controversy, but they all got over it. The three of them ordered beer and I drank ginger ale. My bill was pleasant: $6 for two soft drinks. Plus I felt great the next morning.

            Our gang sought to skirt controversial subjects, such as Israel/Gaza and Trump, so we wound up bitching about something that’s a perennial bugaboo for the four of us, city-boosters and downtowners that we are: the Toronto Transit Commission. Mostly we rely on the streetcars, which really don’t work very well; one friend had a doctor’s appointment at Toronto General Hospital, which is literally four kilometres from his house; the app told him the College streetcar would take an hour to get there. It didn’t. Even 4 km/hour was out of the TTC’s reach. He arrived 20 minutes late. I announced that I have confidence that, in my lifetime, I will ride the Eglinton Crosstown, the light rail line that the province of Ontario began to build on Eglinton Ave. in 2010. The line, four years behind schedule and up to $4 billion over budget, still has no opening date.

            That said, I do feel we should give the poor TTC our support. As one of my friends pointed out, who works for the city and always bikes or rides transit to his job, it’s the perrennial struggle to convince people in North America that cities move better when people ride transit. Toronto is the only city I know where the tram system tries to share the tracks with automobiles. Visit other cities in Europe — Berlin, Helsinki, Budapest, Amsterdam, for example – in every case the trams have their own dedicated right of way. We need to kick cars off the streetcar tracks, as the city has done on King Street. The TTC, as all public transit, is a vital step towards a low-carbon future.

            To bolster our beleaguered transit system, on Sunday morning, feeling, as I said, as fresh as a daisy, I took our two dogs and walked to College Street, to catch the 506 Streetcar west.

            We walked awhile before the streetcar came; at 11:30 a.m., we were its only riders. Ten minutes later we arrived at the High Park Loop. The driver got out, so I stuck around to chat with him. Not all drivers wear their uniform as per regulation; this gentleman looked snappy in his regulation TTC knotted red tie. “I’ve only been with the TTC for two years,” he said. “It’s a good job. Once in awhile you get the homeless people. If they are quiet I leave them alone. I feel bad, because it’s cold outside. If they start bothering others or smoking their drugs, I have to call my supervisor. The rule is ‘observe and report.’ Then if they are rowdy and disruptive I have to call and wait for EMS to arrive. So that can be an issue. And some of my co-workers are not too nice. But generally it’s a really good job. Especiallly when I meet nice passengers like you.” I asked him to take a photo of me and the dogs, which he did, and then boarded the car and trundled east.

We had a glorious walk in the park, and got back on to the loop for the trip home. One nice detail: because we boarded the return streetcar within two hours of the first time I tapped, it was a free transfer.

The pandemic kicked the stuffing out of the TTC, and riders have been slow to return, in part because many these days work at least part of the week at home. That said, our collective future depends on functional alternatives to the automobile. Long live the TTC.

P.S. You might argue that, given my apparent benevolence, I might wish to cut this teetotaling crap and throw a few of my hard-earned coins towards the poor besieged breweries. But I think the breweries will probably be okay.