Wednesday, August 31, 2016
How hot is a TTC subway car in Toronto?
It is hard to say exactly when Bianca Spence reached her breaking point because the points were many. Maybe it was the day she stepped on a subway car in Toronto’s west end in early July, as she does every other work day, then got off at her destination, soaked through with sweat and feeling wilted and wondering: why is this happening to Toronto subway commuters?
To people riding the east-west subway line, where one in four cars are without air-conditioning, but not north-south, where the city’s newer subway trains are operating and commuters from some of the tonier neighbourhoods in Canada’s largest city are travelling in cool and delicious air-conditioned splendour?
Or maybe it was the day, not so many days after the first, when Spence woke up extra-early to curl her hair for an important work meeting, before enduring another hell ride on one of the transit system’s now infamous “hot cars.”
“It had been pointless to even bother trying to look good because when I got to work I was a sweaty mess,” says Spence, who works in publishing and, for a few days this week, was on vacation and staying in an air-conditioned apartment in Ottawa.
“So I threw it out there on Twitter after that, and kept going with it, and the longer he didn’t answer me, well … ”
He is Toronto Mayor John Tory. Thanks to Spence’s personal crusade on social media — she repeatedly challenged His Worship to ride a “hot car” with her — she has a subway date (time to be determined) with the politician.
“I hope we do it soon,” she says. “The kids are going back to school, so the cars will be even more crowded. It will be an entirely new rush-hour reality.”
But what is the reality? How hot is the Toronto subway “hot car” hot?
Consider: Tokyo has subway pushers, cramming passengers into cars like sardines; Buenos Aires has pickpockets and no air-conditioning; Moscow has derailments and suicide bombings; and yet commuters in other places somehow soldier on.
When Toronto sweats, people start crying about how inhumane it is to perspire on public transit or worse, detect the scent from others who have.
I am from Toronto, not born here, but I have lived here, more or less, since the age of three. I cringed when I heard my fellow citizens bellyaching over the hot-car mess, since didn’t they understand that it is exactly what the Rest of Canada expects from Toronto?
We waft along on our cloud of self-importance (ROC would say), suffer from Toronto as centre of the universe delusions (ROC would say) — and then when it snows we call in the army — see Mayor Mel Lastman, January 1999 — to fight a blizzard because we’re soft and spoiled. Now we’re too sweaty? Good gravy.
Further research was required. I needed proof. (I commute by bike during spring, summer and fall. There are cars aplenty, but no hot subway cars.) So, I drank three large glasses of water, bought a thermometer from the dollar store near our offices and descended into the Sherbourne subway station at 1:03 p.m. Tuesday.
The air was humid, but not uncomfortably so. I was dressed in shorts, a T-shirt and sandals. The thermometer, which I tucked in my pocket, registered 24 C.
A subway appeared. I stepped aboard and was hit by a wall of … air conditioning. The next car had air conditioning, too, while the passengers, including a giggling wee tot in a stroller, appeared happily sweat-free.
Next car? Bingo. The air was still, unpleasant. Hotter than the 28.4 C Environment Canada was reporting at street level at 1 p.m.
Sarah, a university student, sat across from me, sipping on a juice, eating a green apple. Her advice: “Stay hydrated. It gets awful in here.”
At 1:30 p.m., my thermometer registered 30 C. The woman beside me was wearing purple socks. Her eyelids drooped. A man two seats over had his eyes closed and hands clasped on his knees, as though in prayer.
A fresh-faced teen in pants and a Blue Jays jersey produced a chilled bottle of water from his backpack. “Is that cold?” his friend asked.
The mood in the car was subdued. Sweat beaded at the back of my neck. On some lower inner-belly level, I felt nauseous. The kid with the ice water took another swig. I began to hate that kid.
At 2:05 p.m., I was done. Out. Off. My nether regions were uncomfortably warm, my armpits ripening, my thermometer was registering 34 C — and rising.
A voice crackled over the public address system. There was a service disruption at Old Mill station to the west. Commute times would be longer than normal.
There was no mention of the heat.
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