Monday, October 30, 2006

Public Transit Rocks

From the archives. This was written after the London Tubeway bombings.

Odds that you’ll be killed in a car accident: 1:18,800. Odds that you’ll die in a motorcycle accident: 1:118,000. Odds you’ll get killed by a car as a pedestrian: 1:45,200. ( Odds of being killed in a terrorist attack: 1:88,000. (U.S. Center for Disease Control). FYI.

A pox on Al Qaeda! It’s nefarious, it’s vile and it isn’t environmentally friendly. Bombing public transit systems isn’t going to win them any fans with the Greens. What the hell does Al Qaeda hope to accomplish? As far as striking terror into the hearts of urbanites who rely on public transit, yeah, the terrorist organization score points there, but the two compelling reasons to ride public transit – efficiency and speed, are hard to give up. Commuters will not give up. Many low-income urbanites can’t give up. Who are these terrorists hoping to win over anyway? A bad PR move all around. Al Qaeda wants to franchise? Open a Krispy Crème and leave transit alone.

In urban centres public transit makes sense. I love the TTC. I feel sorry for people who rely on cars in the city. Being stuck on the Gardiner in some gas guzzling SUV spewing crap, listening to EZ Rock and Phil Collins while rubberneckers halt traffic to gawk at a stalled vehicle -- eesh, I’ll take the high security alert on a subway. Driving around by yourself in a hermetically sealed automobile defeats the purpose of "city". Public space and public services should be celebrated. You want privacy? Stay home and pollute your own closed garage. Keep the car running and strapped yourself in the front seat while you’re at it.

Public transit isn’t for wimps. You have to have stamina and a good dose of serenity to tolerate transit delays, overcrowding, broken down escalators. Days after the most recent threats to the London transit system I was getting off at Dundas when a TTC cleaner accidentally dropped a metal container that made a loud CLANG. At least seven people whipped their heads around quickly to see what the noise was about. I ignored the tightening in my gut and carried on. Tense? When aren’t I?

We like to think a terror strike could never happen in Canada. Why would anyone bother with us? The only thing resembling terrorism in this country happened in 1970. I was a little kid living in Montreal and I was rather happy about all the FLQ chaos. It meant occasionally staying home from school and watching The Flintstones. My parents were less pleased. I remember my father pouring over the Montreal Gazette, headlines screaming the latest on the kidnapping of James Cross and the murder of Pierre Laporte. Canada had its version of unrest. It seems quaint in comparison, like schoolboys pulling a prank. We worried about mailbox bombs. The worst that could happen if one detonated – a few Visa bills would be torched. Not so bad. Even the most rabid separatist wouldn’t strap on a vest of explosives or a backpack full of chemicals and blow up the metro. Suicide? Not when there’s Happy Hour. Dying would interfere with life’s pleasures, comme diner et danse.

I’m not nervous on the TTC. Never have been. But the Underground and our subway are similar. Toronto’s subway is a baby version of the Tube. There is a passing resemblance, Ontario being a good little province in the Commonwealth. It’s been a little eerie lately.
But public transit riders are a hardy lot. We gripe, we moan, and like Homer (Simpson), we sometimes may feel that "public transit is for losers". But the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed some people wearing Underground T-shirt on the subway, myself included. A small gesture, but an act of solidarity nonetheless, a banning together in spirit.

If we can handle body odour in 40 degree heat, we can handle anything.

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