Saturday, February 28, 2009

The GO Transit experience

Update: If you want to know about the Corridor Club check out my post here.

I have always loved the excitement and visual feel of Toronto and I often come as a tourist to take in shows, shop and enjoy some of the many attractions that the City offers. Lately I have been coming more often as my department has transferred to the big smoke and my homebase location will officially be Toronto at the end of March '09.

Now if you want to get into Toronto as a commuter you are talking about rush hour travel through some of the busiest roads in the world. If you can swing variable shifts you can hope to avoid some of the worst travel, but otherwise you are stuck in a slow moving piece of metal, praying you don't get into an accident, see an accident, or go to the bathroom before you have an accident.

If you leave early enough you can try to beat the morning rush hour but unless you leave Toronto late at night you are going to be smack dab in the middle of the evening rush hour (which starts around 2pm). The best time to travel in and out of the City would be from 10am to 2pm. During this time I could drive into Toronto from my home in about 45 minutes. In rush hour traffic each leg of the journey takes about two hours - and I hate the continuous stop and go travel that rush hour brings. Throw in winter weather and hefty parking charges (it costs $17 a day at the building where I will work) and you are pretty much describing hell on earth. PS I see that a lot of event parking costs have risen to $30 in the downtown core - yikes!

So I have decided to use GO Transit. You get all the benifits of being a green consumer, i.e. mass transit, save gas, reduce pollution, etc, while avoiding the hassle and costs of driving into the City. The cost of a round trip ticket from Acton to Union Station in Toronto is currently $19 and you can write part of the costs off in your income taxes. You can also buy your ticket on the bus. I have found the GO system to be pretty efficient and they run pretty close to on time, most of the time.

I can walk up to the intersection right beside my home and catch the GO Transit bus at 5:56am which then takes me to the Georgetown GO Station in about 20 minutes. Now, I remember taking regular transit buses when living in North York but the GO bus is special - luxurious even, in comparison. The seats are soft and comfortable and the backs can be put back for more relaxing travel. The heaters blast out warm air and you enjoy the ride as you rock back and forth high above the other cars and vans. Snowing, who cares, you are not driving and these mammoth vehicles laugh at snow.

Pulling into the Georgetown GO Station, we grab a free paper, head through the underground tunnel under the railway tracks to the waiting GO train and pick your favourite seat - it's the beginning of the route so at this time there are plenty of seats. The trains is ready for it's 6:25am departure, making all regular station stops on it's way to Toronto's Union Station - hub of our little world. The GO train is pretty unique, it is a two story beast, usually painted the GO colours - green and white, but sometimes with large advertisements plastered and covering a complete car. The seats are a smaller and more rigid than the buses and it is usually colder in the train in winter especially if you are leaning against the windows along the sides of the train.

While you need tickets to get onto a GO bus the GO trains are 'proof of purchase', meaning you do not have to show a ticket to get on a train, however you do need to have proof of purchase (also called a ticket) if asked. I was on a train one morning and over my shoulder was a loud voice announcing 'tickets please' and a guy looking like a GO cop without a gun wandered the aisles checking everyones tickets. The girl across from my seat did not cancel one of her ride tickets (you can get multiple ride tickets which you poke into a machine when you want to ride the train) and got a fine. She was also fortunate not to get Tazed.

The seating arrangement of the trains makes for the most uncomfortable ride - we are always told not to point and not to stare at people; it's rude, and yet we board these trains and we have to stare into the faces of strangers - face to face, eyeball to eyeball. I can only imagine the design favoured squishing as many people into seats as can be possible and that requires people to be face to face. It's not that the seats are unduly uncomfortable but it is instead the layout that produces this uncomfortable feeling - where do I look? The choices are turn your head and look out the window (try doing that for awhile and see how much your neck hurts), read a book to pass the time (gives you something to do and you can avoid staring at people), sleep or pretend to sleep (I hope you don't drool, snore or miss your stop) and the final option - stare at people. The ride in from Georgetown to Union takes just a little over one hour (arriving about 7:20am) and at the station you join the crowds pouring out of the trains and down into the bowels of Union Station. Here is a Youtube video of the train ride as the train leaves Union Station. And here is a train as it pulls into platform 3 at Union Station.

One of the interesting parts of our great city is the PATH system which is an underground tunnel complex tying together various buildings winding it's way under the streets of Toronto in the downtown core. PATH is the world's largest underground shopping complex with 27km of tunnels and stores. I couldn't find out if PATH is an acronym or if it just stands for the obvious 'course or track' for travel. If it was an acronym it would probably be 'People Are To Hurry' which probably also included 'Or They Will Be Run Over.' PATHOTWBRO didn't make sense for small signs so they shortened it to the easier and smaller PATH. Still, go slow and see what will happen - don't say I didn't warn you. Or you could always venture above ground in the slush and snow and brutal cold of winter - your choice.

As the commuters wind through the free PATH system, first through Union Station (trains) and into Union Station (TTC subway) then proceeding northwards to the various towers and businesses along the route, you realize how much like ants we really are sometimes. It takes about 20 minutes walking to get to the Eaton Centre (Yonge-Queen) and into my nearby office - total trip time almost two hours. Repeat in the afternoon, day after day, year after year - maybe that's why not many people are smiling during their commute.

Here is a Youtube video of the train travel between Brampton and Georgetown. We pass by a bunch of deer in the farmer's field in this rural area of the GTA (for now).

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