Monday, December 7, 2009

TTC Metropass - the month of October

A Metropass may not constitute a “site” per se, but I chose it because it is representative of a lifestyle and it links hundreds of sites around the city of Toronto. This is my Toronto Transit Commission Metropass for October 2009. I bought it from the University of Toronto Student Union, where I receive a student discount. The card is lightweight, about the size of a credit card. It features a hologram and a magnetic stripe. I keep it in my coat pocket and use it to ride buses, streetcars, and the subway. I used it to visit most of the following sites.

The Metropass can be analyzed on a number of scales. On a personal level, it is a form of access and economic privilege that I carry with me whenever I leave the house. I am fortunate to be able to afford it. I can lend it to family members and extend that access to them. One thing I noticed when I switched from tokens to the Metropass is that when friends or homeless people ask me for a token, I can’t give them anything. The democratic nature of per-use tokens and tickets are eliminated. On a regional level, my Metropass provides me with transportation services, making it easier to visit different places around Toronto. It is cheaper than a car or a cab, faster than walking, and arguably safer than cycling. Although the pass lets me visit different parts of Toronto, I never take advantage of this in order to go out and explore the city. Ironically, the only time I really walk through different neighbourhoods is when a TTC line is down and I have to walk home from U of T. Walking home on days like this, I notice things I never see from the window of a bus or streetcar. It is also a time when I am most exposed to the elements. The Metropass allows me to move from bus to train and back again, without ever going outside. I generally use the pass to get from A to B, and I tend to go to the same places following the same routes. The Metropass provides people with a virtually unlimited number of options, yet they use it for a finite number of personal routes. All of these routes intersect, creating the public transit system. In this way, public transportation is very personal and very public at the same time.

On a universal level, the Metropass says a great deal about urban planning and development, technology, and social class. In London, England, the Underground uses electronic tickets only, called Oyster cards. These cards keep an electronic record of a person’s journey that can be accessed online, and these records have been used to solve several crimes. This use of technology can be considered an invasion of privacy, but it enables the system to process millions of people quickly and efficiently. This sense of being “processed” adds to the depersonalized, public experience of riding on public transit.

In “Transit and the Metropolis: Finding Harmony”, Robert Cervero discusses public transit usage in Europe and North America. He touches on suburbanization, fare increases, and the difficulty of finding a practical balance between urban sprawl and transit development. Cervero outlines four types of “transit metropolises”. Toronto fits best into the “hybrid” city category, because Toronto has adapted city to transit and transit to city. Toronto’s “megacity” status requires that the TTC adapt transit to meet the demands of development. For example, the subway line that will one day reach York University. Development has also adapted to conform to transit patterns; condominiums built on or near a TTC line tout this as a huge selling point. The cost of public transportation is another major issue. The different economic and business centres of Toronto makes it necessary for almost everyone to leave their neighbourhood on a semi-regular basis, and the city’s size and geography make the TTC one of the most practical options for getting somewhere quickly. However, with ever-increasing fares, some people worry that the TTC might price itself out of people’s budgets, making it less and less democratic. This is a serious problem for homeless people, and for people on fixed incomes. Rising fares create a paradoxical situation – living in a sprawling city requires long-distance transportation, but this transportation is increasingly unaffordable as it struggles to meet consumer demand and spread outwards around the city.

The Metropass is constitutive of a human/nature relationship, but the way it connects the two is blurred. The relationship is a positive one because mass transit is an environmentally responsible form of transportation and is really the only way to move millions of people around cities without massive ecological damage. Although people are not interacting with nature directly, they are making a lifestyle choice that is more sustainable than a car-centered lifestyle. The relationship is a negative one because the need for widespread public transportation is a sign that we have planned and laid out our cities (particularly the suburbs) in an economically-driven way that deters pedestrians and cyclists, forcing people to use organized transportation rather than walk. Looked at this way, the Metropass can be considered a necessary evil in the personal yet public relationship between public transportation users and nature.

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