Your Tube Is My Rocket

Ride The Rocket - Ted Cabanes

You learn a lot about a culture by the way it treats its...commuters.

It doesn't take long living in London to figure out that expressing unhappiness over public transport is as much part of the British culture as queuing, binge-drinking, and watching Cricket matches. Leaving London for Toronto - and taking up residency within easy reach of its public transport system - then provided a point of reference for how good, or bad for that matter, the Tube really is.

The first thing to note when figuring my way around Toronto's subway, part of the TTC (nicknames simply "The Rocket"), is the number of subway lines. There are TWO. One line goes north to south and then back up north in a U-shape. The other one goes east to west. And that is very much it. It takes years to get one's head around the (so beautifully stylised) Tube map. In Toronto, the same job takes about two minutes. Of course, this simplicity of line structure means that, compared to London with its phenomenal coverage, there are vast areas of the city which simply are not even close to a subway. If you live in those areas, you either take a bus or a streetcar (neither of which are called rockets, unsurprisingly), or you revert to driving. And at least in the driving case, there is no congestion charge. Alternatively, you might get on an overland train, which simply means that you officially live in the sticks.

The next thing to note is that interchange stations have different names depending on which subway line you are on. Imagine arriving at King's Cross but the tube driver calls the station a different name whether you are on Northern, Piccadilly or Circle line. Confused? You would be. Then again, because there really are only three stations where you can change subway lines, it's not all that bad.

Whilst the ride in London is about £2, a single fare in Toronto is about CAD 2.50, which is comparable, but at first sight makes the Canadian one seem like worse value for money. Then again, the latter ride has other things going for it. Surprisingly, when the train is still in a station waiting to leave, commuters intending to get off at the next stop make their way slowly, and usually considerately, to the doors. No last minute squeezing through the crowds; it's a quiet rearranging of the pack in order to have those exiting next closer to the doors.

And, when recently the temperature picked up, I made the biggest discovery of all: There were no announcements reminding passengers that the trains can get hot and carrying water is advisable. The carriages were simply...cool. I wasn't worried about the lack of subway lines since I get to work easily. But now I realise that I won't be soaked when I get there.

Now the only thing that I need to remember is that I shall not take a seat even if I am able to get one, because allegedly they also transport the occasional bed bug.