I have negative feelings about driving to and around Toronto. Though it is convenient in some ways to have your own personal mobile bubble around you, like loudly singing top radio hits, it is far from a stress-free or cost-effective experience. Not to mention the stop-and-go pattern that is essentially a whole downtown core of vehicles idling and polluting.
Though I live and work north of the City proper, I frequently have to go downtown. My usual preference is to park at a terminal subway station and take the subway into the core, then walk where I need to go. I’m intimately familiar with the subway from my school days, so the system is the status quo for me. Now that I’m moving even further north, that option is less appealing, so I decided to give the GO Train a try. I’d heard that they’re going from diesel to electric trains and have integrated with the other Greater Toronto Area transit systems with the PRESTO card. It all sounded good, but since I’ve never taken the GO system before, I needed a test run before I committed to commuting via transit.
The first thing I liked was that to take the Train from the ‘burbs to Union Station in Toronto one-way, only cost about $7 (free parking). Normally, parking at the subway station costs $5, plus a $3 cash fare. That means the Train is already beating out my usual schlep cost-wise. A PRESTO card makes it even cheaper. Buying the ticket at the machine was fast, which was good since I arrived fairly close to the departure time, and I was able to pay with Debit – also good, since I rarely carry cash. When I got on board and sat down, I was watching fellow late commuters running up to the soon-to-depart train. All they had to do was jog by the PRESTO Card machine to scan their cards to pay the fare. They didn’t even have to stop!
The ride itself was uneventful. In fact, I was struggling to stay awake. The train itself is eerily quiet and smooth, combined with the Quiet Zones during rush hour times, meant that they might as well provide you with pillows and blanket. If this were my daily commute, it would be an ideal time to practice some mindful meditative breathing, read, or even take a short nap. Looking around me, I could tell I wasn’t the only one with heavy eyes. Many adults aren’t getting enough sleep, and driver fatigue can be a problem especially in early morning commutes. Staring at the road while stuck in traffic can lead to accidents as people’s driving abilities are impaired.
I particularly liked the part where it’s all above ground, it’s nice to look out the window and watch the city go by. As I passed by kids playing in schoolyards and babies in strollers, I couldn’t help but imagine that this integrated system is improving the quality of life in our cities through better air quality but also the reduction of stress. Within Toronto, there are improvements being made too. Light Rail Transit (LRT), which produce near zero emissions, are being added with designated lanes to travel easily across town.
Once at Union Station, those same late commuters hopped off and jogged over to the subway entrance, where they just as quickly scanned their PRESTO Cards, and got in. I also noticed a man take his bicycle off the Train at Union, which is an option with all the designated bike lanes all around downtown Toronto. This seems like the ideal way to commute to me. You’re doing better for the environment and adding regular exercise into your day. This certainly would reduce the stress of wondering how to squeeze fitness into a jam-packed workday. If a bike can fit onto the transit, a jogging stroller would fit easily enough too. The seats are grouped in facing pairs, so a family of 4 can ride together.
All in all, that was the least stressful commute downtown I’ve had in a long time, especially compared to a white-knuckled crawl in a car. The fact that it’s also eco-friendly is a major bonus. While on my trip downtown, I used Metrolinx’s Smart Commute tool and calculated that I had used 5 kg less of carbon dioxide and shaved off 5.6 km than if I had driven downtown! If more people in the GTA started using this integrated system to commute, not only would we majorly reduce greenhouse gas emissions but traffic would flow better on the roads.
The newly revitalized Union Station and Front Street were a nice surprise when I emerged onto the street – infinitely more pedestrian and cyclist friendly than it ever was. Many of Toronto’s attractions are right in walking distance of Union Station. I spotted The Hockey Hall Of Fame, Royal York Hotel, and The CN Tower all on my stroll down Front Street. I’ve already planned to bring my bike downtown to explore the newly revitalized Harbourfront with its forest-inspired urban squares. There’s much more around to see and after my relaxed commute into the city, transit will be my first choice for any visit.