By Tasha Oommen
Published on February 11, 2019
For the last five years, five days a week, I begrudgingly drag myself out of bed to travel to work in Downtown Toronto. My morning routine has been timed perfectly. It does not allow for any slack if I want to catch my usual 6:56 a.m. bus. I do not have the responsibility of preparing meals or accompanying children to school in the morning, but from the moment I wake up, I must race through my routine and let out a sigh of relief only when I step onto the bus.
The word “commute” suggests a form of travel that is repetitive in nature, but my daily travel to work is rarely predictable. Although my route remains unchanged overall, certain irregularities make my mornings susceptible to change. I am not alone—while each passenger’s commute is an individual endeavor, the moment we board the train, we are engaged in a collective movement.
Normally when the bus enters Kennedy station, the doors fling open and we rush through, hurrying down the escalator. But not today. When I approach the escalators, I see a woman standing on the left side, blocking the way. A clear violation of Commuter 101. The left lane is meant for passing, similar to the rules of the road. It is not long before someone yells, “get out of the way!” restoring the whirlwind of people rushing down the escalators.
Many of us have specific spots on the subway platform where we wait. The usually stringent boundaries of personal space are relaxed as people concentrate in prime areas that allow for the best access to subway doors. Being an experienced commuter during rush hour in Toronto, I have developed strategies which I employ on a daily basis to make my travel a more pleasant experience. I count the tiles on the wall as a placeholder to align myself with the exact spot the subway doors will open. I have relied on these tiles for several years. They have rarely let me down. As the train pulls into the station, the energy on the platform intensifies as people fold their newspapers, reach out for their child’s hand, preparing to board the train and secure a seat.
Although there are some familiar faces on the train, I can never predict who will sit beside me. Some mornings I choose to sit in a specific area of the train, while on other days, I am forced to take any seat that is available. The composition of the TTC ridership is diverse in various aspects. I notice people wearing uniforms or identification cards that reveal clues about the purpose of their travel. I wonder what my attire and mannerisms suggest. I suspect that my identity is largely ambiguous.
Our destinations, motivation for travel, and perceptions are distinct, yet we travel as a collective ridership. The train facilitates a plethora of micro-mobilities. It is also a fluid space to morph between two realms, a liminal space. My journey is not exclusively a movement through physical space since I travel also through mindscapes. During my morning commute, I orient myself towards my work day. I leave behind pending chores and family obligations associated with home and move into a work state of mind.
The train comes to an abrupt halt and the customer service agent announces that there is a mechanical issue on the train ahead. The unpredictable delay has dampened the mood of a few riders; I hear obscenities and groans. While we wait for the train to move along, I notice a toddler a few seats away from me. Unaffected by the delay we are experiencing, she continues to recite familiar nursery rhymes. This is a welcomed distraction as I can tell that several people nearby are enamored by the child’s charm. A few women nearby offer compliments to her caregiver and impart parenting advice and anecdotes. Public transit has the potential to connect our narratives. As the train begins to pick up pace, I continue to admire the mothers from a distance.
When I emerge from St. Patrick Station and walk the short distance to my workplace, I feel invigorated and ready to tackle the day. The rules of the game I engaged in this morning will hold true tomorrow, as once again, I will weave through crowded platforms and master the rules of daily train travel.
- Jain, Juliet. 2011. “The Classy Coach Commute.“ Journal of Transport Geography 19(5), 1017-1022.
- Löfgren, Orvar. 2008. “Motion and Emotion: Learning to be a Railway Traveller.” Mobilities 3(3), 331-351.
- Lyons, Glenn & Chatterjee, Kiron. 2008. “A Human Perspective on the Daily Commute: Costs, Benefits and Trade-offs..” Transport Reviews 28(2), 181-198.
- Watts, Laura. 2008. “The art and craft of train travel.” Social & Cultural Geography 9(6), 711-726
Tasha Oommen completed a double major in integrative biology and health studies and a minor in psychology at UTSC. Tasha is interested in exploring the contrast between volunteer tourism and long-term itineraries and the experience of travel limited by various forms of immobility and disability. She works as a Program Advisor for the Ontario Public Service, where her focus is on residential and community support for adults with developmental disabilities. A person of few words, Tasha enjoys writing and volunteering her time to support community agencies that address various health and social issues in the community.