The TTC is granting a 19-year-old's request for a very unusual subway souvenir, and here's why.
If you’re like the vast majority of TTC riders, you’re at best vaguely aware that every one of the TTC’s subway cars has a four-digit identification number printed on its side in red numerals. Tyler James is not like most riders, and that’s why he spent November trying to get the TTC to peel the number plate off one particular car and give it to him.
Somewhat surprisingly, the TTC is going along with it. “This isn’t something that we’d normally do,” said Brad Ross, the TTC’s director of corporate communications. “But I thought it was touching. And I thought if we could do this for him then we would.”
The plate James wanted was number 5844. It’s a numeral he says has haunted him, in a way, for most of his life. He’s seen it maybe six times during his subway travels over the years. The second time was at Christie Station, when he was 13. It moved him deeply. “I was overly excited,” he recalled recently. “And I started crying.”
If it seems odd that anyone would notice a particular subway-car number, James says that it’s perfectly normal for him. “Whenever I go on the subway, I look at all the numbers on every single car,” he said. “My friends think I’m weird, but I don’t care.” (That’s him, by the way, in the picture below.)
The first time James remembers seeing car number 5844 was when he was six years old (he’s 19 now, and attending Humber College). He had just moved with his mother to Toronto from London, Ontario. His grandmother, a Toronto resident whom he’d previously only visited occasionally, was about to become a much bigger part of his life. He lives with her now.
At age six, James says he was very interested in trains. And so his grandmother, whose name is Beverley, took him on an epic subway ride. They rode the entire length of the Bloor-Danforth line that day, from Kipling Station to Kennedy. Even now, 13 years later, James still cherishes the memory. “I thought I was seeing the entire city at the time,” he said during an interview. “At the time, I thought it was really special.” And he still remembers the number of the particular subway car he and his grandmother rode: 5844.
The thing about car 5844 is that, just like James and his grandmother, it’s getting older. It belongs to a generation of TTC rolling stock known as “H6.” H6 trains are the older ones with orange interiors that now run mainly on the Bloor-Danforth line. In 2014, many of the remaining H6 cars (including 5844) will be sold for scrap. The Bloor-Danforth line will be serviced entirely by T1 trains, and Yonge-University-Spadina passengers will ride only Toronto Rockets.
Realizing this, James turned to Reddit Toronto for help figuring out how to convince the TTC to give him car 5844’s number plate upon its retirement, so he could frame it and give it to his grandmother as a gift. Someone suggested that he contact Brad Ross. Anyone who knows Ross knows that he’s not above personally responding to requests from the public. And this instance turned out to be no different.
About two weeks later, after some back and forth, Ross said that it would happen: plate 5844 would be James’s.
During an interview, Ross cautioned that the TTC can’t always accommodate requests like these. “Tyler’s request was a unique one, and one that I’m happy to fulfill,” he said. “But it’s not one that if we got hundreds and hundreds of requests of that nature that I’d be able to fulfill.”
Ross added that the TTC is looking into ways of selling decommissioned seating and signage, meaning ordinary riders may one day be able to get their hands on vintage items for a fee. “We are looking at how we can actually turn that into a profit centre, if you will, down the road,” he said. “That is something we are exploring.”
(The TTC likely wouldn’t be the only City agency trying to profit off nostalgia: it’s overwhelmingly likely that people will be able to buy old street signs starting in 2014.)
As for James, he says the number plate won’t be a Christmas surprise for his grandmother. “I was going to try to keep it a secret,” he says. “But it was too big to keep a secret.”
Photos courtesy of Tyler James.