What is the noise of two thousand angry TTC commuters? Silence, if Nicole Winchester gets her way. This Friday the thirteenth, she is organizing a commuters’ strike in protest of planned fare hikes, and people—2,321 at last count—are flocking to a Facebook event, saying they will not board a subway, streetcar, or bus that day.
Winchester, a designer who says she set up the protest because of her frustration with passengers’ views being ignored, knows that Toronto’s transit system receives some of the lowest government funding per ride in North America. But she also believes part of the problem is mismanagement on behalf of the TTC. “Their first reaction to a budget shortfall is usually to put it on the backs of the ridership,” Winchester told Torontoist.
“I’m hoping that the strike will let the TTC and city council know that transit riders are not willing to blindly accept fare hikes without some transparency. What else was considered before going to the fare box?”
“Several strikers have pointed out that without the riders, there would be no TTC. I don’t think the TTC recognizes this very often, nor do I think there’s always much respect or understanding for the riders.”
Winchester says the TTC could raise funds in ways other than hiking fares: for example, by making the Metropass non-transferable, introducing smartcards (an idea that TTC Chair Adam Giambrone says is already being considered), or even charging cellphone companies for routing calls underground.
There have been commuters’ strikes in other parts of the world. In 2004 in Sydney, Australia, one woman organized a “no-pay day” because of the unreliable trains. Riders refused to buy tickets. The Aussies didn’t get in trouble, as rail unions and the premier of New South Wales backed the scheme—which reported some success. And last year in the west of England, commuters tiring of high fares and overcrowded conditions (which they called “cattle class”) printed their own tickets and donned cow masks to board their train.
Of course, the difference between these examples and the strike proposed for Friday is that nobody is suggesting people avoid paying fares when riding; the idea is to just avoid the TTC altogether. (Torontoist thinks that our readers are probably too law-abiding to contemplate vaulting the barriers, anyway.)
Nicole Winchester, strike organizer, rides the Scarborough LRT. Photo courtesy of Nicole Winchester.
“There already seems to be enough animosity between the TTC operators and the public,” says Winchester. “I didn’t want this to be something that was organized ‘against’ the union or the drivers. I also felt that our absence would speak louder than any sort of protest or mass boarding of trains without fares.”
“Canadians would often rather fall on the side of being ‘too nice’ than being a ‘problem’—at this point, it seems like some people consider any protest a ‘problem’,” she added. “[We] need to worry less about being a problem and take a stand once in a while. Even if that stand is as simple as riding your bike for one day.”
So, this Friday, Winchester asks you to “be conspicuous by your absence.” As well as cycling, she encourages people to ride-share, walk, or anything that doesn’t involve crossing the TTC’s palm with a gold and silver token.
“Though I have dreams of empty streetcars rolling down King Street when I head to work on Friday, I’m not going to base my definition of success on the best possible scenario,” she says. Instead, her definition is what is happening right now. “We’ve organized a fair number of people that feel strongly about the issue, people are talking about the problems that have lead to the proposed fare hikes, and we’ve gotten interest from the community at large. That’s a great start.”
“I won’t lie and say I wouldn’t love thousands of people to skip transit on Friday—but the fact that over two thousand are willing to do so with barely any promotion and no budget to speak of says ‘success’ to me. It’s on to bigger victories from here.”
For those who disagree, though, there may be unexpected benefits. As one commenter on Facebook put it: “I’m tempted to actually take the TTC on Friday ’cause I know there’ll be fewer people to fight for room with at 5:00 p.m.”