What Commuting is Like for This 82-Year-Old Torontonian
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What Commuting is Like for This 82-Year-Old Torontonian

Can't things just arrive on time?

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When Judith Goldfarb, 82, was liberated from Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp in northern Germany, in 1945, she made her way to Toronto to start a brand new life. After marrying Steven, 96, in 1950 when she was only 16 years old, she had two kids and began what was a simple, yet fulfilling existence in the Bayview Village area for more than 50 years. But when Steven had his first stroke in 2011 and could no longer care for himself or for her, Goldfarb’s children convinced her to sell the house and move closer to them, near St. Clair West station.

In looking for a new place to call home, the couple wanted to be close to a subway station. It proved to be a good decision when Steven fell and broke his hip just a few years later. “He was right next to me and he just crumpled to the floor,” she recalls. “He just collapsed; it was in slow motion.” Goldfarb was forced to take the subway every day for six weeks to visit her ailing husband in rehab. “His hospitalization was a longer duration because of the rehab, so I used to take the subway to Toronto Rehabilitation Institute on University every day,” she says. “It was right on the subway line.”

Sometimes Goldfarb would board the subway at 6 p.m. when downtown office workers flooded the subway cars. Instead of feeling crammed and pushed with heavy commuter traffic, Goldfarb was quite surprised by the patience and respect that she consistently received. “I was really impressed. I felt so guilty because here people were coming from work and they’re tired and they still got up for me because they saw that I was old,” she says. “It was very touching.”

Goldfarb explains that her positive experience on the subway gave her a very pleasant picture of Toronto. “I never expected such kindness that I have experienced from various people. These are young people, too,” she says.

Despite her upbeat attitude and positive outlook on Toronto’s transit system, Goldfarb has had her fair share of challenges during her commutes. In one instance, she says the TTC did a poor job of communicating a delay. “It was horrible. I was unaware exactly of what had happened. The subway was stopped and everybody had to get off,” she remembers. Only later did she learn that someone had jumped onto the tracks. “They only announced that there will be buses to pick us up, but of course, they never come on time. So I took a taxi home,” she says.

Goldfarb and her husband, Steven, in their condo near Bathurst and St. Clair.

Goldfarb and her husband, Steven, in their condo near Bathurst and St. Clair.

It’s not the first time the TTC has been criticized for its poor communication skills. The commission is notorious for remaining mum about attempted suicides on subway platforms and kept the number of jumpers under wraps until media appeal in 2009. But, work has been done to improve mental health visibility. The TTC launched Crisis Link in 2011 to help commuters in distress. And this month, Brad Ross, TTC’s executive director of corporate communications, was applauded when he directly addressed mental health and suicide at Toronto’s subway stations.

During the commute we documented, which took Goldfarb from Bathurst and Heath streets to Museum station, the subway was delayed once again. But this time, the train only stopped for about a minute or two. “Luckily it doesn’t happen that frequently, but when it does it’s annoying,” she says. “You become anxious to see how you can get back home.” The worst delays for Goldfarb are the ones that shut down the line and require riders to take shuttle buses. “They always promise that there will be a bus to take you to your destination, but it takes forever,” she says. “That hasn’t been organized well.”

Goldfarb, right, and her husband, Steven, along with his caregiver.

Goldfarb, right, and her husband, Steven, along with his caregiver, Khristine Del Rosario.

Now that Steven is back home and has a full-time caregiver, Goldfarb doesn’t need to take the subway as consistently as she once had to. About once a week or so, she’ll find herself hopping onto the subway heading to Bloor Street to run some errands, meet a friend for lunch, or to browse the changing neighbourhood. When Judith’s not travelling downtown, she prefers to drive—but also understands that those days are numbered.

“My use [of the subway] will only increase because I’m getting old and there will come a time where I won’t be able to drive,” she says. “It’s not that far off in the future either. As you age, public transportation becomes more needed,” she said.

“I love the subway because of the fact that I don’t have to be in traffic so much. I’m quite happy to give somebody else the responsibility.”


Goldfarb walks to the subway station from her home.

Goldfarb walks to the subway station from her condo, near the Heath Street entrance of St. Clair West station.

Heading down the escalator at St. Clair West Station.

Heading down the escalator at St. Clair West station.

Senior tickets now cost $1.95, versus $2.90 for adults. (Seniors and students save $0.05 when they use tickets in lieu of cash fare.)

Senior tickets now cost $1.95, versus $2.90 for adults. (Seniors and students save $0.05 when they use tickets in lieu of cash fare.)

Goldfarb waits for the train at St. Clair West Station.

Goldfarb waits for the train at St. Clair West station.

Goldfarb heads southbound to Museum Station, four stops away.

Goldfarb heads southbound to Museum station, four stops away.

Young people often give up their seats on the subway for Goldfarb. "We are lucky that we live in a city where the majority of people are kind and helpful," she says.

Young people often give up their seats on the subway for Goldfarb. “We are lucky that we live in a city where the majority of people are kind and helpful,” she says.

Goldfarb exits at Museum Station, her destination.

Goldfarb exits at Museum station, her destination.

She exits at Charles Street.

She exits at Charles Street.

Photos by Roxy Kirshenbaum


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