In writing today’s blog post, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Robert Fulghum and his best selling book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. One of the incredible benefits of living in a vibrant city like Toronto is that I can get anywhere in the city safely, and affordably, on public transit (TTC). The average daily ridership on the Toronto transit system is just shy of 3 million. There’s nothing like being crammed into close quarters with your fellow citizens to remind you of “the best” and “the worst” of our behavior. So without further ado, here is my transit manifesto.
“All I Really Need to Know I Learned on the TTC”
1. A SMILE AND A THANK-YOU CAN GO A LONG WAY
A common pastime in Toronto is to complain about the customer service on our transit service. It’s too tempting to focus in on the occasional subway delay or less than courteous transit employee, but what about the majority of time when you get to your destination without any glitches, and all the dedicated men and women who get you there safely? I’ve started to make an effort to smile at the collector every time I pay my fare and say a big “thank-you” whenever (s)he helps me. We all need to feel appreciated, and this is by far the easiest way. Let’s face it, most of us are tired and a little grumpy on our morning commute. Smiling and making eye contact with each other on the train is so much more pleasant than being surrounded by scowls and yawns. Whenever I see a parent struggling with a screaming toddler, I always offer a smile and a knowing look to acknowledge how challenging traveling with children can be.
2. WHAT YOU PERMIT, YOU CONDONE
The older I get, the more I’m beginning to realize that if I don’t like what I’m seeing or hearing, it’s best to speak up. Next time you’re traveling on the transit and someone is being blatantly rude or disrespectful, why not say something instead of turning your head and pretending it’s not happening. I recently approached a young lady screaming racist comments on the subway and asked her to please keep her opinions to herself. I’ve even stepped in when I witnessed a man violently shoving his girlfriend against the wall on the platform. It’s been my experience that other passengers will add their voices and assistance if you’re just brave enough to take the initiative. If things get out of hand, the “Passenger Assistance Alarm” is at your disposal and the TTC personal are always willing to help out.
3. WE DON’T LIVE IN A BUBBLE
iPods, smart phones, tablets, and game devices make a long commute much more bearable, but they can lead to what I call a “bubble mentality”. Just because you have your headset on, or you’re immersed in your book, it doesn’t mean that you are all by yourself on the transit. It would really improve the commuting experience for everyone if we just opened our eyes once in a while and recognized there are other people around us. Maybe everyone doesn’t want to hear your favorite song blaring out of your iPod. Maybe an expectant mother just boarded the train and would really appreciate your seat.
4. REDUCE YOUR FOOTPRINT
Just because the two seats beside you were available when you first sat down, it doesn’t mean you own them. It’s so infuriating to see people standing on a busy transit vehicle simply because some selfish passenger decides that his/her bags require their own seat, or because people want to stretch out and put their feet on the seat. It’s really quite simple. One Fare = One Seat.
5. GARBAGE IS CONTAGIOUS, SO PUT IT WHERE IT BELONGS
If you bring a newspaper or food onto the transit, put the waste in the garbage or recycling when you are finished. It’s so easy for someone to toss a piece of litter onto the platform or vehicle if there is already garbage lying around. In fact, a newspaper blowing onto the tracks and catching fire on the third rail, is the culprit behind many subway delays.
6. WE CAN ALL BE EVERYDAY HEROES
It doesn’t take much to be a “transit hero”. Offer a seat to someone who needs it. Help someone carry a stroller down the stairs or off the bus. If you see someone wandering around looking lost, offer directions.