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Riders 'praying' and 'panicking'



Since moving to Toronto in September, York University student Kyla Pugh has made public transit her lifeline — taking her from the dorm to theatre classes, concerts, clubs and downtown “civilization.” She’s not looking forward to being stranded if there’s a TTC strike.


Life without the subway looks downright bleak to many


The last thing Kyla Pugh saw before she went underground was the city in all its sun-splashed glory — cruising cars, blaring radios and sidewalks teeming with strollers, walkers and gawkers.

But as soon as she hit the stairs at the Queen subway station, the dark sunglasses went up over her wavy red hair — and the business of getting home began.

“I have to get to the farthest yellow tip,” the 18-year-old said, pointing up at a map on the side of the subway car.

Since moving to Toronto in September to study at York University, Pugh has made public transit her lifeline — taking her from a dorm room at York to theatre classes, concerts, clubs and sunny Saturdays in the downtown core.

“Now we’re going to be stuck out at Jane and Finch,” she groaned.

“It’s just so desolate.”

The consummate commuter, Pugh peppers those transit treks with shorter trips from the York campus on Keele to the Yorkdale Mall, where she works at the Roots store.

By tomorrow morning, the delicate soundtrack of her life in the city may come to an end — like a needle skidding across vinyl.

With Toronto Transit Commission workers poised to walk off the job early tomorrow if talks this morning fail, Pugh could join a cast of thousands in public transit limbo.

“I’m not impressed,” said Ryan Airey, stepping onto a subway car. “I work in North Etobicoke. I live downtown.”

“I’m praying,” added Sylvia Jordan, a technician at Sunnybrook hospital who lives at Bathurst and St. Clair. “They say they’re going back to the table, so let’s hope they resolve this matter.”

But on the same subway car, Joe Strazzeri had his doubts.

“We’re going on strike,” said the TTC maintenance worker.

A big reason for that, he said, is the way workers are scheduled.

“You don’t know what you’re going to be doing from one week to the next,” said Strazzeri, who was coming home from a Jays game with his 4-year-old daughter Olivia.

“They can change you on a dime.”

‘Now we’re going to be stuck out at Jane and Finch. It’s just so desolate.’

—Kyla Pugh,
York University student

In addition, he said, the pension system is in desperate need of changing with the times and quality of life for all employees needs to be addressed.

But Strazzeri, at least, won’t have to worry about getting to work.

“We’ll work around the house, picket and just wait it out,” he said.

Others are scrambling for a backup plan.

“Right now, I’m panicking,” said Sana Khan, who needs to find a new way to get to the other side of the city where she works at Bell Canada’s head office.

“It’s going to cost us a lot. And who knows how long the strike is going to last?”

Lea Zeltserman, on the other hand, summed up her feelings on the issue with four words: “I walk to work.”

But few will feel the loss more than Kyla Pugh.

Her usual jaunts from the York campus to downtown “civilization” have made her a kind of subway savant, repeating the same formula in her head over and over again.

When she heads back from the Queen station on a Saturday afternoon, the formula is just reversed:

Four stops up to Bloor, switch lines, two stops east to St. George, switch lines, and nine stultifying stops to the end of the line — Downsview station. Then wait for bus #196.

On the way, the train wheezes into station after station, sometimes surfacing to sunlight; others times screeching down into perfect darkness.

Somewhere north of Eglinton West, the view changes radically.

The land of colourful shops, jostling pedestrians and bumper-to-bumper traffic turns to strip malls, factories and long stretches of nothing at all.

The tall fences and barbed wire surrounding the Canadian military base at Downsview Park remind Pugh of a “concentration camp.”

“Here we go,” she sighed.

Stepping out at Downsview station, she turned back to face the distant silhouette of the CN Tower.

“Oh, there’s downtown,” she mused, the smile never leaving her face. “It looks like I could walk it.”

Additional articles by Christian Cotroneo