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International Perspective: Toronto
Beating the Suburban Winter Transit Blahs

By Mathew Katz

The streetcar, subway, or bus is never a fun place to be during rush hour, and it’s even worse during those slow, wet, and frustrating during- and post-snow storm trips, where the better way can turn into hell on wheels/rails. Between angry drivers, puffy coats, and that strange gentleman who mutters to himself about Polish androids eating his muffins, you’ve got to wonder just how taking transit could ever seem like a nice ride, even if it did save you from digging the car out of that snow bank that formed on your driveway.

Fortunately, the folks to the north have a great idea. Remember the massive snowstorm we had earlier this month? While you were struggling through the curmudgeonly crowds, folks in suburban Thornhill (Vaughan, technically) woke up to the sight of kindly transit representatives shoveling their driveways and offering them free York Region Transit/Viva tickets, giving them the choice of either foregoing their SUV for transit that day, or taking the bus next time around. Commuters already used to taking transit were given a nice surprise when they discovered even more transit reps were giving out free hot chocolate on their usual trip.

Photo by Soren Frederiksen from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

They’re calling themselves the Snow Angels, the brainchild of YRT/Viva’s PR folks. Despite this, their random acts of kindness not only encourage drivers to take transit, they also—in their own small way—make taking transit a bit nicer. In the car-laden suburbs, anything that gets residents to take a bus is a step in the right direction.

But then there’s Toronto proper, where an exponential amount of people rely on transit daily. We have to wonder how such a brilliant, quasi-whimsical idea hasn’t hit the TTC yet. A less toxic environment on the bus would make everyone’s day a bit better and get rid of that commute-induced depression that reigns all winter long. Besides, hot chocolate is tasty.

Then again, hot chocolate on a crowded streetcar could just lead to spills and more self-righteous anger. Maybe the solution to winter-transit rage is twofold—streetcars coming more often and free hot chocolate.

With snow expected a bit later this week, the Snow Angels will probably have one or two more chances to make someone’s day this season. As for unlucky Toronto commuters, there’s always next year. Or free transit-lemonade in the summer.

This article was reprinted with permission by The Torontoist,, March 2008.

Mathew Katz is a freelance journalist based in New York. He can be reached at

Editor’s note: The League asked three DeWitt, Michigan natives now living outside of Michigan about their views on public transit.

In New York, public transit is crucial, and more or less reliable. I take the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back every day for work. I moved out here with a car, but haven’t had it for over a year now. In winter I could not have a social or work life if it weren’t for trains and buses. I use public transit almost exclusively. I enjoy not having to deal with driving through snow and slush, searching for parking. It also eliminates the driving under the influence issue (something I pretty much never hear about in the city), not to mention being more environmentally friendly. 

—Hailey Wojcik,
24, Brooklyn NY


I use the train to get to and from school every day. It’s fairly reliable—usually arriving within 10 minutes of waiting at the platform. During the winter I tend to use public transit less often for recreation (since I rarely go out in the winter), and usually hop in a cab if I’m going out at all. It’s much more affordable to take the train, but does require some planning.

—Shaina Reed,
24, Chicago IL


Living in Chicago, I have come to rely on public transportation in the winter. This is when public transportation binds a city together—it allows you the same freedom you have the rest of the year, without having to encounter slippery roads, bicyclists riding on ice, or just an awful case of the shivers. That’s one of the things I love about living in a city with the option of such prominent public transportation. Life doesn’t stop in the winter due to transportation obstacles, it just gets cozier.

—Jessica Rosenberger, 25, Chicago IL



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