Blackout crisis in frozen Toronto

Post by Eric Mang in ,

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Flickr photo by vgm8383

I woke up this morning and while getting ready, I flicked on CBC news. I was met with images of darkened west-end Toronto streets, cops wearing 50 layers of clothing directing early rush hour traffic at busy Bloor Street intersections, and reporters noting that the subway was down between Bathurst and Jane (the media initially reported St George to Jane, but the trains are running to Bathurst, and the latest update has them operating to Keele station) I knew I was going to have a long ride to work. Power was out in the west end of the city. A very minor version of the 2003 blackout.

Before leaving my house, I checked the TTC’s website and saw that shuttle buses were running between Bathurst and Jane. The buses ride along Bloor, one of Toronto’s busiest streets, stopping at every subway station along the way. Then I would get on at Jane and continue to Kipling. I’d get to work, but it would be a long haul.

When I arrived at Bathurst, the station was dark and packed. People were milling about, confused, annoyed and freezing. We stood in -18C for about five minutes before a shuttle bus arrived. About 100 people were a head of me, so I knew getting on this bus was hopeless. But I was optimistic that another would be along shortly. I heard people cursing, saw some shoving, the bus driver warned people to get out of the way. Anger simmered.

As more subways rolled in depositing more commuters on the Bathurst bus platform, we continued to wait for a bus. More frustration and ire roiled through the masses. Fifteen minutes passed and still no shuttle bus. I couldn’t feel my toes.

The woman behind me, who looked like someone’s grandmother, started dropping f-bombs in frustration. Twenty minutes passed. The crowd was getting surlier and nary a TTC employee was in sight. Rumour and conjecture began to circulate through the 500 or so people waiting for a bus. “A bus is coming every half hour”, “the TTC will be shut down all day”, “I heard power went out last night, but that Toronto Hydro restored it, so what’s going on.”

Half an hour elapsed and still no sign of a bus. My finger tips were numb. Even if a bus arrived in the next few minutes, I wouldn’t get on it or on the next two buses. I phoned the office and took a vacation day, knowing I wouldn’t get in until 11 am and would most likely have to contend with transit tumult on the way home.

I got home, checked the news and found that 100,000 Torontonians are without power. Mayor Miller is saying that it could be 18 to 24 hours from when the power went out at 10pm before hydro is restored. Miller is asking affected people to turn off their water and find ways to conserve heat. All this in the midst of a severe cold weather alert.

If you live in Toronto, warming stations have been set up at:

  • Metro Hall, 55 John St.
  • York Civic Centre, 2700 Eglinton Ave. W.
  • JJ Piccininni Community Centre, 1369 St. Clair Ave. W.
  • Castleview Wychwood Long Term Care, 351 Christie St.
  • Memorial Community Centre, 44 Montgomery Rd.
  • Harrison Pool, 15 Stephanie St.
  • Trinity Community Recreation Centre, 15 Crawford St.

Apparently the cause of this whole mess is a broken water main that flooded a transformer substation. While I agree that infrastructure dollars are needed to enhance TTC services (having regular shuttle buses this morning would have been nice), how about funds to fix up Toronto’s decrepit water-main pipes, 16% of which are made of spun steel and are rusting out. Last year, there were 1,300 water-main breaks in Toronto. Traffic jams as a result of burst pipes are an inconvenience. People frozen in their homes is a serious concern.

While my transit adventure was an irritant, everything is working fine in my east-end home. It’s my 100,000 fellow Torontonians that I’m concerned about. If the Mayor wants to get shovel-ready projects underway, how about addressing the $1.8 billion in backlogged water and sewer repairs.

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