Stuck in Traffic: Two women's battle for a bus shelter

For large companies with locations in downtown Toronto, the lure of moving to the suburbs is strong. Cheaper land and lower taxes are among the top motivators.

CBC's weeklong series 'Stuck in Traffic' looks for solutions to GTA's increasing gridlock

Deborah Forde and Cassandra Sarwan have appealed to Mississauga Transit to build a bus shelter. They used to have an easy commute to work before their employer moved the company to Mississauga. (Mary Wiens/CBC)

For large companies with locations in downtown Toronto, the lure of moving to the suburbs is strong. Cheaper land and lower taxes are among the top motivators.

Many of these businesses, from banking call centres to corporate headquarters for companies such as Pepsi Co. and Wal-Mart, are increasingly setting up shop in businesses parks. These are large groupings of offices in suburban locations, surrounded by parking lots, reachable often only by car.

But how do employees without a vehicle get to a workplace that has, at best, a tenuous connection to transit?

As part of the CBC series Stuck In Traffic, CBC’s Mary Wiens spoke with two call centre workers — Cassandra Sarwan and Deborah Forde – to learn about their struggles making a daily commute from west Toronto to the fast-growing Meadowvale Business Park in Mississauga.

This week CBC Toronto focuses on traffic and looks for solutions to our increasing gridlock. Listen to Metro Morning, and watch CBC News Toronto for stories from Mary Wiens and Steve D'Souza.

It’s a daily journey that gobbles up two hours of their day and takes them across two transit systems.

Even getting one small comfort to make their daily commute a little better – the addition of a bus shelter at the stop near their office – has proven to be an ordeal.

Sarwan and Forde found themselves caught when their employer – they work at a call centre for BMO – moved from a location across the street from Islington subway station in the west Toronto neighbourhood of Etobicoke to the Meadowvale Business Park.

Getting to work used to be a breeze. Now it’s a battle. Instead of stepping off the subway at Islington station mere metres from their office, the pair must wait in the cold for the No. 82 bus without so much as a shelter to protect them from the elements.

The business park is located just south of Highway 401 and east of Winston Churchill Boulevard.

The location is served by Mississauga Transit. When the bus does arrive it’s packed, forcing many passengers to stand after a long day at work.

"It’s very cold in the winter," Forde told CBC. "We’ve been trying for a bus shelter and we haven’t gotten one yet."

"It only runs at certain periods," explains Sarwan about the bus service. "So let’s say you have a doctor’s appointment, you’re out of luck. Got to take the day off? You can’t leave. You come there in the morning and you can’t leave until the bus comes in the afternoon."

At the bus stop: gimmie shelter

Forde has waged an email campaign with Mississauga Transit, trying to get a bus shelter at the stop they use on Argentia Road. It’s been a three-year battle and still no shelter, though Mississauga Transit says it’s possible they could get one next year.

Forde and Sarwan spoke with Wiens near the office’s former location. They spoke about how the company justified moving the business to its employees.

"They really up-sold us on how easy it is and convenient and efficient and everything else, but all we’ve experienced since being [at the new location] and using the transit has been a disaster."

And increasingly new office jobs are moving to remote locations, away from more expensive real-estate in the downtown core.

Part of the problem with the transit connection is that Forde and Sarwan have to use two systems – Toronto’s and Mississauga’s — to get to and from work.

The trip over two systems means they pay two fares. The daily commute cost them $12 each.

So why not just switch jobs? Both women say they have 20 plus years with the company, which means any move would be too costly.

"I’ve put in 25 years," said Deborah. "At this point in time, I’m not going to quit and start all over at another job. I’m going to follow my company until I’m ready to retire."

Forde and Sarwan joined ranks and united over the fight to get a transit shelter erected at the corner of Argentia Road and Century Avenue.

"It’s windy, very windy, and it’s cold," said Forde. "You can’t have enough clothes on."

13 new shelters yearly

Sarwan said she and Forde became fast friends in their battle against the elements and Mississauga Transit.

"I’m just flabbergasted," said Forde. "It’s not like we’re asking for the world, it’s a bus shelter. A piece of Plexi-glass."

So why no shelter? As is almost always the case with transit, it comes down to money. Mississauga’s budget allows for only 13 new shelters a year.

There are signs of change.

By this fall the first phase of the BRT (the bus express lane now under construction) will connect Mississauga’s City Center to the TTC at Islington station. And business is finally becoming part of the discussion. This summer the city of Mississauga is sitting down with businesses to talk about what transit is needed.

Companies like BMO are offering to pay for their own transit shelters and some companies are running their own shuttle buses. But for now, people like Forde and Sarwan are pioneers, taking buses to work in business parks designed for cars.

Business Park Badlands

Learn how business parks are contributing to traffic across the GTA.