Mayor Tory experiences 'perfect storm' of challenges on subway ride without air conditioning

Toronto Mayor John Tory said his ride on a subway car without air conditioning Wednesday was "a perfect storm" of challenges that gave him a sense of what a commute can be like for a TTC rider.

Coun. Josh Colle joked earlier that ‘mayor’s hot subway car ride sounds a bit like a bad B movie’

Mayor John Tory and Bianca Spence emerge from Kipling subway station Wednesday after riding in a car without air conditioning on a sweltering day. (Linda Ward/CBC)

Toronto Mayor John Tory said his ride on a subway car without air conditioning Wednesday was "a perfect storm" of challenges that gave him a sense of what a commute can be like for a TTC rider.

Tory rode Line 2 from Kennedy to Kipling stations with Bianca Spence, who issued a Twitter challenge to the mayor in July after enduring sweltering subway rides during her commute. 

"It was a perfect storm that came about to experience not only the discomfort, which was considerable, of being in a hot car, but also the experience of a transit system that was experiencing on that particular day and that particular time delays," Tory told reporters at Kipling station, after emerging from the subway more than half an hour late.

The pair was not only on a "super-hot" car, as Spence described it to reporters. But they also got stuck in a tunnel during one delay, and had to get off the train a couple of times, she said.

The car was crowded, and there was also a medical emergency on the train, she said.

"It was really bad," Spence said, adding that at least the mayor got the full experience of what some commuters endure.

"It was absolutely perfect for what I wanted him to experience," she said.

"I couldn't have ordered a better day."

Earlier Wednesday, Coun. Josh Colle visited CBC's Metro Morning, and joked about the mayor's ride.

"'Mayor's hot subway car ride' sounds a bit like a bad B movie," Colle said.

Tory said he has been working with the TTC on getting repairs to air conditioning completed, and said the system "will do better next year and going forward."

Rocket trains the best solution

TTC riders have been particularly upset this summer at the lack of air conditioning on some subway cars during what's been a hot and humid season. Wednesday marks the 38th day this year that temperatures have been above 30 C in the city, according to CBC meteorologist Jay Scotland.

The forecast high for Wednesday is 33 C, but will feel like 41 with the humidity.

The air conditioning on nearly 25 per cent of subway cars is either broken outright or not functioning at full capacity, according to the TTC. These cars have been in service on Line 2, the Bloor-Danforth line.

The cars cannot be taken out of service all at once because all the cars are needed during peak service periods, the TTC said earlier this summer.

Repairs are ongoing and a TTC spokesperson said the issue should be resolved by next year.

On Wednesday, TTC CEO Andy Byford said employees are working overtime to get repairs done as quickly as possible. The transit agency is even bringing in retired HVAC specialists, he said.

"We intend to get this fixed sooner rather than later," Byford told reporters. "And every day we are putting out more cooler cars than the day before."

In the interim, the TTC is making sure that cars with broken air conditioning that have to remain in service are spread out across trains, to minimize the number of hot cars per train.

Byford also called Tory's morning ride "a laudable gesture. It showed the mayor cares about his constituents, the people of Toronto."

Tory said Wednesday there are numerous challenges to getting air conditioning fully functional, including the fact that older cars take longer to repair. He also noted that older cars only have one unit, so when it breaks down the car is left without any source for cooling.

But the TTC is looking at ways to get more air conditioning units functioning during the months when they are badly needed, including taking care of the bulk of repairs over the winter months, Tory said.

"The objective is going to be to have all air conditioning units all the time."

Ultimately, though, the issue will be best resolved when the transit agency can afford to get the new Rocket trains running along Line 2, as they do on Line 1.

'I didn't give up'

Last month, Tory's staff announced that the mayor had accepted Spence's challenge.

"I just thought the mayor would want to see what it is like, because I know sometimes people say, 'How bad could it be' and it's pretty bad!" she said last month.

When Spence didn't hear back at first from the mayor's office, she kept pushing.

"Another heat advisory day would come up, and I'd retweet it again, and there was nothing ... and I think it just got really absurd, and I just didn't give up," she said at the time.

While she didn't expect to go for a subway ride with the mayor, Spence said Wednesday she hopes that any citizen with a big problem that affects numerous residents could get his ear. She denied that she's a hero to the city's commuters.

"That's really an exaggeration," Spence said. "I'm just a regular warm, sweaty, disgruntled commuter. I'm just like everybody else. I spoke up to the point of absurdity on behalf of my fellow commuters."

In the end, she hopes the experience gave the mayor an idea of what it's like on the transit system, and that the experience helps Tory and others make more informed decisions.

"I hope it informs any decisions that he might make going forward as it pertains to inequities in the quality of service across the service, as well as any proposed efficiencies or cuts that he might be asking the transit system to make," she said.

With files from Kate McGillivray