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‘Big Race’ YouTube series highlights GTHA transit woes

Pregnant student Kendell Duthie smiles after completing 'The Big Race.' Courtesy The Big Race.

Unless you’re lucky enough to walk to work, the commute can be a hassle, but how bad can it get?

Students at Centennial College had some idea and they’ve filmed a YouTube series called The Big Race that illustrates just how difficult it is to get around the GTA. The topic couldn’t be timelier as the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and the province grapple with ways to pay for Metrolinx’s 25-year Big Move plan to reduce gridlock.

“What’s wrong with commuting? Where do we begin?” Meaghan Savage, who was part of a group that came up with the concept, told CityNews.ca.

“Congestion is a huge topic but what we focused on was people who had no other option but transit, and who needed to run errands with large bags or take strollers on the TTC,” Savage said.

The Big Race follows three Toronto residents, pregnant student Kendell Duthie, activist Dave Meslin and Mitzie Hunter, CEO of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, as they race across the GTA using the TTC.

The goal is to complete the assigned course as quickly as possible. Some, like Hunter, had a stroller, while others had laundry bags or groceries. There were checkpoints, like dropping off a “child” at daycare, and all contestants had to pick up luggage and take it through Union Station at rush hour.

Watch the trailer below or click here to view it.

Duthie was five and a half months pregnant and also had her two-and-a-half year old daughter in tow for the competition.  She said after living in New York City and London, Toronto’s transit system was a shock.

“I don’t mean to sound, you know, not nice, but when my husband and I first looked up the subway map, we were shocked. We didn’t understand how a city this big could have basically only two lines,” Duthie told CityNews.ca.

“There’s no journey planner,” she said, adding London has put a huge amount of investment into its website that makes the system easy to navigate, especially in comparison to Toronto.

Idea started in classroom

The idea for The Big Race was conceived as part of a class project on social justice and public transit.  The YouTube series by Savage’s group– other members are Nadine Bukhman, Belinda Dodaro, Giulianna Fericelli, Juliet O’Farrell and Igor Rakic – was judged the best among 16 other projects.

“It was inspired by all the crazy things you see on transit, or have done. One person in our group even had a microwave on the TTC because she didn’t have a car,” Savage said.

The projects were judged by Hunter, Metrolinx’s Mathew Bertin and Gabriel Bedard of the Global Centre for Equity at Centennial. Savage’s group then worked with other Centennial students to film, produce and market the series.

Mitzie Hunter, CEO of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance, is filmed by a camera crew during ‘The Big Race.’ Courtesy of The Big Race.

Since the competition, Metrolinx has been helping with funding and logistics, such as getting permission to film on the TTC. Hunter participated in the challenge, using a stroller to highlight accessibility issues like the lack of elevators.

Duthie said participating in the challenge gave her a new appreciation for working parents, as her family has one car and rarely uses the TTC during rush hour.

“The construction at Union Station made the platforms narrow, which was difficult with a stroller and the boards made it difficult to see the signs. TTC employees had to point me in the right direction because the signage was lacking,” Duthie said.

Once she made it onto a streetcar, she couldn’t believe how busy it was.

“It wasn’t that people didn’t offer me a seat — the streetcars were so packed no one could see to offer me a seat. I was shocked at how busy it was at 8:30 a.m. on a week day. And I didn’t wait long for a streetcar — this is how frequent they have to be to keep up with demand,” she said.

Metrolinx, Ontario’s transportation agency, is in the midst of a major transit overhaul for the GTHA, where the average commute is pegged at 82 minutes a day. The Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance argues commuters could shave 32 minutes off their commute if Metrolinx’s $50 billion, 25-year plan for new transit infrastructure was implemented.

Duthie, for her part, said she was “positive” she didn’t win the competition.

“Well, I shouldn’t say that, but I know we were all late. We all missed our target deadlines, based on [the times given by] the TTC’s trip planner. I was 45 minutes late.”

The winner will be revealed at the end of the eight-week show. The Big Race premieres on April 17 and a new four-minute episode will be revealed every week after that.