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There’s a chill in the air. Christmas lights are twinkling. Snow swirls and dances. Winter’s icy spell is cast. Quicker than you can say, “504 King: Detour westbound via Broadview Ave, Dundas St E and Parliament St due to a track problem,” taking public transit, a loathsome act even when the weather is fair, becomes much, much worse.

Commuters take heart!

There are ways to make your winter public transit trips less arduous. Though cars are Road Sage’s purview but I’m happy to shed the light wherever it’s needed. Here are some tips for navigating frigid trips by bus, streetcar and subway.

Allow for extra time

Delays are common during the winter, so it’s best to plan ahead and give yourself a little leeway. For instance, if you need to be at work by 8:45, try leaving at three in the morning. The extra five hours you give yourself should be ample to cover the inevitable subway shutdown, the non-existent shuttle buses and overcrowding. So what if you have to walk to work because you can’t get a taxi or an Uber? After a bracing walk, you’ll stride in brimming with pride at 8:42 a.m.

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Dress appropriately

Let’s face it, we live in a northern climate. Given the right set of circumstances, you could freeze to death waiting at the bus stop. The schedule says your bus will be there at 10:20. The schedule is a fickle master. It could be there, it could be late or it might have disappeared into a wormhole. Layer up! Sweaters, scarves, hats, gloves and a thick winter coat should do the trick.

Plenty of liquids!

Congratulations, you bundled up and you’re on the bus or subway. Get ready to endure what can only be described as a “death sweat.” All the warmth you’ve used to protect your body now turns against you. Outside it’s freezing, but you are surrounded by perspiring humans and are now encased in a slick, uncomfortable coating of malarial sweat. Ever wonder what it’s like to die of the Spanish Flu? Wonder no more. Thanks to all the layers you’re wearing, you’re halfway there.

Yes, that’s urine

Yes, that smell is definitely urine.

Touch not the pole without a glove

Masses of humanity crammed into poorly ventilated streetcars, subways and buses. Airborne viruses. Plagues. Pestilence. People who insist on going to work even though they are bleeding from their ears and their coughs are so severe they sound like asthmatic bagpipes. Public transit is just God’s way of saying, “Don’t touch anything ever.” What’s worse – placing your bare hand on that germ-infested petri dish of a handrail or freestyling it and risking splitting your head open if the driver stops suddenly? You decide.

Domino effect

According to Go Transit: “One late train delayed by just a few minutes can impact dozens of other trains. That means minor delays caused by winter weather can have a major impact on our service.” If you factor this with the reality that there will always be a delayed train, then you will conclude that there will always be “major impacts” on their and every other commuter train system’s “service.”

Be herd!

Cold weather increases ridership. Signal problems, snow-covered tracks, and assorted frozen infrastructure all exacerbate commuting problems. You will find yourself shoved into a mass of angry humanity. You will be told to squeeze, and be thanked for your patience by disembodied voices broadcast over outdated loudspeakers. Don’t think of it as an angry mob. Think of your new-found herd as a collective of a few thousand individuals bound together by shared misery and helpless frustration. You may make some friends. There is a rumour, for instance, that Toronto commuters may gather to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the great commuter debacle of January 31, 2019 when, during an extreme weather alert, subway service was suspended on the TTC’s Line 3 and Go Trains were delayed more than an hour.

Stay positive

Winter can’t last forever! Canada has four seasons. Spring (May 1 to 23), Summer (May 24 to August 29) Fall (August 30 to November 3) and Winter (November 4 until May 23). January and February will be icebound hellscapes. March will be cold with two days of slightly warm weather. April will torture you by flipping from glacial chill to temperate good humour. The beginning of May will be sunny but too cold not to wear a jacket. And then spring will be here! You can weather it.

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