When it comes to Toronto nightlife, there’s no experience quite like the TTC’s after-hours bus system.
“When it’s after 2 a.m., just go to sleep. Because the decisions you make after 2 a.m. are the wrong decisions.”
Here in Toronto, these are the decisions that result in having to take what’s known to night owls city-wide as the Vomit Comet. If you’re ever subjected to a ride on one of the TTC’s infamous Blue Night buses, you know you’ve been out too long doing things you probably shouldn’t be. Or, alternately, having a helluva good time. Even a 20-minute Blue Night trip doesn’t feel so much like a civilized means of public transit as it does a 12-hour Megabus ride to New York in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Or maybe a prison bus. Or a school trip where you’re the chaperone. (Seriously: Ativan, or alcohol, is required.)
The after-hours service was formally rolled out in the late-’80s, and the TTC currently operates 24 routes that are designated “Blue Night,” including streetcars on Queen and College streets. But in the nocturnal world of city transit, there are really only two hemispheres: the 300 Bloor-Danforth and the 320 Yonge Blue Night. In 2012, the beloved, begrudged service was on the transit chopping block, as it was the year before that, yet it always proves to be a “political hot potato” that is “likely to provoke outrage from the public,” especially since those making the cuts seem to like driving themselves around after dark. Still, the service is a part of us all. You know how to really show someone Toronto? Take them for a transit ride after the subways have closed.
Over the past few months, I bore the grim task of partying way past last call and eschewing cabs in the name of nostalgia, penny-pinching, and research. The following is a list of observations I’ve compiled from my recent experiences, as well as my memories from those earlier—and much blurrier—years when I was rich enough to buy a Metropass, but stupid enough not to own a bicycle. Here are 10 essential elements of the Blue Night:
1. People still want subways, subways, subways—and everyone is quietly whining about it in their heads.
For many, one of the great mysteries of this city remains the unanswered query about why the subways here don’t run all night. Gosh, Andy Byford, is that so hard? Turns out it kinda is. The nightly shutdowns have everything to do with our transit system needing constant attention. From 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., it’s time for regular maintenance and minor repairs, which require time-consuming safety protocols that result in a scant few hours of work. (On Saturday nights, workers get an additional three hours.) Our system doesn’t have “bypass” tracks like New York or London, so the whole thing needs to power down. “We do, however, provide a substantial night-bus network to accommodate riders when the subway is closed,” says Jessica Martin, a representative for the Toronto Transit Commission. The feasibility of going all night has been studied in the past, but clearly nothing ever comes of it, and riders just don’t believe it’s gonna happen.
2. New best friends, or something like it.
Normally, we ride transit in a controlled right to silence; friendly, unassuming, staring at our smartphones. At night, much like our tiny taverns, the bus morphs into a party. And what better place to make friends than a party? It is a wonder what happens when altered states of consciousness collide with a bus driver’s demand that we all get tight. In the span of 30 blocks, or even 30 seconds, you’ll go from uncomfortable strangers to awkward acquaintances to twinsies separated at birth to fairweather Facebook friends—if you can remember each other’s names, of course. This alchemy is most commonly achieved between two people splintered off from their friend group in the only available seats. And, yes, prepare for life stories.
3. Disorderly passengers, a.k.a. drunken drama.
“Our two most common issues on these routes are disorderly passengers—intoxicated, rowdy, etc.—and unsanitary [conditions].” People sure love their public displays of aggression. “Hey man, what are you looking at?” is an all too familiar refrain, especially since cock-blocking and all that club adrenaline can’t be cooled off by a double cheeseburger alone. This is what I meant by prison bus. “A disorderly passenger could cause a delay if they are compromising safety. If they are, they would be asked to leave the vehicle or police may be called,” says Martin. Exhibit A:
4. And the vomit. Oh yes, the vomit.
Many (hopefully) won’t ever see the Comet’s namesake act transpire. But when they do, it appears they’re…shocked? Trust me, it’s never truly shocking until it happens on your Converse at 3:30 a.m. with a little bit of shin splash. Just sayin’.
5. And, of course, both of these factors contribute to delays.
“After speaking with bus division supervisors, we have determined that the average is roughly one delay per night [on Fridays and Saturdays] for unsanitary or disorderly customers,” shares Martin. That translates into a five-t0-30-minute stall if some dumbass tries to be a badass, or if a bus is taken out of service when something icky goes down—or comes up, for that matter. “Some nights there are [no delays], others, maybe three-to-four.” In my experience, it’s always Murphy’s Law.
On average, the TTC places a five-minute average on the frequency of the 320; it’s 10 minutes for the 300. Both routes also have some buses running a longer leg (to Steeles and Pearson, respectively), each with double the wait time due to alleged low ridership. “Frequency is determined by ridership,” explains Martin. “Fewer customers actually go all the way to Steeles, for example.” If, like me, you’ve ever found yourself on one of those trips to Finch, then you know buses are always teeming, especially throughout the winter. My suggestion would be to make the wait times shorter, because the bus going to Steeles will still hit York Mills anyway. Right?
7. The urge to kill, or at least seriously maim.
If only to get your hands on that bag of McDonald’s, or whatever trans-fatty piece of heaven everyone’s eating. (I like it much better when the bros just pass out in a puddle of their own drool.)
8. Tears, rarely of the “joy” variety.
People sure can work themselves up into a frenzy and then talk about it for your entire trip—working your last nerve in the process. “I told him I was 19, and he was, like, oh god,” says one girl, crying on her BFF’s lap in one of the single seats. “I really liked him, and he wouldn’t talk to me. Why wouldn’t he talk to me? Whyyyy?” Another dude offers up this overheard gem: “Don’t jump in a mosh pit if you don’t wanna get f@#%ing punched in the face.”
9. And if there are no tears, there’s usually shame.
Years ago, when I blew all my money at an all-night sketch-fest—sorry, I mean, a rave—at some loft off Sterling Avenue, I had only one way home to Jane station. At 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Wearing something utterly unsavoury. Feet firmly not in this reality. Without sunglasses. I soooo deserved every single one of those stares and prayers. (And I know I’m not alone. I’m happy to see many kids have taken my place.)
10. But then you get to see “real Toronto.”
The Vomit Comet represents both the city unwinding and being rewound. Those people heading to early morning jobs on the weekends; shift workers making the various elements of the city function at all hours. The holy, on their way to church. People coming home to their kids. Bouncers and bar staff at C-list establishments airing their grievances. Musicians and laptop DJs basking in the glow of another night in which they got paid for having fun. And our dear, loyal TTC drivers, who keep on truckin’. Just like us.
Bars may come and go, but the Vomit Comet is forever. (Or at least until, I predict, the 2100s.)
What’s your favourite/scariest Vomit Comet memory? Let us know in the comments section below.