Over the past ten years of riding on the TTC, Toronto’s public transit system, I’ve noticed a steady increase in personal space in subways and buses. I don’t think it’s due to declining ridership; there are people left waiting for the next vehicle when the doors close. Back in the 90s, the subways were so crowded, many people were unable to hold the bars meant to keep oneself from toppling over. With nary a gap between bodies, this wasn’t as big of a problem as it might seem. Look at it this way — if a crate is completely filled with oranges, its contents cannot roll around. You had just better hope you and your neighbours don’t bruise like a peach or that one of you has cheeks with ample padding.
Nowadays, the subways and buses are less crowded. Areas near entrances remain cramped, but are still better than before. Why is this no longer the case? The small rise in baby strollers can’t be entirely to blame. An increase in inconsiderate people not moving away from entrances to make room for others may have a part, but vehicle entrances are still less packed than before and people are as pushy as ever to get in. Did SARS and H1N1 breed a culture of fear of being in close quarters to others? Or perhaps people are growing increasingly isolated and our sense of personal space is increasing; does this have anything to do with the Canadian propensity to say “sorry” after any unintentional bodily contact? Or could it be that we now feel entitled to more space, whether it be because of rising fares or changing expectations? Certainly, more people are using mobile electronic gadgets on the subway and thus leave buffer space in front of themselves. In any case, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the cause, even I am more comfortable with the rides.