Adham Fisher helps put Toronto on the subway map and brings smiles to town

Mary Marshall, having her picture taken by and with Adham Fisher, was one of dozens TTC riders delighted to meet the minor celebrity from Leicester, England.

By STEPHEN WICKENS

As meltdowns go, this was a fair display of British self-restraint.

The anguished shout rattled some folks on the Kennedy station platform and there was a peevish toss of the backpack. But if you’ve seen just a flash of the intensity Adham Fisher brings to a subway challenge, you too would have expected more.

Misled by a malfunctioning electronic sign, Fisher and I boarded a train on the north side of the island platform, only to hear door-closing chimes from the other side. The resulting four-minute delay killed any hope of breaking his day-old record for visiting all 69 of Toronto’s rapid transit stations — two hours, 46 minutes and one second.

Fisher appeared inconsolable and I kept silent, like I do when a ball shanked into a pond ruins a round for a golfing buddy. But 10 minutes and five stations later, the Leicester native was apologetic and back to poking fun at himself.

Adham Fisher takes lots of notes and pictures on his subway challenges.

“Most people would rightfully consider me absurd for losing my temper,” says Fisher, 27, who has garnered media attention with attempts to set records for speed-riding the subway systems of New York, London, Paris, Madrid, Chicago and Toronto. “I’ve been known to stew for days over a mistake like that.”

Others might consider Fisher’s interests and his subway obsession absurd altogether.  Among the places he wants to visit most in Canada is something called “the quadripoint“, where the borders of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories meet. Fisher, who makes his living arranging European camping trips for Formula 1 auto racing fans, says he has no interest in sports. He also says doesn’t read much, though he is involved in a music project and had hoped to have a forthcoming album out in time for his North American trip.
But odd or not, here’s a good man who has not only found what he likes to do, he does it. And as long as he can run between trains without crashing into people, he won’t be doing anyone any harm. Having spent a few hours talking with him, I can say he seems worthy of the goodwill this city has shown.
Only the “Tube Challenge” in London and the “Subway Challenge” in New York are recognized by Guinness World Records, but that doesn’t diminish Fisher’s commitment to setting the standard for Toronto’s relatively puny system.
Planning a challenge attempt involves research on the layouts of stations where he’ll switch vehicles. He keeps detailed notes telling him which doors to exit so he can be closest to the stairs. He needs to know the schedules of connecting services and, on this day, a key variable will be the bus options for getting from Don Mills station to the Scarborough Town Centre.
Before setting out, he takes a pee. “I don’t drink coffee and I can get by without much fluids,” he says at Downsview staion, before we ride all the way round to Finch.
En route, he must shoot pictures of every station and record to the second when the doors close at each. He also needs witness statements, one of which was provided by Celia Foster in the long tunnel between Eglinton West and St. Clair West.
“There are strict rules and regulations,” he says.
At Don Mills station, Fisher is concerned by the amount of time lost waiting for a 190 Rocket bus that will take us to Scarborough Town Centre. But he has a plan to buy time once we get to STC and runs like madman to McCowan station rather than go upstairs with me for an eastbound RT.
“I missed by about five seconds,” Fisher says, when my train pulls in and finds him waiting on the platform. If he’d caught that RT, there’s a good chance he’d have been three subway trains earlier and might not have made the fateful blunder at Kennedy.
“There was a knock-on effect with the wait for a bus at Don Mills,” he says, estimating that cost eight minutes. “If I’d made it at McCowan, I would have been in good shape. That’s probably where I lost it, not at Kennedy.”
In the end, at Kipling, we stepped onto the platform 11 minutes and 31 seconds off the pace, but still under three hours. Compare that with the nearly 23-hour commitment needed to conquer the Big Apple’s system.
But this would be Fisher’s last shot at the TTC for now. He’s off to subway-free Winnipeg to visit a friend before going to Chicago in hopes of reclaiming his mark for the CTA system.
Over candy bars at Kipling, he says he has been emailing with the people who broke his Chicago record. “I’m hoping we can have a shindig when I get there,” he adds.
Then we take a leisurely ride back through town, and more Torontonians, including TTC employees, continue to smile and point or come up and introduce themselves and wish good luck to this minor celebrity, who was front page of the previous day’s Metro and on Global TV’s morning show.
“I’m quite overwhelmed by the reception here in Toronto,” says Fisher, who professes not to be disappointed by the TTC’s subway. “Yes, the system does seem quite small for a city this size, but I’m just glad you have one.”

Us, too. And we’re glad you took to the time to visit.

TTC employees John Taylor and Steve Wilson were among those who greeted Adham Fisher and wished him luck on his subway challenge.

Surplus? What surplus?

By STEPHEN WICKENS

Apparently, Toronto is suddenly rolling in cash.

Politicians and newspaper columnists are blathering on about what this alleged surplus means, but few mention the most salient point. We were forced to piss away $420 million this year for interest on accumulated debt, making the latest surplus nothing more than dangerous illusion. It doesn’t matter whether your politics are left, right, middle or unaligned.
We made a big deal a few months back about restoring $19 million worth of services to the city budget. But this $420 million is a hidden-in-plain-view cut from services and it’s imposed by bondholders, not by council’s budget hawks. Key decisions are being made for us by credit markets, not elected officials.
What sane person would let the household mortgage principal rise each year?
We had better start paying down debt and making a big dent soon for two reasons.
1. Interest rates are at record lows and can go in just one direction. The only thing that will keep rates low is economic stagnation, and that’s hardly encouraging.
2. This ballyhooed surplus appears to be largely rooted in a hot real estate market. That might continue for some time, though a few reasonably expert types are calling the situation a bubble. I don’t think it’s that dire, what with the GTA population continually rising, but if there’s any significant correction in the real estate market, the sustainability of city revenue will be badly eroded.
If we get a correction triggered by rising interest rates, Toronto faces a double-whammy followed by a potentially spiraling credit crunch, further rate hikes because our debts will be seen as increasingly risky to lenders.
Just saying.