There was a huge crowd at Tuesday night’s public forum about making the TTC better for people with disabilities. Hundreds of riders of the TTC and Wheel-Trans showed up, as did more than 40 senior staff and most transit commissioners.
For me it was a night of contrasts. The turnout was impressive, but this event happened only because the TTC lost two human rights rulings for not providing stop announcements. It’s clear GTA transit agencies need to go out and meet their customers more often, especially customers who are less mobile.
It also struck me early in the public discussion that, despite hundreds of millions of dollars having been spent improving access, there are still some basic barriers to getting disabled riders onto the TTC.
After much expense in designing and purchasing low-floor buses, it can be very difficult to fit electric scooters inside. Another huge obstacle for handicapped riders is the treatment they get from drivers or other passengers when boarding, especially when vehicles are crowded.
Many in attendance praised Wheel-Trans, but worried the service would be cut back once the conventional TTC system is outfitted with more elevators and low-floor vehicles. There were compliments about improvements to Wheel-Trans dispatching — but also serious complaints about how long it can take to reach a human being.
In contrast to a stereotype that disabled advocates can be demanding and unreasonable I noted a tendency to great patience Tuesday night, including those who waited hours to board homebound vans and taxis.
Speaking of accessibility aids, last week I wrote the TTC had installed automatic stop announcement devices on all its surface vehicles. Glen Takeda of North York alerted me the system wasn’t working on some buses and the TTC’s Rick Cornacchia replies that the newest hybrid buses did not arrive with this equipment — but TTC workers are currently outfitting about 10 a day. These vehicles could be done by “the end of June,” he says.
Labour update: TTC union head Bob Kinnear confirms that representatives for workers and management will meet with arbitrator Kevin Burkett this weekend.
However, Kinnear disputes claims made by TTC chief general manager Gary Webster in my May 14 column (see metronews.ca). Despite Webster’s comments, Kinnear says there were indeed “substantial” discussions about proposed plastic shields for drivers during recent contract negotiations. Kinnear says a signed document shows the TTC previously agreed that employees would have the option of using the barrier. The transit agency now plans to require that drivers keep the shields closed, claims Kinnear.
He also insists the recent tentative contract (later voted down by employees) guaranteed operators the highest wage in the GTA, regardless of the outcome of another contentious arbitration: Drivers and collectors have been waiting years for job evaluations that could also result in higher wages.