Overlooked Election Issues: TTC Accessibility
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Overlooked Election Issues: TTC Accessibility

Thousands of seniors and people with disabilities rely on the TTC to get around, but it doesn't have the funding to meet its accessibility requirements.

As part of Torontoist’s election coverage, this week we’re focusing on important issues that haven’t received much attention during the campaign. Today, we look at TTC accessibility and the obstacles the transit agency faces in meeting its requirements.

In 2009, council passed an important motion that might have been taken for granted by people who do not face accessibility obstacles in their daily lives.

The motion affirmed the City’s commitment to meeting accessibility requirements and recognized that “diversity our strength” includes people with different abilities. The motion included the following:

The City of Toronto is committed to building an inclusive society and providing an accessible environment in which all individuals have access to the City’s services and programs in a way that respects the dignity and independence of people with disabilities.

Despite the City’s clear statement about providing accessible services, the TTC has a major gap in its budget that will make it unable to meet its requirements under the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act by its provincially legislated deadline in 2025.

On its website, the TTC lays out the problem plainly: “The TTC cannot make all subway stations accessible by 2025, unless full funding is made available.”

The projected total cost of TTC accessibility initiatives—including retrofitting stations with elevators, escalators, and curb ramps—is $480 million.

The problem the TTC faces is that half of that $480 million is currently unfunded, and there is no indication of where the remaining $240 million will come from. The TTC and City staff are lobbying Queen’s Park in order to highlight the importance of the issue: as accessibility is a provincially mandated requirement, they argue the City should receive assistance—but considering the provincial government is struggling with its own budget woes, action does not appear imminent.

In the meantime, the TTC says accessibility upgrades scheduled for 2020–2025 can’t be funded as things stand now. That means 17 of 69 stations would fall short of provincial standards: Greenwood, Wellesley, Lansdowne, Keele, College, Spadina, Chester, Christie, Castle Frank, Summerhill, High Park, Museum, Rosedale, Old Mill, Glencairn, Warden, and Islington.

Some of these stations, such as Warden and Islington, have very complex needs. Work on Islington Station is projected to cost $17 million, in large part because the entire bus bay section of the station, in which there are several sets of stairs for different bus routes, will have to be reconstructed. Projects at other stations may require land acquisition in order to make planned alterations work.

In various mayoral forums, John Tory and Olivia Chow have pledged to address this issue: Tory has said he would find savings through better management of other capital projects, and Chow has said she would fund accessibility improvements with the money currently earmarked for the proposed Scarborough subway extension.

Two significant underlying issues inform the question of TTC accessibility. One is that the related financial challenges are part of a larger funding problem involving the TTC’s capital needs: the underfunded transit agency must scramble to choose which priorities it can fund—accessibility, safety, purchasing vehicles—and which it will have to defer. This structural problem is reflected in the TTC’s massive, unfunded, $2.7-billion state-of-good-repair backlog.

The other significant issue is that despite the City’s limited financial capacity, council manages to find money for issues when it feels they’re important enough. After all, it managed to vote to increase property taxes and development fees by $910 million over a 30-year period in order to fund a Scarborough subway extension, despite an existing LRT plan.

Council has previously stated that its commitment to an accessible, equitable city speaks to the values of the city as a whole. It won’t be easy to find the $240 million—the equivalent of a 1 per cent property tax revenue increase for 10 years—needed to fund TTC accessibility.

But mayoral candidates shouldn’t just be talking about what is easy or convenient. They should be speaking about what’s important, and making the City accessible for all Torontonians should be a priority.