Federal funding for accessible transit is just the start.
On August 23, the federal government announced nearly $500 million in funding, in part for accessible transit. As a woman with multiple disabilities who is a wheelchair user, this funding cannot come soon enough.
Here’s the harsh reality: less than half of Toronto’s subway stations are accessible. But that access issue alone only scratches the surface of how the transit system is broken. There is the all-too-frequent event of broken ramps that regularly fail to deploy; this is often met with drivers who shrug their shoulders and promise that another bus is coming. (Whether or not another bus comes is anybody’s guess.) Inaccessible bus stops leave some folks, especially those with mobility devices, exposed to the elements for long periods of time. Subway platform discrepancies mean that some people with mobility devices can’t use the subway because their equipment can’t make it over the gap while boarding.
A lesser known but insidious problem when riding the TTC is that many bus stops on TTC routes are deemed “inaccessible” by the City when they are determined not to have enough space so as to declare it an accessible stop. But for many people with disabilities, these are the closest stops to their destinations, and the transit rider with a disability must make it work. Regardless, current City standards deem that TTC staffers cannot drop disabled riders off at these stops, citing “safety concerns.” In these cases, the TTC fails to hear our voices, and rejects our needs.
A bus stop that I travel to a minimum of twice a week for work is one such “bus stop.” On one June morning, a driver asked me which stop I was getting off at and when I said Eglinton at Rumsey Road, she refused to let me off. “That’s not happening, that stop is inaccessible,” she said to me. I explained to her that I get off at this stop several times a week and that it is safe for me to use. But none of my comments mattered. I was not being heard. That morning I was dropped off three bus stops away from my desired location. That meant more unexpected travel time for me, more physical obstacles to contend with along a narrower travel path, and much less safety.
But such incidences are not uncommon for me and other disabled bodies. Two years prior, my request to get off a bus at my required stop was denied, as was the request of another transit user with an electric wheelchair. Both of us were held up for 45 minutes while the rest of the riders were let off due to a dispute on board the bus. When the driver put the bus out of service, he once again refused to let us off and instead drove us around town with TTC constables behind us asking him to stop the bus. I did not feel safe during that incident.
I know what is safe for me. Disabled people know what is best for them. It is indisputable: the TTC needs to do better when it comes to accessible transit.
Violence also remains a major issue for those riders on the margins. Since 2010, assault is the second-most reported crime on the TTC, and women have continued to call for action regarding sexual assault on commutes. Several activists and organizations—myself included—are calling for a gender-specific lens to improve public transit in Toronto, especially to increase safety measures for transit users for those vulnerable groups, such as women with disabilities. These calls to action for a safer, more inclusive transit service are crucial to a growing major city.
In the absence of an equitable transit system there will always be a great number of Torontonians (disabled and able-bodied alike) who can’t get to work, school, daycare, medical appointments, and important events in the city. In turn, many commuters are left within a state of disconnection to city happenings and important services. This is a social determinats of health and health equity issue.
There is still much work to be done, and federal funding is only a start.
My struggle with so-called “public transit” is a daily event. I can’t get around it. I can’t go under it. It is my hope that in writing this, these issues get the awareness and attention they deserve.