Paru le mardi 11 janvier 2011 sur The Toronto Star
The bus doesn’t stop here anymore
Published On Tue Jan 11 2011EmailPrint
Sharon Fenton, who has MS and uses a wheelchair, prepares to board a bus at the end of her street on Victoria Park Ave.
Colin McConnell/Toronto Star
When Mary Caruso asked the bus driver to let her off at her usual stop at Lawrence Ave., E., and Victoria Park last Tuesday, he explained that he shouldn’t be doing so because it’s not wheelchair accessible. But he did so anyway.
Caruso, 52, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a power wheelchair, says she would have thought he was joking, except that the week before another bus driver — not so obliging — told her he would never again let her off at her Don Mills library branch for the same reason.
She has used both stops “hundreds of times,” she says. “I was shocked, because I had been getting off there so many times. It was a matter of him moving up two feet.”
Caruso is not alone in her frustration. Three patrons of the TTC who use wheelchairs have told The Star in recent weeks that they’ve recently been told by drivers they can no longer use stops they’ve used for years. The transit commission says there has been no directive to drivers to account for this apparent flurry of complaints. (Last year the commission received 13 complaints from customers denied entry or exit at inaccessible stops.)
A quick primer on the TTC and wheelchair accessibility: There are 169 bus routes on the TTC network, all but eight of which are accessible to people in wheelchairs. The buses on these routes have a mechanism that allows wheelchair access. These buses also have seating that can be flipped up to accommodate a wheelchair and a seatbelt that can be buckled for greater stability.
But on these 161 routes, 2,838 out of 9,149 stops are regarded as inaccessible because they do not meet the formal safety standard — a hard surface that’s 2.2 metres wide from the curb to the sidewalk.
And it is those stops — which do not have an accessibility sign posted — that are the source of the problem.
TTC drivers are encouraged to follow the access designation, says Gary Carr, chief engineer for the commission’s operations planning department: They should not use their discretion. “They are encouraged not to make that call, because there could be issues they are not aware of.”
The reality, of course, is that many drivers want to do what they can when they see someone in a wheelchair at a bus stop, whether or not it bears the accessibility label.
In the case of Sharon Fenton, 56, a strict adherence to the rules would mean that she would have to wheel her chair 15 minutes in one direction or the other on Victoria Park to get service instead of wheeling down to the foot of her street to a bus stop she’s used for years.
“I’m mentally capable of knowing if I’m safe or not getting on or off of a bus,” she says. “I know how to control my wheelchair.”
David Lepofsky, a Toronto lawyer who is blind, says access for the disabled remains patchwork throughout the city. “People with disabilities have to fight one street corner at a time, one bus stop at a time, one barrier at a time,” he says. He knows whereof he speaks, having won two human-rights cases against the TTC, forcing them to announce subway and bus stops. The TTC spent $450,000 fighting him.
The TTC’s wheelchair access rules contain a built-in paradox. Glenn Johnson, the commission’s senior planner for system accessibility, concedes that an individual with a stroller – no matter how big – can access any stop.
It is the city’s responsibility to attend to bus-stop upkeep and improvement — for accessibility and other reasons — and the TTC has provided a shortlist each year of the most urgent issues at highly used stops because of budget constraints, says Carr.
Until recently, the commission had to deal with staff at four districts in the city regarding inaccessible stops, bogging down the process. There was also little money to fix stops, says Carr. With money to upgrade so few stops, in the past they gave a higher priority to stops with higher usage.
Recently one person was appointed to oversee missing 2.2-metre hard surfaces at bus stops, making it easier to work with the city. There has also been more money budgeted. By the end of this year, the backlog of requested fixes will be made. “We are seeing a renewed priority by the city, in getting these platforms in place,” Carr says.
“If we know there is any single wheelchair user, then that stop becomes a priority,” Carr says.
Perhaps this news will be of comfort to Caruso, who is feeling frustrated her old familiar stop is now being denied her. “It’s like you’re giving me something, but you’re taking it away,” says Caruso. “I can use it, but I can’t use it,” Caruso says. As it is, she says many drivers have trouble lowering the ramps, making her wait sometimes for three or four buses. “I pay as well. I don’t think someone (able-bodied) put in our position would stand for that.”
Sharon Fenton says her only alternative is Wheel Trans, but a bus must be booked days in advance. “I’m not going to know Tuesday that I want to go shopping Thursday,” she says. “Why can’t I just be like someone else, that if I feel like going out I can just wheel out and get on the bus?”
And where does the provincial government fit in?
The McGuinty government’s transit plan, released for public comment in September, has not required city governments, including transit authorities, to retrofit inaccessible bus stops and stations or to make new roadside route stops fully accessible. But there was nothing in it to push accessibility in existing transit stops or stations or new ones in the future. Only a deadline when it has to be done.
Meanwhile, accessibility has been required by the Human Rights Code for years. The TTC has fallen short under that law, as Lepofsky’s cases in 2005 and 2007 have demonstrated. As he says, “The TTC is commissioned by the city. Their governing board is made up of city counselors. So maybe the city should talk to itself.”
Reach Barbara Turnbull at or @barbturnbull on Twitter