Urban Minds
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Urban Minds

The Accessibility Issues within Toronto

It’s easy for me to get around the city without much of a hassle by using public transport. But what about travellers with accessibility needs? That is a question that normally wouldn’t cross my mind until I saw a skinny escalator at a station that would never be able to fit two people beside each other, let alone a wheelchair. The TTC’s transit system currently does not welcome travellers with accessibility needs. Going about the city, Toronto’s public transit continues to operate with inaccessibility and inadequate regulations.

Last year, I wrote about how our transit system affects housing. Transportation becomes less of a concern for those with higher incomes since they have a greater likelihood of being able to move around for their job. This year, I’d like to talk about how transit affects the ones who need it the most, the ones who have a hard time accessing the same places I do, through affordability. Income and dependence on accessibility within public transit go hand in hand, for reasons I’ll talk about within this post.

Let’s start with how the inaccessible transit system brings down travellers with disabilities in the first place. Barriers to mobility have deeper causes. Two-thirds of all the people with disabilities in a study reported major transportation problems had incomes under $35,000. As income increased, reported transportation problems dropped. According to both the U.S. Congressional Budget Office and the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Aging (1970), they deduced that nearly all transportation problems amongst the elderly and people with disabilities were related to income alone. What this essentially means is that transportation problems dropped with rising income. Even with age, disability, and health status as control factors, the change is dramatic in all groups. Lower income is an obstacle for travellers with accessibility needs because they have fewer options. The luxury to be able to afford a car is one that isn’t available for them, so their available option is public transit. When the TTC has services that aren’t working half the time, life can be considerably harder.

Secondly, inadequate regulations in the TTC affect travellers with accessibility needs. In Toronto, there are still many stations that are not wheelchair-friendly yet.

TTC’s subway lines look a lot barer when only accessible stations are included.

For example, out of the 31 stations on the Bloor-Danforth line, only 13 are wheelchair accessible. Why not all? The TTC directs their revenue towards other areas that need it more, like servicing, paying their employees, and line expansions. I’d like to believe that regulations are adequate when it comes to training our bus drivers when I see the Wheel-Trans buses. But for underground trains, I wouldn’t feel safe getting on and off the connected metal carts. The helplessness that the elderly and people with disabilities experience is another factor that prevents them from feeling welcome when taking public transport according to this study done by Sandra Rosenbloom. 57% of all respondents answered that they needed help getting access to transportation. The most common reasons given were because they had no car, limited transportation, or had no one to depend on. 21% of all respondents said that they didn’t want to ask for help. Others reported that their equipment doesn’t fit transportation, or that their disability makes using public transport difficult to ever use. These different factors all play a part in preventing people from having access to the rest of our beautiful city of Toronto.

Despite their efforts in offering services like Wheel-Trans, installing elevators in new stations, and training employees to provide assistance when needed to improve accessibility, the TTC still faces challenges that are outside of their control. The elevators are often out of service due to vandalism, where elevators across 10 TTC stations were out of service for a minimum of 4 weeks after being vandalized. TTC spokesperson Stuart Green says, “It’s a huge inconvenience to our customers, particularly people who have accessibility needs, if they’re using a mobility device or a walker, or maybe this time of year, they’re carrying a large package.”

Accessibility is a complex issue for a large public transit system like the TTC, and it will take a significant amount of time and resources to make the TTC truly accessible to everyone. There are more friendly-to-all stations to come, but it’s a hard-fought battle that comes with constant service maintenance closures, construction around the area, and more. With the ever accepting and developing city of Toronto that I call home, facilities are being built with accessibility in mind everywhere now and public awareness is increasing. I’m hopeful knowing that there’s more to come!

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Jessica Yuan

Jessica Yuan

Director of Technology at 1UP Toronto

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