Wheel-Trans users fear new program will force them to use inaccessible TTC

Late Wheel-Trans buses, broken escalators and a new pilot program that links Wheel-Trans and the TTC were all up for discussion at Tuesday's Forum on Accessible Transit.

TTC hears concerns about long waits and inaccessible stations at annual meeting

Michele Gardner (centre) and Robert Muzzy (right) say broken elevators make it difficult to ride the TTC. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC)

Michele Gardner never uses the TTC. Not because of delays or overcrowding, but because it scares her.

"I really don't like using the regular transit, especially because I know that it's not fully accessible," said Gardner.

Gardner is in an electric wheelchair and has been using Wheel-Trans, TTC's door-to-door service for people with mobility issues, since 1987.

She says she doesn't want to be forced into using buses or subways, and that's one of the reasons why she came to the TTC Forum on Accessible Transit.

The annual event drew about 300 people to the Beanfield Centre at Exhibition Place. It's intended to highlight any concerns or questions people have about the accessibility of the TTC or Wheel-Trans.

The TTC's annual accessibility meeting drew about 300 people. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC News)

Gardner's anxiety about being forced to use the TTC comes from the arrival of  the new Family of Service Pilot Program, which merges Wheel-Trans and regular subways and buses. 

Instead of being picked up from one location in adapted bus and taken to their destination, Wheel-Trans users are driven to the nearest TTC route where they continue their trip using public transit.

Broken elevators, escalators a concern

At the moment, the Family of Service Pilot Program is voluntary, but that could change.

"If the mainstream conventional system was fully accessible, I could see them expecting more people with disabilities to move off of Wheel-Trans and into the conventional system," said David Lepofsky, Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

"But when you get put on a system where the elevators or escalators may not work, it makes things worse," he said. 

Robert Muzzy uses an electric wheelchair and frequently rides the TTC, but he doesn't think that's a viable option for everyone. 

"You shouldn't be forced to use the TTC," said Muzzy. "Sometimes you get somewhere and the elevator is broken down and you have to figure out where you're going to go. You have to back track or you're stuck." 

David Lepofsky is a lawyer and disability rights advocate. (Natalie Nanowski/CBC)

The TTC says it's actively working on upgrading old elevators and installing new ones. Currently 34 of the 69 stations are accessible.

"St. Clair West has just had another elevator open," said Andy Byford, CEO of the Toronto Transit Commission. "We also have Coxwell and Woodbine [stations] under construction at the moment."

All stations accessible by 2025

Byford added that the TTC is on track to meet its 2025 target of making all subway stations accessible.

Another issue brought up at the meeting was late Wheel-Trans buses. 

"I'd say most of the time they're late picking me up or dropping me off," said Gardner. "I've had a specialist appointment at Sunnybrook Hospital and the bus was over an hour late... I missed my appointment."

Other concerns raised included long telephone waits to book a Wheel-Trans ride and gaps between the subway cars and platforms, which make the trains inaccessible for some.

The TTC said it's working to fix these issues by installing a new phone system, improving the platforms, and finding ways to ensure drivers are on time. 

Byford says issues discussed during the meeting are later examined by the TTC.