Some Thoughts on Accessibility

Renee Knight sent in two comments that deserve their own thread:

Accessibility is an issue, that I don’t see a space for on the site. I’d really like to address issues of accesibility on the site.

It’s an area that the TTC is working on, but nowhere near fast enough, especially in the subway stations.
I understand that there are agreements with neighbouring realesate/businesses for elevators/escalators in lieu of space on TTC property for such, and also realize that in those situations the elevators/escalators are frequently out of service where they exist.

Try accessing Osgoode Station, St. Patrick, Union, Wellesley or Sherbourne Stations with a baby carriage, large suitcase, walker, or wheelchair. Some of these stations have their own escalators/elevators, but only have them going one way, others they are out of service so frequently, they might as well not even promote it being there.

We have a long way to go before our city is accessible to those with even mild disabilities, and mothers with strollers, let alone those with serious physical limitations.


And …

How many people can fit on a bus safely?

Far fewer on the new models supposedly designed to be more friendly for those with disabilities!

Also, these new accessible models are about as easy to stand on as an oversized skateboard with wonky wheels. Ever try to stand on one and keep your balance? Try doing that if you have a spinal disease, ribs wired together, or hip injury like I have! Try doing that if you are blind, walk with a cane or walker, have groceries to get home, or are simply frail or elderly and are getting knocked about by other riders trying to stay on their feet…

Did anyone at TTC test these vehicles out? I heard that the TTC was forced to buy these vehicles or get nothing new for the bus fleet. I am not sure if this is true, but I do know that ultimatums are never a good idea for purchasing anything, especially on the taxpayers coin!

While these accessible buses are designed to take wheelchairs, scooters…the majority of people who are not ambulatory take Wheel Trans, as when they get to the subway most of the stations cannot get them down to subway level or back to ground level. I know the TTC is working on this, but it’s going too slow to keep up with the population that is aging, having babies using stollers, even those travelling with suitcases down to Union Station will find the hoops one has to jump through to get from one station to the next, and finally into Union Station to be less than amusing entertaining…

Just for fun, go downtown and buy something large, that you cannot pick up and carry. Then put it in a cart, and see if you can get home on transit with it. Are there enough elevators, escalators…so that you don’t have to lug things up two flights of stairs to get down into the subway, and then between line transfers within subway system, and then bet back up to street level to take a bus or streetcar home. Now imagine doing that every day, like those of us with disabilities have to do! Not fun anymore, is it?

Like I have said before “the service is only as good as it’s weakest link!” If the link is weak to serve those who are ambulatory, and living with a disability, then other transportation options are chosen, purely from a safety perspective to prevent further injuries, though the options may be more expensive. If you find an alternative for part of the route, how likely is it that you’ll get on the TTC, and pay a fare for another leg of your trip.

Ridership loss! Exactly!

Steve:  I have not been impressed by the low-floor buses we have seen in Toronto.  They are an odd match of a fairly roomy, but small front half and a passenger-hostile upper gallery behind the centre doors.  I have trouble sitting for any length of time where I cannot stretch my legs and those upper seats just don’t work except for short hops.

The TTC has proposed an alternative seating layout in the next batch of buses with seats facing each other across the aisle, but this will further reduce the capacity in this area and remove many of the forward-facing seats.  I have written elsewhere about seating orientation, and it’s amusing to find the “solution” for the buses is to introduce even more perimeter seating.  Maybe the TTC figures that those whose backs don’t work well on such seating also won’t want to climb the stairs, and so the riders can hope to get one of the handful of forward facing seats “downstairs”.

As for escalators and elevators: 

The TTC tries to negotiate an accessible path to the surface through new developments at station sites, but in most cases has to retrofit elevators within their own stations.  Where the escalators or elevators in, say, an office tower are out of service, the TTC really doesn’t have much leverage to get them fixed.   

For a time here last year, I was tracking the frequency with which I encountered escalators that didn’t work, but I dropped that thread because, to the TTC’s credit, this was not happening anywhere nearly as often as a few years ago.  Elevators, however, are a problem because the people who need them really don’t have an alternative.

Imagine if stairways were closed as often the chaos that would ensue and the complaints the TTC would get.

If the TTC is going to be serious about accessibility, if they are going to all the trouble and expense of putting elevators in the stations to save on Wheel Trans costs, then these elevators have to work reliably.  As more and more stations have elevators, people will count on them working wherever they need them, not to be inexplicably out of service for days at a time.

19 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Accessibility

  1. I have noticed on the ttc’s latest buses, in the rear seating area, the wheel wells extend all the way to the way to the edge of the isle. This appears to be too wide to allow for an all perimeter seating setup, as the wells would interfere with seated passenger’s legs, and create a trip hazard.

    Something that I think could be done using the current design would be to get rid of the no legroom row of seats mounted up high on top of the wells. Then spread the seats mounted in front towards the back, to allow for at least a decent amount of legroom and easier access for passengers to the outer window seats. They also need to add more poles for standing passengers and for those trying to move around while the vehicle is in motion.

    I do not see why the wells need to be that wide; maybe it could be changed on the next order of busses.


  2. Reliability of built infrastructure is one important question. But as I have no explanations or solutions on that front, I will leave that portion of the subject to one side.

    The absence of new or redundant infrastructure, however, is a subject I think does need more attention, and on that I have many thoughts.

    At busy stations, it seems absurd to me that the TTC has failed in include redundant accessability. By that, I mean, at Yonge/Bloor there is only one elevator connecting the 2 platforms, if this goes out of service, its a huge hassle to lose the transferability for the disabled at the busiest stastion in the system. They at least have redudancy to the street at this station, with elevators at both the HBC exit and the XEROX centre (is it still called that?) exit.

    I imagine it would be cost prohbitive to build a back-up set of elevators at every station, but surely at the busiest stations, it only makes sense, as likely one elevator from a platform won’t be able to cope with routine demand anyway. Bloor, Union, St. George should all have redundant elevators. In some other stations a second elevator might be justifiable as part of a second-exit, this would be an accessability, convenience and safety feature.

    I’m thinking of Queen Street’s very busy north exit to Shuter/Eaton Centre, where elevators to the street can already be accessed through the mall.


    On the subject of escalators…..when did the TTC lose its policy of completing the escalator system? At one time, every station was supposed to get a continuous up escalator path; and a continuous down escalator path at all high-demand stations. I remember the project for an up escalator to street level at Museum which got canned a number of years back. It seems to me this too was a wise project. Not only enhancing accessability, but also, potentially capacity. It also provided the TTC could ensure one UP escalator always running when the other went down for service.

    Steve: Accessibility at Museum was planned as part of the ROM’s condo tower project currently on hold for redesign.


    I note that in the latest TTC agenda, Pape Station is set for a massive overhaul, but I see no reference to including a down escalator path. There is also no reference to the need to expand the capacity between the mezzanine and platform level which currently is a very dangerous chokepoint for passengers at this station during rush hour. Both of these issues should be addressed in any redesign of this station.

    As a further note, I saw no reference in the report to the future need to accomodate the Don Mills LRT???? Doesn’t that need to be taken into account?


  3. One thing that surprised me when I moved to Vancouver is the number of people in wheelchairs who use the regular buses, and not our Wheeltrans equivalent. All buses, even high-floor models, have wheelchair lifts, with the sole exception of the oldest trolley models.

    I suppose that once you get that kind of network coverage it just makes sense for the disabled to take a regular bus instead of waiting for the shuttle. The riding culture takes the increased usage into account: people in Vancouver would rather stand in the back than sit in the first 6 or so seats because it’s very likely they’ll be asked to accommodate a wheelchair or scooter at some point in their trip.

    I should point out that not all these disabled riders are going to the Skytrain (which totally ignores the West side), just as not all bus riders in Toronto want to go to the subway. I’m sure you would see similar increased usage in Toronto if the TTC put more money into an accessible network of surface routes rather than accessible routes to the subway.


  4. The Elevator at Kennedy station going from the mezzanine to the RT is out of service, the elevator from the Subway’s Centre Platform to the mezzanine is in working order.

    Steve: I use Kennedy Station regularly and frequently at least one of the escalators or elevators is out of service, although things are better than a few years ago when “one” would have been an understatement.


  5. In January I had a fall and broke my pelvis. Needless to say, recovery was not easy. My most dangerous situation with the TTC was using one of the narrow escalators at Queen station. Being on crutches, I was a little slow getting off at the top, and the person behind (with baggage) ploughed right over me.

    The narrow escalators are bad news. I am curious why they exist. Usually standardization results in savings on maintenance costs, so why have a few non-standard escalators?

    Steve: The narrow escalators date from the original Yonge subway that opened in 1954 (Eglinton to Union). Some of these have been replaced with new wider machines, but a few of the narrow ones remain.


  6. I have been told that accessibility in terms of bus routes is mainly the bus itself is accessible but not all the stops on the accessible route !

    In the city this may not be as much of an issue but in Durham here there are stops on accessible routes that I find completely unacceptable and I hope to see some one I am working fixed.

    Advisory committees are getting more vocal and that is a good thing.

    One thing I find funny, some Town councils out here are all in favour of something being done about the fact that full serve gas stations are slowly dissapearing and they are sending the resolutions all the way to Ottawa. It is easy for them to rubber stamp this because it is private business and it is not their own money that must be spent to accommodate.

    However these same groups will identify accessible issues in their own municipalities that need attention and it is a whole different ballgame— it is tax dollars this time and we can’t dare spend that!


  7. Just like Wrenkin who moved to Vancouver, I have noticed similar in Ottawa. I would be curious to know the current disabled rider stats for Toronto. When I left T.O. three years ago, I rarely saw anyone disabled on the TTC, whereas almost one out of three trips I take on OC Transpo has someone (or even two) who is disabled boarding a bus.

    I always felt that in T.O., a disabled passenger was made to feel like they were holding up the service (I saw a poor lady on her motored wheel chair take 10 minutes to get into place–not her fault, because those damned Orion highfloors with the lifts take a while to acutally lift, and there is a pole that supposedly protects the fare box in the way of anything wider than a thin person.

    Steve: I don’t think the TTC has any stats on the number of disabled riders who ride the regular service. I certainly have never seen any published.

    The high floors are gradually disappearing, but it is annoying that they still show up in off peak services, especially on the weekend. I was on a non-accessible high-floor just yesterday (a Sunday) on 54 Lawrence East, a major route. Once this year’s big order of low-floors arrives, the TTC will have no excuse for restricting the high-floors to rush hour only service.


  8. The high floors are supposed to dissappear from ALL Ontario systems by 2012 that’ll be interesting for OC Transpo, since their last order of high floors was in 1998, and they will only be fourteen years old by then.

    I wonder, therefore, if a) high floors with lifts are included, and b) will enough transit systems complain they will be short vehicles and ask the government for an extension to the retirement deadline.

    The per capita rate of accessible vs. high floor between the TTC and OC Transpo is a little bit in favor of OC Transpo. Better than 90% of off peak weekend runs are serviced by low floors. I am amazed to see how many GM New Looks and other high floors still operate in T.O. on the weekends. All of OC Transpos New Looks were retired this year (the Classics will dissappear within the next two to three years. Though I miss the old New Looks, I’m more than happy with accessible vehicles.

    TTC, you got some catching up to do.


  9. Most elevators now have posters giving people an alternate route to cope with a service outage. This is, of course, much better than providing no information, but the more awkward alternates highlight how many gaps there are in accessible coverage today.

    For example, someone arriving on a westbound train at Broadview and finding an out of service elevator is advised to:

    Reboard a Westbound Train to Bloor-Yonge Station.
    At Bloor-Yonge Station, cross to the other side of the centre platform, board an Eastbound Bloor-Danforth Train to Main Street Station.
    At Main Street Station, use the accessible features to access the bus platform.
    Board either a 62 Mortimer bus or a 87 Cosburn bus to Broadview Station.


    That’s probably an hour-long detour! Things are better where the next station over is accessible — e.g. Davisville and Eglinton’s alternate routes are much more reasonable — so redundancy within stations will be less of an issue when inaccessible ones are rare.

    As mentioned, the aging of the baby boomers means this issue will only become more mainstream, and accommodating them on the main system will be much cheaper than expanding WheelTrans service. However, new low-floor streetcars should be a big boost to transit accessibility downtown.


  10. Some comments/questions:

    (1) I’d note that the STM studied many configurations of Low Floor bus layouts in the latter 90’s. There is a Transport Canada report that shows the findings. (See the link:

    It doesn’t appear that the TTC availed themselves of this.

    (2) In the threads on the proposed new streetcar vehicles, I didn’t see anything about how these would be made accessible in case of on street loading. At least per ADA regulations, it seems that even with low floor vehicles, a lift or other device is needed when the vehicle in these cases.

    (From ADA Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles – §1192.71 General – (2) Vehicles designed for, and operated on, pedestrian malls, city streets, or other areas where level boarding is not practicable shall provide wayside or car-borne lifts, mini-high platforms, or other means of access in compliance.)

    Note – Level boarding is defined as having a maximum horizontal gap of 3″ and a max vertical displacement of 5/8″

    (§1192.73 Doorways.(d) Coordination with boarding platform. – (1) Requirements. The design of level-entry vehicles shall be coordinated with the boarding platform or mini-high platform design so that the horizontal gap between a vehicle at rest and the platform shall be no greater than 3 inches and the height of the vehicle floor shall be within plus or minus 5/8 inch of the platform height. Vertical alignment may be accomplished by vehicle air suspension, automatic ramps or lifts, or any combination.)

    Steve: There is considerable debate about how to make the streetcar system fully accessible in the sense of ADA. Any line on its own right-of-way will have a loading platform, but this is difficult to retrofit to lines on busy four-lane streets.


  11. Perhaps if they can ever institute a POP system, the TTC could start purchasing buses with the wheelchair ramps at the rear door. I hate to bring up the VIVA buses again, but they have their ramps at the rear doors and that arrangment appears to have several advantages. First, the rear doors are wider on those busses and second, it’s a straight shot into an open section of the bus so there’s no negotiating around the farebox. Also, the VIVA buses have a row of perimeter jump seats opposite the rear door so there’s a lot of open floor space back there. The jump seat are spring loaded to return to the up position, so they’re normally out of the way. One drawback with those VanHools is that there’s a step up to each seat except the perimeter jump seats and that seems to be a problem to people of limited mobility, especially the elderly.


  12. I fully understand the desire of those who have limited “mobility” for society to meet their “mobility” needs. However, I do not think that the correct way to do this is through “accessibility”. It is incredibly expensive to make a mass transit sytem fully accessible, and in a tight headway and overcrowded environment, not practical to accomodate wheelchair or scooter customers.

    Please let me emphasise – I am not heartless and fully support “mobility” for all. It would be cheaper for all, and more effective for the wheel chair bound, to encourage (through subsidy) Toronto Taxis to buy minivans and improve them with high roofs and lifts. The City could then subsidise those with mobility needs by paying the difference between a (negotiated by the City with the taxi drivers/owners) taxi fare and a TTC token. Metropasses could also be accomodated and subsidised accordingly.

    The Ossington bus, my local “accessibility” example was very crowded when GM Diesels (best buses ever) were running. Now the low floor Orions are on the route and the “availability” for anyone is challenged. I don’t think a person in a wheelchair at College and Ossington in rush hour has a hope of getting on this now diminished route. I don’t for a second deny that society owes “mobility” to all. However, the cost of pretending that the “differently abled” are the same as everyone else is prohibitive. We need to focus on the “equality of all mankind” from a rights perspective, (“mobility”) rather than pretending that all people have equal abilities.

    Steve: The issue of mobility affects not just those who require scooters to get around, but many for whom the high floor buses and streetcars pose a difficult if not impossible barrier. Subway stations without bidirectional escalators or elevators render that system useless to many riders and difficult for many others.

    As for subsidizing riders via taxis, that’s exactly what Wheel Trans does now.

    Whether you agree with it or not, “accessibility” is here to stay. Transportation is essential to allowing people to enjoy their lives, and long experience with “separate but equal” systems shows the disabled that they come a distant second.


  13. Steve,
    so assuming that 2015 – 2018 rolls around and we finally have a fully accessible surface fleet, will this be just cause to eliminate wheel trans and its cost?

    If not wouldn’t that defeat the purpose of all this investment in accessible initiatives?

    Steve: First off, there will still be the need for the subway to be accessible and that’s not cheap. Second, there are some passengers for whom getting to their local stop or station is physically impossible, and for them we will always need Wheel Trans.

    The more trips we can accommodate on the regular system, the less Wheel Trans will be needed to serve borderline riders and the more capacity will be available for those who really need it.


  14. I vehemently disagree with the last comment. A Wheel Trans or subsidized taxi ride is far more expensive than if the same person took a regular bus. Moving all the passengers from Wheel Trans onto regular bus service would be such a gigantic savings for the TTC that they could probably use the savings to sell bonds to start building Transit City.

    Wheel Trans is also not very flexible. With a regular bus, you just go wait at the bus stop whenever you want. With Wheel Trans you could have to book several days in advance, and I think the operating hours are limited. Subsidized taxi service would probably also require a long wait, as a taxi company may only have a couple of their vehicles doing it.

    Low floor buses benefit everybody, including healthy adults, by allowing people to board faster. The problem is that they do not hold as many passengers as high floor buses – which means service should have been increased to compensate on line 63, for example (I’m not sure if it was). Elevators in subway stations benefit everyone, even people who are just tired after a long day.


  15. I would be interested to know WHO is debating the question of “How Accessible?”

    I can’t help but perceive this is being glossed over somewhat.

    1) The TTC reports/memos tell about the ‘low floor’ vehicles being ‘fully accessible’. The TTC studied installing lifts as part of the refurb project. Obviously, low-floor is necessary but not sufficient for this to occur.

    2) At boarding height of 12″ – 14″ (the published range for low floor vehicles (ultra low floor being 6″ or 180 mm),

    a. the vehicle is not accessible at all for wheelchair bound passengers via street loading – this isn’t a question of degree.

    b. Those who can walk with difficulty – I suspect – will find the LF-LRV slightly to moderately easier to board. The 12″ step is higher than the existing first step if I’m recalling correctly.

    However, getting off wll be another matter. It’s more difficult and riskier for those with infirmities to get down a big step.

    I’m wondering what the platform heights (above rail level are on Spadina etc? They don’t look to be 12″. Will there still be a need for a ramp up to allow wheelchair boarding? If so, is there enough space?

    3. If I’m reading what your saying correctly, a large part of the city – one with a higher proportion of disabled and certainly aged – will very likely not have accessible transit service.


  16. I would like to just REMIND everyone in this disscussion one thing,


    Blind /Visually impaired people as well as Deaf people have a RIGHT to INDEPENDENCE!!

    Also there will ALWAYS be a need for wheel trans, for those who CANNOT POSSIBLY take Conventional Transit either due to complex needs or severe disability.


  17. Having a partner in a wheelchair, I experience the TTC on a regular basis. How many people plan their days at least 1 1/2 days ahead? The emergency TTC meeting was announced in the evening for the next day. Now…try to get wheeltrans…good luck. My partner had to go to a hospital ER…not life threatening, but he needed treatment. He called wheeltrans at about 11am…they offered him a POSSIBLE ride about 7 or 7:30pm. Ok…lets forget wheeltrans…lets try regular transit. More bus routes are coming available (until the latest news), but what if we want to go to the entertainment district…streetcars! 2 low-floor streetcars are supposed to be on the streets somewhere to test in 2010. Then about 10 are supposed to hit the streets by 2018. By 2024 we are supposed to have most of them. Now…not only the elevators…have you tried going through the handicapped entry to the system at a few downtown subway stations…Queen, Union, Bloor…nowhere to pay a fare. They can’t get near the collector’s booth for the railings. Now it is unsafe for collectors to come out of their booths, but, the person in a wheelchair, walker, whatever is supposed to trust another passenger and hand them their fare to put in the box…hmmm…Right now, 60% of the system is accessible, but they pay full fare. Would you pay for a steak dinner and receive a kids meal and be happy?

    Just a little food for thought!


  18. The new buses are actually dangerous to stand on when moving, yet, there are less seats on them. I’ve noticed people more aggressive about getting to sit down for safety on these new busses, ironically purchased to help people with disabilities, seems to be causing more disabilities, as people fall and hurt themselves on the bus!


  19. Totally agree Cindy, I have disabilities, and I have to carry my work gear in a rolling bag, trying to access elevators and escalators, that are out of service a large percenatage of the time, or only going in one direction, up or down in the few stations that have them is a night mare.


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