Today’s Toronto Star has an article about the problems of the Wheel Trans system. For years, this “service” has been a distant second class operation within the TTC. It has all the earmarks of a service provided by the City not because it wants to, but because it has to. There are long-standing problems with the vehicles and with the dispatching system, some of which are only now being addressed.
Recently, two friends of mine set out by Wheel Trans. One is wheel-chair bound, the other was his companion for the trip. The goal is to get from Dundas & Jarvis to York Mills & DVP.
- Nobody told the driver that Dundas Street is under construction, although this is hardly a secret. Because the route chosen to get to the pickup was fouled with traffic, the pickup was late by about 15 minutes.
- The driver, for no apparent reason, attempted to reverse down a two-way street to make the pickup. My friends were, at this point, the only passengers.
- Next, they headed off to the Baldwin Street neighbourhood where the bus drove the wrong way up a one-way street to get to the pickup point.
- After collecting two passengers, the driver attempted to continue in the wrong direction, but was then assisted to back out of the one-way street.
- Guess where one of the two Baldwin passengers was going: Dundas & Parliament, only blocks from the original pickup, and the driver took a roundabout route via Wellesley Street (!) to get there. At this point, roughly one hour has elapsed.
- The second Baldwin passenger was bound for York Mills & Victoria Park, and was going to be let off first even though my friends were going to York Mills & DVP, a location that the bus had to pass enroute.
- Some gentle persuasion got the drop-off order changed, and my friends arrived at their destination 90 minutes after they were picked up. Almost one hour of that was utterly unnecessary and simply due to a foul-up in the trip schedule.
The driver of this vehicle claimed to be a very long-time employee, and I can only surmise that (a) they were having a really bad day and/or (b) they had given up trying to tell the dispatchers that they had a nonsensical trip plan.
The TTC has known that its Wheel Trans dispatch system is fraught with problems for years, but has done little about it.
Accessibility in general continues to suffer from long lead times for elevator retrofits and unpredictable outages of both elevators and escalators. Long-time readers here will remember that I was tracking escalator reliability last year, but I stopped doing this because things have been much improved in 2007. Elevators are another matter. The most recent scheduling screwup was last weekend at Broadview Station, the only accessible station for Taste of the Danforth, where the elevator to street level was out of service for maintenance.
When I came through the station, two wheelchairs and three baby carriages were stranded at the mezzanine level. Broadview’s escalator begins with three steps because it was a retrofit and there isn’t enough headroom between the mezzanine floor and the station’s ceiling for the escalator pit.
The TTC hopes, eventually, that the demand for Wheel Trans will drop off because more people will be able to use the regular system. This, I think, is a pipedream because there is such a backlog of demand that cannot be skimmed off to the regular service.
Meanwhile at Queen’s Park, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance is strongly opposing the proposed Ontario standards for compliance with accessibility legislation. Their position leans heavily on recent rulings by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (re calling of stops on transit vehicles) and the Supreme Court of Canada (re the acquisition by VIA Rail of inaccessible rolling stock). In short, the AODA Alliance argues that there has not been meaningful participation in drafting of the standards by the affected communities, that the cutoff date for comments is too early and that the standards are fatally flawed as the work of a self-interested transportation industry.
To me, the AODA Alliance position paper is somewhat repetitive and concentrates unduly on certain aspects of accessibility to the detriment of others, but the basic argument is sound.
One point nobody talks about is funding. Any standards have implications for transit operators, the taxi industry and school bus providers province-wide. Somebody is going to have to pay to improve accessibility, and that “somebody” is Queen’s Park. The worst possible situation would be for us to pit those who have no choice but to use Wheel Trans against those whose regular bus service might be cut back. Transit funding must not be redirected from the regular system to boost accessibility programs, the overall funding must be increased. This is no time for Queen’s Park to mandate yet another program that municipalities must fund out of their limited resources.