Wheel Trans Woes

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.

11 thoughts on “Wheel Trans Woes

  1. I would suggest that the TTC hire a consultant to completely overhaul the Wheel-Trans dispatch system. Wheel-Trans buses ought to be equipped with a proper GPS navigation and dispatching system, like parcel delivery vans (e.g. FedEx), some taxi companies and 911 dispatchers. They help optimize fleet use (in the case of FedEx, taxis and WheelTrans) or save lives (in the case of 911). It is possible for suitably equipped GPS receivers to display information on delays and closed roads due to traffic, accidents, construction, etc.


  2. Where do the 400 series routes, and their vehicles, fit in the grand scheme of things : Wheel-trans, or regular service?

    Steve: They are part of the regular service in that they are routes with schedules, but they are actually operated by Wheel Trans.

    Since I’ve been living in Ottawa, and cognicent of the fact that Para-Transpo has its own set of problems, I have noticed a greater presence and “acceptability” of disabled people in general as compared to Toronto. I know in a previous post I commented on the ridiculous situation of the lady in a scooter getting on a SHEPPARD EAST 85 Orion Lift-type vehicle, and people having virtually no sympathy. Contrast this to Ottawa, where it is not uncommon to find on the 111 ST.LAURENT/LINCOLN FIELDS route not one, but TWO wheelchairs/scooters as well as a baby carriage or two and even a walker. I have always felt, even when living in Toronto, that the city was “embarassed” by the presence of the disabled. Wheel-trans service, or lack thereof, seems only to reflect this problem.

    Steve: I don’t find the city embarrassed by its disabled, rather more often embarrassed for them because of the difficulty they have using the system. From a point of view of clogging up vehicles, I find that people with shopping carts and baby carriages are (a) far more prevalent and (b) far less aware of the chaos they can create by insisting on picking one spot and remaining in it.


  3. its a shame more subway stations cannot be made accessible due to their design or more people would take them. Take Warden for example, to get into the station you would need an elevator, to get into the bus bays you would need 9 elevators ( one for each bay ) becuase the waiting area for the buses is above the platforms and lastly you would need one elevator to get to the trains making for a total of 11 elevators needed to make the station fully accessible. It is this backwards 1960’s thinking that makes transit less appealing to those with handicaps and wheel trans more appealing. I mean when my grandmother was alive she always used to say “I wish I could take the subway to get where I am going but I cant get anywhere becuase most stations and buses are not handicap accessible.”

    Steve: There is a plan to make Warden, Victoria Park and Islington, all of which share a similar bus bay design, accessible by replacing the existing bus bays with a new island structures. It is much easier to serve an island platform with elevators and escalators than individual bays.


  4. Hi, Steve,

    One suggestion is for people who want updates as to which escalators or elevators are out of service, is to call 416-393-info (4636) option 5 and listen for the prompts:

    Listing of stations WITH Elevator service
    Elevators OUT of Service
    Non TTC elevators.
    OUT OF SERVICE Escalators in stations names a-d
    … e-k
    … l-r
    … s-y

    That is the basic structure of the TTC automated system for option 5

    I use this all the time.

    It is ESPECIALLY for those with multiple disabilities, such as blindness and 1 or more other disabilities to get around. We DO NOT in many cases qualify for wheel-trans.

    Steve: And it’s a deep dark secret. I don’t think that this is mentioned on the TTC website or route map, nor is it on any signage at escalators and elevators in the system. It is also, of course, limited to information that has been reported to whoever maintains the list.

    One big problem we have, at least according to some of the feedback I have had here, is that “in the old days”, anyone (a collector, inspector, etc) could restart an escalator using the service key kept in the collector’s booth. Now, I understand this can be done only by an escalator mechanic after checking out the machine. This may be in the name of safety, but in the name of service it is important that the TTC be able to respond quickly to this type of outage.

    Some machines are “problem children” (at my stop, Broadview, the escalator from the mezzanine to the street is one) that are often stopped. Staff get tired of retesting and restarting them. However, I must say that this machine has worked more reliably this year, and I have seen cases where it was stopped, then later running on the same day.


  5. I wonder how Wheel-Trans compares to Montreal – since if I remember correctly they have no (or next to none) elevators that access the metro platforms. And even if people were to get to the metro level, the metro cars are not wheelchair friendly at all.


  6. Just a reminder to everyone that wheel-trans is a transit system!! It is not a private limo, taxi or direct ride. If I take transit home it does take over one and a half hour. I do not get door to door service. The bus closest to my house doesn’t even run on sundays.


  7. Can anyone tell me how wheel tran driver get paid? For example, if there is no customer(wheelchair) on board, do the driver still get paid? Since I want to work as the driver If any ttc wheel trans bus driver answer me that I really appreciate it. I want to know daily schedule in detail and how they get paid. And one more thing… I don’t want to work on sundays. Is it possible to work only from monday to saturday? Do they still hiring drivers yet?

    Steve: Yes, drivers are paid whether there is someone on board or not. Don’t count on having weekends off as a new operator. I know the TTC is planning to expand Wheeltrans service, and that implies they must be hiring.


  8. Steve to Steve:

    “Steve: Yes, (WT) drivers are paid whether there is someone on board or not. ”

    It’s important to distinguish between TTC Wheel Trans drivers and Contract Wheel Trans cab drivers.

    Company TTC drivers do get paid, get coffee breaks, lunch/dinner breaks, benefits, STD/.LTD, dental, medical, a pension as long as they’re on shift, regardless of whether the WT bus is empty or full of riders.

    A Contract WT cab driver is ONLY paid while carrying a passenger, doesn’t have any breaks or meal time in their schedule, doesn’t have benefits, STD/LTD, medical, life insurance, pension etc..

    A big gripe I heard a lot is WT has contract drivers dropping off a passenger in West end then “dead-heading” empty to East end (and vice-versa) to pick up the next passenger, the deadhead trip on their dime, as they’re not carrying a passenger. They asked, quite reasonably why their next ride couldn’t be in the same area as their last drop-off.

    I met a lot of WT contract drivers who worked 12 hours/day, 6 days/week to support their families, under circumstances that wouldn’t be tolerated, and would likely violate Ontario labour laws if WT applied them to their own drivers.

    It’s the only realistic way WT can come close to meeting the demand for service, on a limited budget—by taking advantage of contract cab drivers (the majority are immigrants of colour) willingness to work for nominal wages and benefits (at likely a much lower cost/ride than on a TTC WT bus) so their children can have a better future as Canadians.

    Steve: There is also the question of the inefficiencies in the WT dispatching system that create those cross-city deadheads. A friend of mine is quite familiar with this sort of problem where riders wander the length and breadth of the city on grand tours enroute to their destinations.


  9. To Bob:

    Do contract drivers drive their own vehicles or TTC Wheel Tran vehicles?

    If they drive TTC vehicles… why they don’t apply for permanent employee?

    Steve: The contract drivers do not drive TTC vehicles.

    I don’t want to be a contract driver.
    Is it difficult to be a permanent (Wheel Tran) driver at TTC?

    And I’m also concerning between TTC Bus Driver and Wheel Tran driver.
    Which one is better?
    If you don’t mind, please tell me the advantages and disadvantages for each…
    Thank you.


  10. Hi Steve,

    As WT driver, do they work as many hours as contract driver?


    Steve: Contract drivers are cabbiess, and their work day will include a mix of TTC and non-TTC work. Their hours are not directly comparable.


  11. Hi Steve,
    I sent my resume and application a month ago for TTC WT driver.
    And I got an email confirm from the TTC after two weeks.
    How long does it take me to start TTC driver training?

    Steve: I don’t know. Some people have mentioned long waits, others not. It depends on their ongoing needs for new staff due to retirements, resignations, service increases, etc.


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