Thursday, October 15, 2009

guest blogger: i can stand for those who can't...why can't the ttc?"

guest blogger nai on the complete and total lack of real accessibility on the ttc

Living in Toronto for the last 6 or so years I, like many Torontonians, have relied heavily on the TTC. From getting to my job, friends houses, or wherever I choose to go I pay for them to transport me (hopefully safely) to and from my destination.

Notice how I used the phrase “Wherever I choose to go”. I say that because I didn’t realize until yesterday (Wednesday) that the choice was really only available to people with use of both of their legs. Of course, being a young somewhat fit woman, I don’t have to pay attention to where the wheelchair accessible stations are. I can choose to hop on and off the subway anywhere. The woman and child I met yesterday didn’t have that choice.

I chose to take the subway on my lunch break into the Annex to see what was happening. On my way back I met a woman with her daughter (who appeared to be about 12) with one leg in a cast and in a wheelchair. They got on northbound at Spadina station looking to go to Bathurst station. I, with the few other people actually listening, frowned and told her she was headed the wrong direction. This poor woman, which I was beginning to realize was at her wits end, went on to explain how she got on the subway at an accessible station but upon getting to St.George was shocked to discover that the elevator and the only barrier free access to the Bloor-Danforth track level was out of service. She was told by a TTC staffer to go to Spadina.

Now, that makes sense, right, so how did they miss it? I went to and investigated what could have happened: You can only get to the elevator at Spadina if you’re already on the side of the station that allows you to take the Bloor-Danforth subway. If you’re stuck on the North/South level then you’re basically STUCK on the subway. There is no barrier free (wheelchair) access to the subway on the Yonge/University/Spadina line from Spadina to Eglinton West Station, and then after that only at Downsview at the end of the line. Those are HUGE gaps if you only want to go to Dupont, or if you’re lost and need to change trains and head back in a different direction, not unlike this distraught woman and her cast-laden child.

What really frustrated me was when we got to St.Clair West Station, closest station to where I work, realizing just how dire their struggle to use the subway was. The three of us exited the train to find a narrow escalator and stairs everywhere. The only elevator in St.Clair W. is at the alternate Heath Street exit, and is on the non-paid side of the turnstiles. At this point, Momma is pissed, the kid in the wheelchair looks like she’s going to cry 10 times, and I’m almost going to be late for work. I ran up to this alternate exit to talk to the TTC fare collector in the booth about calling someone for assistance. He then went into one of those “I really don’t want to do anything about this, so I’ll make up some bullshit excuse in the hopes that you’ll leave me alone…” rants, or “We can’t be hauling people up and down stairs” which is what he actually said. Not any better. Long story short, the solution was me bear-hugging the child in the cast, and lifting her onto the escalator, mom carrying the wheelchair and bags behind us. Then I assisted her back into her chair at the top of the narrowest escalator EVER, and our good friend at the TTC “saved the day” by pushing a button that unlocks one of those glass doors in between the turnstiles. Really, we were failing at figuring out how to navigate those, anyway.

Where’s my outrage? Well, aside from the fact that of all the people who heard this woman’s story and I was the only one to help her once we got off the train, WHAT THE HELL, TTC?! For a while they ran this campaign, outlining how the hard work and selflessness of TTC employees really makes it “The Better Way”, so where was that in “We can’t be hauling people up and down stairs”? Where was the kinder way when I got the brush off while trying to help a woman and child I didn’t even know? And furthermore, how is the way going to get better if no one acknowledges the large problem with accessibility on our largest and only real inner-city transit system?

I know what you’re saying…what about Wheel-Trans? I’m not denying that system works, but sometimes the subway is the fastest way. Everyone should have a right to get on it. We pay enough in fares each year that maybe they could start trying to make every station accessible. Or at the LEAST post updates on the status of elevators in the accessible stations, and alternatives where they are out of service. Right now, if you need to take the subway you have to go to the website and find the right number to call to see whether the elevator you need to use is in service. They just updated their website for the first time since Windows 3.1, why couldn’t they have included a service update for elevators? They could fit it in underneath the “Metropass Hot Dealz” link or something.

I can’t really say that I was surprised by the indifference I was met with upon talking to that collector at St.Clair West station. I mean, his job’s so hard. He sits there and counts change all day. Gives out a token or two, takes a phone call when he’s at his busiest. The fact of the matter is, TTC collector in question, you work at one of the lowest traffic points on the TTC (Who else knows about the Heath Street entrance for St. Clair West, anyway? Not many people), and you couldn’t have been bothered to get off your ass for 15 minutes MOST to help us out? Why? Because you “can’t be hauling people up and down stairs”….but I could, because I’m not on the payroll, right? I can’t understand how you can see a woman and child who need help right in front of you, and do nothing?

It’s 2009. When is any of this going to change? It was a big enough fight, and took long enough to get stops announced on the subway and bus for the visually impaired. Maybe I’ll see total accessibility on the TTC by the time I’m wheelchair bound.

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