ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

TTC Top Brass to Hear from Passengers with all Kinds of Disabilities at Public Forum Tonight about Inexcusable Barriers They Still Face on Public Transit in Canada's Biggest City 12 Years After Ontario Passed Its Disabilities Act

September 19, 2017 - TORONTO: With nine months left before Ontario's next general election, Torontonians with all kinds of disabilities will converge tonight from 7 to 9 pm at the TTC's Accessible Transit Public Forum at the Beanfield Centre (formerly Allstream Centre) Exhibition Place - 150 Princes' Boulevard. The media will have its eyes opened wide, watching TTC passengers with disabilities go face-to-face with TTC Commissioners and senior management, sharing their front-line experience, still facing inexcusable disability barriers on Canada's largest urban public transit system.

"It's hard to believe transit passengers with disabilities still face so many barriers on TTC in 2017. Tonight we get a rare chance to grill TTC top brass on why TTC still has too many accessibility barriers facing tens of thousands of riders with disabilities. We can confront TTC on why it wasted public money on new subway cars that don't safely line up with all station platforms, or why TTC plans to force more Wheeltrans users onto the conventional system before ensuring its full accessibility ," said David Lepofsky, chair of the province-wide AODA Alliance, the community coalition that spearheads a campaign to make Ontario fully accessible to over 1.7 million people with disabilities. "Hundreds of people with disabilities came to each previous annual TTC accessibility forum, with wrenching stories. We encourage one and all to come to this important event tonight, to try to make "the Better Way" at last become an accessible way!"

In a 12-year battle starting 23 years ago in 1994, Lepofsky, as an individual, fought and won two Human Rights Tribunal cases against TTC in 2005 and 2007, to force it to audibly announce all bus and subway stops, for blind passengers like himself. "Measures that make TTC accessible to people with disabilities help everyone," said Lepofsky. "So many sighted people have said they love bus and subway stop announcements, because it's often hard to see outside a crowded TTC vehicle's window. They can't believe TTC ferociously fought against me."

A decade ago, when Lepofsky won his second case against TTC in 2007, he got the Human Rights Tribunal to order TTC to hold three annual public forums on barriers facing passengers with disabilities. TTC initially opposed that order. After TTC learned how helpful these forums are, it agreed to voluntarily continue to hold them annually after the Human Rights Tribunal's three-year order expired. Now regulations under Ontario's Disabilities Act require all Ontario public transit authorities to do the same.

TTC still has a long way to go to reach full accessibility by 2025, the deadline that Ontario's Disabilities Act requires, under 7.5 years from now. It remains to be seen whether all or even most of TTC's commissioners will even show up tonight to hear from transit passengers with disabilities.

"The fact that in recent years, several if not most TTC Commissioners have not even taken the time to even show up to this TTC Public Forum on Accessible Transit, whose date TTC itself selected, is one of the reasons why we are so far behind on accessibility in public transit in Toronto," said Lepofsky. "When the Human Rights Tribunal ordered all TTC Commissioners to attend years ago, they showed up. This shows why mandatory, much stronger and fully-enforced transportation accessibility standards are overdue in Ontario."

Transit passengers come from far and wide to tell TTC what needs to be fixed. Yet in past years, TTC used up more than one third of the forum's time, with an infomercial about all the great things TTC says it's doing. We urge TTC to use the whole two hours tonight to let TTC passengers with disabilities share their input and concerns.

This Public Forum is especially timely. The Ontario Government is conducting a mandatory review of its insufficient regulations under Ontario's Disabilities Act for accessible public transit. The AODA Alliance has urged all members of the Government's Transportation Standards Development Committee, conducting that review, to come to this public forum, so they can learn about the front-line disability accessibility barriers facing transit passengers with disabilities in Ontario.

So far, that provincial Standards Development Committee is only considering proposing very limited reforms to Ontario's transportation accommodation regulations. These wouldn't fix most of the accessibility barriers that transit passengers still face in Ontario. The AODA Alliance and ARCH Disability Law Centre have recommended far more effective reforms.

Learn more about TTC's Accessible Transit Public Forum.

Learn more about key disability accessibility issues concerning people with disabilities across Ontario by visiting www.aodaalliance.org/transportation

Contact:  David Lepofsky, aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

We will live tweet this TTC Forum on Twitter. We will use the hashtag #TTCAccess

The Toronto Star September 15, 2016 

Originally posted at: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/09/14/ttc-still-has-big-ticket-items-to-address-when-it-comes-to-accessibility.html 

Greater Toronto

TTC has long way to go for disabled riders; Agency met more than half of goals laid out in its plan, but falls behind on one target

 Louise Bark attended her first TTC accessibility forum about eight years ago. "It's been a huge change over the years," she says. Steve Russell/Toronto Star

For most transit riders, problems on the TTC are an inconvenience. But for people who use mobility devices or have physical or cognitive disabilities, when the transit system fails, it can severely limit their autonomy and even be dangerous.

On Thursday night, transit riders with disabilities will get a chance to air their concerns at the TTC's accessibility forum, an annual event the agency holds to update customers and collect feedback on its efforts to create a barrier-free transit system.

With only nine years to go until provincial law dictates the TTC must be fully accessible, advocates say that the transit agency still has a lot of work to do, but it has made some progress.

"When I first started coming to the forums, I came to the forums out of anger. I was so frustrated," said Louise Bark, who uses a wheelchair and who attended her first TTC forum about eight years ago. "It's been a huge change over the years."

Bark sits on the TTC's Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit, but spoke to the Star as a private citizen because she was not authorized to speak on behalf of the committee.

When she first started using the transit system a decade ago, finding an accessible subway station was nearly impossible, and trying to navigate alternative routes provided by the TTC was confusing.

But now, more subway stations have elevators and accessible entrances, and as of last year, the TTC's entire bus fleet is made up of low-floor, accessible vehicles. By the time the TTC finishes taking delivery of its new Bombardier light-rail vehicles, scheduled for 2019, the streetcar network will be accessible as well.

According to Bark, one of the areas in which the TTC has made the biggest strides is communications, by providing online service alerts that notify customers when elevators or accessible entrances aren't working.

Accessibility advocate and lawyer David Lepofsky said there are still several "big ticket items" the agency needs to address, most significantly the fact that only 34 of 69 subway stations are fully accessible. Compounding the problem is that facilities at the accessible stations aren't always reliable, he said, which can strand people who use mobility devices.

"People who go to work in an office building and have to ride an elevator every day don't wonder, 'Gee I wonder if the elevator is going to work today' . . . You just go in and the elevators work," he said. "That's not the experience with TTC elevators and escalators and so on, and that's been an issue for years."

Between 2001 and 2007, Lepofsky, who is blind, successfully petitioned the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal to compel the TTC to consistently provide audio announcements of its transit stops. The cases led to the creation of the annual accessibility forum. Lepofsky said he hoped all of the TTC board members would attend the event on Thursday so that they could better understand the "front-line experiences" of TTC riders with disabilities.

The Star asked all 10 board members if they planned to go to the forum. As of Wednesday evening, four - TTC chair Josh Colle, Councillor Joe Mihevc, and citizen members Alan Heisey and Rick Byers - had confirmed.

Three others said they couldn't make it because of scheduling conflicts, one gave no reason why he couldn't attend and another said he would go if he had time. One board member didn't respond by deadline.

According to the TTC's 2016 Accessibility Plan Status Report, the agency will spend $462.8 million on major accessibility projects over the next decade.

The projects, which represent about 5 per cent of the TTC's 10-year capital budget, include elevator overhauls, renovations to bus stops and upgrades to route announcement systems.

The bulk of the money, or $429 million, will be spent on extensive accessibility retrofits at subway stations that will include elevators, sliding doors, fare gates, ramps and signage.

According to the TTC's latest status report, the agency has met 23 of the 41 goals laid out in its 2014 accessibility plan. It's fallen behind on one important target, however - the agency planned to complete accessibility retrofits at nine stations by 2018, but the commission now anticipates it will only retrofit six stations during that time.

TTC spokesman Brad Ross said the agency will meet the deadline set by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) to make the entire system accessible by 2025.

One topic that's sure to be discussed at Thursday's forum is a major planned shift to how Wheel-Trans operates. Due to an aging population and expanded eligibility criteria under the AODA, the paratransit system is facing an unprecedented growth in demand that the TTC says will soon become unsustainable. In the last five years alone, demand has shot up by 29 per cent.

Under the "Family of Services" model released earlier this year, the TTC plans to shift half of current Wheel-Trans customers onto the conventional system by 2025. According to the new model, which will be phased in gradually, instead of taking all customers door-to-door, Wheel-Trans would take those who qualify to an accessible transit stop, and they could complete their journey from there.

The model will cut costs, but the TTC says it will also give Wheel-Trans customers greater autonomy.

Terri-Lynn Langdon, and accessible transit advocate, said she's worried the TTC is "putting the cart before the horse" by starting to integrate Wheel-Trans with the conventional system before the entire network is ready for people with disabilities.

She said routes deemed accessible aren't always accessible in practice, and the new model "doesn't take into account what happens if an elevator breaks down."

Ross said the new Wheel-Trans system won't put any passengers at risk.

Ben Spurr Toronto Star