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Toronto Accessible Public Transportation: Lovely interactions with the TTC and their Wheel Trans – By Kathy Hammond

Submitted by on Saturday June 27, 2009 – 8:53 pm | 3 Comments
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By Kathy Hammond

Living in Toronto and being the parent of a child who is disabled and uses a wheel chair to get around, sit in, and pretty much do everything except sleep in, I guess that qualifies me to write about my lovely interactions with the TTC and their Wheel Trans, a form of public transportation for persons with disabilities.

First, in order for my son to even apply to use Wheel Trans we had to cart him, his wheel chair and any other mobility devices that he may be using while accessing Wheel Trans to Richview library, while we live right down by the lake. Lucky for us my parents were able to help us out and take us up there because my son’s wheel chair was too wide to get through the bus doors easily and lifting that heavy chair up into a streetcar would be damn impossible!

We handed the application form into the little committee that was sitting behind a table in one of the library’s meeting rooms. They asked us a few questions, such as how did we get there that day and if it would be possible to use that form of transportation on a regular basis.

Were they kidding?

I explained that my parents were not a taxi service and could not drop everything and come to my beck and call and run us all over the city to the many doctor appointments that were scattered across this fair city of ours.

The one question that I really needed answers to was a simple one: as a parent of three children, the youngest of which is disabled, is it possible to bend the rule that only one person accompany the disabled person on Wheel Trans? It is necessary at times for me to bring my other two children along with us, and at the time they were four and six years of age.

The TTC’s answer to me was that it was up to the driver at the time of pick-up. No, I could not inform the person I was booking the Wheel Trans appointment with that I’d have my two children with me, it was at the driver’s sole discretion.

I was stunned.

How on Earth could I make plans to take my kids to events across this city or even to something as simple and necessary as doctor appointments when I’d never know until the driver showed up at my door if I’d need a sitter for my older two children or if they’d be able to come along.

In all these years I’ve never been able to rely on Wheel Trans to allow my older children to come along with my son and myself so I have never used the service for any family outings.

As for taking my son and I on any trips, well every time I’ve scheduled an appointment I’ve been informed that there are no openings available for our pick up times. Most times that was the end of that, but few times I’d make alternative arraignments, taxis, my husband taking a day off of work to cart us around. A few times, as we were getting ready to leave there would be a knock at the door and standing there when I opened it would be a Wheel Trans driver standing there informing me that they were there to give us a lift.

"I was told it was booked and we couldn’t get a pick up."

I’d say and the driver then informed me that I should have called back later in the day because an opening came up and we got booked.

Why couldn’t I get called for that?

Even an automated phone message informing me of pick up and drop off times would have been great.

But no. And because we didn’t need the service we were put down as a ‘no show’ and three of those in a month and your service is suspended.

Nice!

Then there was the lovely time that my Mother-in-Law used the service after she’d had a knee and bone replacement done and she had to go to therapy a few times a week. Wheel Trans would come and pick her up and bring her home and since it was a pre-booked appointment, meaning that we’d booked her for every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for about two months, she had no time getting the service and she was going by herself so there was no problem with escorts and their number.

But the one problem I had was the day that she was supposed to be dropped off at 2:00 p.m. after a day of therapy and since I lived right across the street I knew that she hadn’t come home. After 3:00 p.m. I called Wheel Trans to find out what the delay was and nobody could help me. Finally around 5:00 p.m. I was told that she’d been brought home and on time. I told them that there was no way she had been dropped off at home, since I’m right across the street and had been outside with my children watching for her at the drop off time.

Finally my Mother-in-Law came home and I discovered that she’d told the driver to drop her off somewhere else, which was fine with my Mother-in-Law because she has full use of her faculties, but there were times that she’d get confused, especially after he operation. And the driver changed the route without calling, without noting it in his log and there was no record of where she’d been dropped off.

And Wheel Trans never once apologized to us for the fear they put me and my husband through for almost seven hours, since she didn’t come home until almost 9:00 p.m., when a friend dropped her off.

I guess after my experiences with Wheel Trans I can safely say that I’ve given up trying to use them. I have to book my son’s doctor appointments almost a half year in advance sometimes, and then a few days before the appointment I try to get him a ride and I’m told that it’s not possible. Then I have to scramble to get alternative transportation or rebook those appointments for another half a year later and hope that at that point I’d be able to get a ride.

Now I just get my husband to take time off work and we lose a day’s wage because the Better Way, really isn’t.

Which is why I’m excited about these new wheel chair accessible streetcars. I know that the city has bunged up this whole TTC funding fiasco and that they are going to be not repairing vehicles that need it, not up keeping stations and what not, but at the same time the coming option to take my son on the TTC to the Toronto Western Hospital for appointments (only accessible through streetcars) without losing the money my Husband would have earned for that day makes me very happy. I know that the streetcars haven’t been built yet and that this is going to be in the future, it could be many years. But I now have hope instead of only frustration!

If only the stupid Federal Government, the Ministry of Transportation and my Members of Parliament had listened to my letter writing campaign and contributed some funding to cover these costs instead of making the City of Toronto cover the cost of the new streetcars themselves.

3 Comments »

  • Laurie says:

    Sometimes I think the Wheel-Trans users would rather pay the actual cost of the system than pay a token put up with the service in our under-funded current system. Like Ms. Hamond, my family have experienced the long waits on the phone, long waits for a vehicle, and once the frightening delivery to the wrong destination when my confused parents-in-law changed plans en route.

    But it would be expensive. Wheel-Trans provides 2.3 million rides a year on a budget of $80 million, or about $20 per ride. To repair and replace the aging fleet and improve service levels would probably push the cost to $25 or $30.

    So, for all it’s faults, Wheel Trans is a termendous bargin for it’s users. Whereas regular TTC users are subsidized about $.70 a trip, Wheel-Trans users are subsidized about $18 a trip. The rate is similar to taxis, but higher due to the specialized vehicles, and longer boarding and exiting ptocedures.

    The truth is, Wheel-Trans is really a specialized taxi service, not a transit service. It might be interesting to see if it couldn’t run more effeciently if it was more like a transit service, and less like a taxi. Imagine regular routes with 15 minute service along major streets and stops at places like nursing homes, hospitals, shopping malls and places of worship. These locations would also be transfer points. Wheel-Trans cabs would pick people up from their door, as now, then drop them at the nearest transfer point. Wheel-Trans buses would pick them up from the transfer point and bring them to their destination, or another transfer point closer to their desitination. The expensive buses would run fuller, and the riders would benefit from a reliable schedule. Hmmm, this is sounding a lot like the low-floor buses and streetcars fleet Toronto is acquiring.

    Another thought. Perhaps Auto-Share or Zip Car should look at getting wheel-chair accessible vehicles so people can book them themselves. At least for cases like the author’s and my own, where there is an able-bodied driver in the household, this would eliminate many of the problems.

  • The point of my article was to show that the Wheel Trans service isn’t perfect and that I dream of a TTC service that is more accessible so that Wheel Trans isn’t needed as much. I think that if the TTC attempted to take steps towards making their regular service more accessible, it would take some of the demand off of Wheel Trans and therefore make it more likely that those that need to use Wheel Trans actually able to do so.
    I’m not asking for a better ‘taxi service’ or more funding for Wheel Trans.

  • Thea Ramsay says:

    Hi, Kathy. I’ve had the same trouble. Blind from birth, I once travelled the labyrinthine TTC–busses, subways, etc. Now I have 4 pain conditions which make one physical disability that limits my “functional physical mobility”.
    I went on WheelTrans for 16 lovely, independent weeks. Then came my appeal. My mobility instructor, who could see that I was in too much pain to conduct regular mobility lessons, hoped for the best and met me at the place of appeal, to which I’d come on WheelTrans. If only I’d known it would be my last independent trip.
    After my appeal, during which I answered questions, handed them all my medical information, told them I was in alot of pain even with my medications, and climbed 3 painful steps, I went home. A few days later, I booked a ride as usual, to go to the pharmacy and pick up my meds. The first driver didn’t identify himself to me, by knocking on the outside door, as I waited downstairs at my apartment building, where every other customer waits. Then, I called Customer Service, was told I was a no-show, protested that the driver didn’t identify himself to me, a totally blind person, and was sent another driver, who refused to take me anywhere because I lacked an escort.
    Escort? There was no mention of an escort, either during the booking of my trip, nor did I receive a call. Even the letter they sent me, saying my appeal was granted, hinted nothing at any required escort.
    But I found out again, the hard way, that an escort was required.
    Why, I wanted to know? My best friend rides WheelTrans free as a bird, and she has falls and experiences balance issues. If anyone needs an escort, it is she, not I. In fact, my friend, who is blind and has cerebral palsy, is not an asset to me, as I know where the pharmacy is, or the driver can take me. Why is she treated like an adult, allowed to go independently where she likes, while I am treated like a child?
    My partner tried to advocate for me, as she is a disabled, though sighted, WT client. They wouldn’t talk to her.
    I was told that the escort was the only way I qualified at all for WT service, since I didn’t use a mobility device, such as a walker, like my partner uses, or a wheelchair.
    I told the Customer Service Supervisor, Dean Milton, that a blind person cannot safely use both a white cane and a walker or wheelchair.
    “Well, you’re not on WT because of your blindness.”
    “Yes, Mr. Milton,” I said patiently, “but I happen to be blind, and blind persons cannot use wheelchairs or walkers and white canes safely. I can’t even use a white cane safely for long because of my pain conditions.”
    I was told, basically, tough, those were the rules, and I should be grateful I have any WheelTrans service at all.
    I spent alot of time talking to this man, patiently, repeating myself over and over because he just wasn’t getting it. The most I got from him was a lip-service of empathy and praise for my “way with words.”
    Do you know how hard it is to get escorts? People are busy. People have kids, like you do. People don’t necessarily agree with my lifestyle choices–which is fine with me, till the moment when someone criticizes them just because they are doing me the favor of escorting me, or having power over me by virtue of being able to say “No, I’m not going there, and I’m not taking you.”
    Why does my friend get to ride free as a bird, while I am treated like a young teen who has to ask Mommy for permission to go across the street?
    That’s right. WT won’t even take me across the street without an escort.
    And although my escorts mean well, they often make ignorant or patronizing remarks.
    They tell me when I should be going to bed or getting up, what I should be eating, and criticize my choice of a partner, though they’ve never met her. Some people are really anti-gay. I just hate the loss of my freedom, and strangers and friends alike, breathing down my neck. I just want my freedom back. I want to be able to meet my partner somewhere for dinner or a drink, she coming from her place independently on WT, and me coming from mine.
    I’m quite capable of it, you know. WT has sixteen weeks worth of logs, recording how I went all over town, independently, by myself, like the 47-year-old woman with brains that I am.
    I’m not a child or mentally challenged. I merely need accessible, door to door transit, such as WT offers, and such as I had, for sixteen weeks, pre-appeal, and I need it independently.
    They are talking about taking dialysis patients off the service in the new year. What are these people supposed to do–die? Die, because they can’t get to their doc appointments, and they’re alone, and WT officials couldn’t care less? If that’s how “the man” feels about dialysis patients, what hope do multi-disabled blind people have?
    What do I think of an all-accessible TTC? One ride fits all, disabled and non-disabled alike? I think it stinks. For one thing, it’s a waste of money and time, and for another, dangerous. Not everyone has the cognitive or physical ability (I’m one of those), to get around, no matter how accessible the regular transit becomes–unless it’s coming to my door, and taking me to the door of the place I need to get to.
    Why is the Canadian government spending all this money on all-accessible TTC, instead of creating and maintaining two systems: one for those who can use it, and one for those who can’t.
    Most non-disabled people don’t have the patience for large numbers of disabled people with guide dogs, canes, walkers, etc., and many disabled people cannot use the TTC because of “a functional physical mobility” problem.