As part of the preparation of this Consultation Report, in the summer of 2001, the OHRC updated the results of the transit survey that was conducted in the summer of 1999. The OHRC contacted 25 transit service providers, including all those who responded to the 1999 survey, as well as the 6 transit service providers who did not respond in 1999.
It should be noted here that, since several municipalities have undergone amalgamation since 1999, some transit service providers have also amalgamated, and in some cases there have been changes to services as a result.
Transit service providers were asked about accessibility improvements to their conventional and paratransit services since 1999. They were also asked about changes to their accessibility plans. Information was gathered about industry standards and practices, such as the percentage of accessible bus routes and standard booking times for paratransit services.
We would like to thank all of those transit service providers who responded for the helpful and detailed information that they provided.
Overall, the transit survey update did not reveal any dramatic changes in the status of accessible transit over the two-year period between surveys. Incremental progress continues to be made. However, there are still large gaps in both conventional and paratransit services across the province, and there are no indications that maximum accessibility will be achieved in the near future.
The update below does not attempt to exhaustively describe each transit system surveyed. Rather, it provides a survey of trends, and attempts to highlight some best practices and advances in this area.
Plans and Standards
A number of transit systems, notably the Toronto Transit Commission (“TTC”), have Accessibility Advisory Committees, which represent the needs and concerns of persons with disabilities and seniors, and provide input into accessibility initiatives and improvements. For example, persons with disabilities and older persons are consulted on the allocation of new accessible buses, priorities for station access improvements, and new design standards.
The TTC also conducts “Open Forums” to consult on accessible transit issues with agencies, advocates and various organizations serving seniors and persons with disabilities.
A number of transit services indicated awareness of future demographic pressures on accessible transit services, and have been conducting surveys or re-evaluating services in order to develop new transit plans.
However, there are still many transit services that do not have current, publicly available, accessibility plans.
Conventional Transit Systems
Replacement of existing bus fleets with accessible models is a significant, but necessary investment in order to make public transit accessible. According to the Ontario Community Transportation Association (“OCTA”), about 15 percent of Ontario’s total bus fleet (about 700 buses) is now either lift-equipped, or low-floor. Ninety percent of Ontario transit systems have a procurement policy in favour of low-floor buses. Most transit providers surveyed indicated that between 20 and 40 percent of their bus fleets were accessible. Some have a much higher percentage (Thunder Bay’s fleet, for example, is 65% accessible) and some much lower (Niagara Transit has no low-floor or lift-equipped buses at all). The percentage of accessible bus routes varies widely as well, particularly as some transit providers have decided to concentrate their accessible vehicles on selected, high priority routes, while others are spreading their accessible vehicles over all routes. It should be noted that, because of the long life span of buses, it will take many years to achieve complete accessibility. Plans for full accessibility of bus fleets range from 2005 (for Thunder Bay) to 2016 (St. Catharine’s) and beyond. Not all transit services have identified time frames for maximum accessibility.
The TTC indicated that by 2004, 30 of its 69 subway and RT stations (including the new stations on the Sheppard line) will be fully accessible, if the necessary capital budget is funded. The TTC hopes to have elevators and other accessibility features in all stations by 2012. As well, the TTC plans to have 50 fully accessible bus routes by 2004, and a 100% accessible fleet by 2010. Routes where there is higher demand, such as routes near hospitals or senior citizens’ residences, are being given priority in this respect. All new buses and subway cars (as well as the new subway stations under construction) will be fully accessible. The OHRC was also encouraged to hear that the TTC is planning to begin acquiring low-floor streetcars, as the lack of accessibility of the streetcar system was a major concern highlighted in the Discussion Paper.
Interestingly, the TTC also indicated that it is exploring opportunities for improving existing TTC stations in conjunction with private and/or public sector development adjacent to stations. Since TTC stations are attractive locations for many types of development, where connections to stations are required, the TTC may require elevators and other easier access features as a condition to connection agreements. This appears to be an innovative way of involving other partners in accessibility advances.
Some other types of accessibility enhancements being carried out by transit providers are listed below:
- The TTC has invested in a number of accessibility enhancements to its subway stations, including accessible turnstiles, elevators and washrooms, modified rest benches, tactile platform edge tiles and wayfinding systems.
- Some systems encourage drivers of low-floor or lift-equipped buses to make special request stops where possible for customers using mobility devices.
- Investments in accommodations for persons with sensory impairments include lights indicating “next stop” at the front of vehicles, improved public announcement systems, and bright yellow colouring on next stop cords, bus step nosings, and hand and grab rails.
- Several systems give information about the next arriving accessible buses for each route through their computerized telephone information lines.
- Some transit systems have trained operators to recognize the need for, offer and provide assistance when necessary to passengers with disabilities as they board, deboard, and secure themselves on the bus. Other transit systems require passengers with disabilities to bring an attendant if they will need assistance in any of these respects.
- A number of transit systems have undertaken major programs to improve the accessibility of bus stops. For example, many transit providers are in the process of, or are completing, programs to ensure that transit shelters are accessible. Some are also working on improving access from the sidewalks of bus stops on to buses.
- Thunder Bay identified snow removal at bus stops as an accessibility issue, and indicated that snow removal standards have been improved in the downtown core, near medical facilities, and senior citizen’s homes. As well, there has been an effort to coordinate bus stop snow removal with the sidewalk snow removal.
- Several systems offer various levels of “community bus” service, generally targeted to areas of the city heavily populated by seniors or persons with mobility impairments, which provide rides to shopping and medical centres. For example, Markham operates a “Connector” bus, a fixed route Mobility Bus that does not require reservations.
- Guelph Transit offers a subsidized bus pass for adults with disabilities.
- OC Transpo has recently undertaken two marketing campaigns dealing with environmental sensitivity issues.
As noted in the OHRC’s Discussion Paper, paratransit systems vary widely across the province. Some paratransit services consist exclusively of specialized vehicles offering pre-booked, door-to-door service. Others combine such services with contract taxi/livery services and/or taxi scrip services. These taxi services are used to transport persons with ambulatory disabilities, and, where usable, are generally found to be more cost-effective per trip than specialized vehicles. For example, in 1993, Hamilton calculated the cost per trip of its taxi/livery service at $8.27, as opposed to $24.30 for its accessible van service. A number of municipalities also have some form of community bus services. For example, Toronto’s Wheel-Trans also offers some “zone” bus service that provides more spontaneous door-to-door service within specific high trip generating zones.
Rides must generally be pre-booked, with booking requirements ranging from 24 hours in some municipalities, to 2 weeks in others. Many services permit subscription bookings e.g., regular trips to and from work. OC Transpo provides booking priority to persons who use a mobility aid, over those who are ambulatory disabled.
All systems have formal eligibility requirements, although some are more restrictive than others. Some systems restrict eligibility to persons with permanent disabilities. Most eligibility requirements focus heavily on mobility restrictions – the inability to walk 175 metres or to climb steps, for example. Some systems require extensive in-person applications, while others rely on certification from the applicant’s primary care physician. OC Transpo indicates that eligibility for its paratransit services is “based on a functional rather than a medical model. Persons are not qualified or disqualified on the basis of a specific diagnosis or disability. An individual will be certified as eligible if there is any part of the conventional transportation system which cannot be used or navigated by that individual because of a functional disability”.
Most services have fare structures that mirror those of the conventional system. Some, however, charge higher rates to paratransit passengers, or charge registration or application fees. Some systems allow attendants to ride free: most, however, require attendants to pay the regular fare.
Some systems provide service on a “priority basis”, priorizing trips that are for work, education and medical purposes.
Most systems provide some form of training for employees operating paratransit services. Burlington also provides Taxi Operator Training for taxi drivers transporting passengers with special needs.
 Some taxi livery services use accessible taxis; others use standard taxis to transport persons who have ambulatory disabilities. Taxi scrip services allow persons with disabilities to use taxi services at a reduced rate.