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The para-transit programs

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According to statistics compiled by the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) for 2003, there are 74 para-transit programs providing public transit services in Ontario to almost ten million people.[5] The nature of para-transit programs vary widely across the province.  The service can be provided through a number of different institutions.  In some communities, services are provided directly by a municipality or by a municipal transit commission.  In others, the para-transit services are contracted out to specialized providers.  For each program, eligibility requirements vary, as do fare structures, and booking requirements.

The Commission, on its own initiative, has authorized its staff to inquire, under section 14(2) of the Code, into the para-transit services provided in four Ontario communities - Toronto, Hamilton, Windsor and London - to determine whether it will exercise its declaratory power under section 14(2) regarding the “special program” status of these services.

It is important to consider the context in which each of these para-transit services operate, specifically in the context of the accessibility of the broader public transit services provided in each respective community. What follows below is a brief description of the four para-transit services as well a description of the accessibility of the “conventional” transit services in each of these communities.

City of Toronto

  • Transit Service-Provider: Toronto Transit Commission
  • Para-Transit Service: Wheel-Trans


The Toronto Transit Commission (“TTC”) provides public transit services for the City of Toronto.  The TTC was created on January 1, 1954 by the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto Act.[6] In 1997, the municipalities within Metropolitan Toronto were amalgamated by the provincial government to form the City of Toronto.  Today, the TTC is regulated by the City of Toronto Act, 1997 (No.2). [7]

Conventional Transit Service

The TTC operates a transit system using buses, subways and streetcars on fixed routes.  This is referred to as the “conventional system”.  The conventional bus system currently consists of 138 fixed bus routes, of which 39 routes are currently designated as “accessible” in the TTC regular-route system, with accessible buses in the TTC fleet assigned to these routes.  The TTC operates an active bus fleet of approximately 1436 buses.[8] Of this fleet, approximately 237 buses are lift-equipped and approximately 101 buses are accessible low-floor buses.  The TTC’s current policy is that all new bus purchases will be accessible low-floor buses and a target of year 2012 is set for having the bus fleet 100% accessible.[9] The conventional subway/RT (rapid transit) system consist of three subway lines (Yonge/University, Bloor/Danforth and Sheppard) and one rapid transit line (Scarborough RT).   Of the 69 stops on these lines, only 20 stops were accessible as of 2003.[10] About 50% of the subway cars are accessible.  The TTC’s current fleet of streetcars consists of 248 streetcars operating on 11 routes.  Neither of the two streetcar designs employed in the TTC’s fleet have low-floor accessibility.  The TTC has determined that lift equipment cannot be installed on the current streetcar fleet and that making the streetcar network accessible is problematic. [11]

Para-Transit Service – Wheel Trans

In 1973, a pilot project was initiated by the Toronto Transit Commission, at the request of the City of Metropolitan Toronto, to serve the transportation needs of persons unable to board conventional public transit due to physical mobility impairments.  This early pilot project, jointly funded by the Province of Ontario and the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, involved 48 registrants and 7 mini-vans and operated on weekdays, during peak hours, for “work” trips only.  The service was expanded over the years to include a greater number of applicants and increased hours of service.  The success of the initial pilot project resulted in permanent funding for the service by 1979 from the province and from Metro Toronto on a shared basis.  The TTC’s role in the service to this point was as an administrative overseer, however, as problems arose with the quality of the service provided by independent contractors, the TTC was urged, by advocacy groups and the general public, to take control over all aspects of the para-transit service, Wheel-Trans, which it did as of January 1, 1989. [12]

The Wheel-Trans service provides door-to-door service for persons who have restricted physical mobility.  Registrants make bookings through an automated phone line, TTY or by contacting staff.  In 2003, Wheel-Trans provided over 1.5 million trips to 31,126 registrants. [13] Eligibility for the Wheel-Trans service is not based on particular disabilities, general health or income but is based upon an individual’s level of physical functional mobility in the home, within the area immediately surrounding the home, in the community at large, as well as the permanency of the disability.[14] Applicants must attend an in-person interview and no letter is required from a medical doctor.[15] An applicant can appeal the decision of the TTC to deny registration for Wheel Trans service.  Persons may apply for temporary or permanent registration.  To apply for Wheel-Trans service, there is no registration fee. [16]

There are 145 accessible buses used by the Wheel-Trans program.  There are also 73 accessible taxis, which operate under contract with the TTC. [17] The Wheel-Trans fleet will be expanded by 12 buses by 2011. [18]

Wheel-trans also services four community bus routes, operated on a fixed route and provide regularly scheduled accessible service. Smaller buses are used so that they can enter the driveways of facilities, such as nursing homes and facilities for seniors and persons with disabilities.  Registrants do not have to book in advance to use the community bus.  Service is provided seven days of the week. On weekdays, Wheel Trans operates from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.  On weekends and holidays, Wheel-Trans operates from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m..

Wheel Trans operates within the City of Toronto and provides service in an area equal to that serviced by conventional transit routes.  Also, Wheel-Trans provides connections to services in adjacent municipalities and the airport, [19] similar to the conventional service.

City of Hamilton

  • Transit Service-Provider: City of Hamilton
  • Para-Transit Service: DARTS


The Hamilton Street Railway Company (HSR) operated streetcars, first horse-drawn, then electric-powered in Hamilton commencing in 1874.  In the mid-20’s, motor buses were used on routes, and the last streetcar was retired in 1951.  In 1960, the City of Hamilton purchased the HSR and the Hamilton Transit Commission was established to operate this organization.  In 1977, the company came under the jurisdiction of the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth, and now the amalgamated City of Hamilton.

Conventional Transit Service

The City of Hamilton provides public transit service by means of fixed route transit service through the Hamilton Street Railway Company (“HSR”).  Planning and delivery of the transit services are the responsibility of the Transit Division of the City, a division of the Transportation, Operations and Environment Department.  The City operates 28 fixed public transit bus routes with a total bus fleet of 198 buses.[20] Of the total fleet, 114 buses are accessible low-floor buses.[21] These buses operate on several, but not all, of the routes in Hamilton.  On weekdays and Saturdays, certain routes only operate the low-floor buses at certain times of the day.  On Sundays, all routes operate the low-floor buses. [22]

Para-Transit Service – DARTS (Disabled and Aged Regional Transit System)

In 1991, the Transportation Department of the then Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth initiated a study of transportation services for people with disabilities in the Hamilton region in order to develop a plan for addressing the transportation needs of persons with mobility-impairing disabilities.

The City of Hamilton now provides accessible transportation services to persons with disabilities through its Accessible Transportation Services (ATS) program, administered within the Transit Division of the City.  The program is responsible for eligibility, registration, orientation, database management, taxi-scrip distribution and management of all programs pertaining to public transit for persons with disabilities in the City.

One component of the ATS program is the para-transit service, DARTS.  DARTS is a private not-for-profit corporation.  The City contracts with DARTS to provide a door-to-door, wheelchair accessible van service.  The City of Hamilton (then the Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth) entered into a contract in December 1995, pursuant to which the Region granted DARTS the right to provide, maintain and operate a para-transit service in the City (then Region) for the conveyance of persons with disabilities.  The contract was initially for a five-year term, but has been extended since then.

DARTS is available to persons with disabilities who are unable to access regular transit and require the assistance of a personal mobility device such as a wheelchair, scooter or walker.[23] As of July 1 2004, new registrations for DARTS are limited to:  persons with a disability who are unable to use conventional transit due to the nature of their disability, and who use a wheelchair, scooter or walker, or who require kidney dialysis, or who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. [24]

There were 8,698 registrants of the ATS program in 2003.[25] ATS (Accessible Transit Services) is responsible for managing the registration process. Assessment of applications and registration for accessible transportation services is carried out by the ATS.  The applicant’s physician must sign applications.  There is also an assessment interview.  Effective July 1, 2004, the annual ATS program fee of $15.00 was eliminated. [26] The City retains responsibility, through the ATS program for registering persons for the DARTS service.  The City also sets the fares for DARTS and is required to purchase the vehicles and equipment required by DARTS.  DARTS is required to maintain a booking and dispatching function and to pay all expenses for providing, operating and maintaining the service.

DARTS leases over 60 accessible buses from the City of Hamilton[27] Service is provided from one accessible building door entrance to another accessible building door entrance (accessible = no more than one step”).  Reservations can be made no earlier than 7 days in advance.  Depending on the availability of rides, DARTS will also take reservations on the day of service.

DARTS passengers may purchase of book of ten prepaid tickets for $21. (This is compared to users of the conventional systems purchases 5 tickets for $8.50.)  DARTS operates from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends and from 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on holidays.

The DARTS service area includes all addresses within the amalgamated City boundaries.  It services an area greater than the transit area serviced by the HSR.

City of Windsor

  • Transit Service-Provider: Transit Commission (Transit Windsor)
  • Para-Transit Service: Handi-Transit


The Sandwich Windsor and Amherstburg Railway system began with its first street car service in Windsor in 1886.  The first trolley bus was utilized for public transportation in 1922.  In 1977, responsibility for the Railway was transferred to the City of Windsor and renamed “Transit Windsor”.    This service is currently provided by a Transit Commission.

Conventional Transit Service

Transit Windsor provides conventional public transit within the municipal boundaries of the City of Windsor.   Only some fixed routes on the conventional system are serviced by low floor buses.  As of 2003, 6 of 15 fixed bus routes were accessible. [28] Only low floor buses are used on accessible routes at designated hours (which are advertised on the website)[29]. As of 2003, 23 of a total fleet of  96 buses were low-floor, representing approximately 24% of the fleet. There is a 10 year fleet replacement plan in place to achieve a fleet of 100% accessible low-floor buses. [30]

Para-Transit Service – Handi Transit

Handi- Transit, a private, non-profit organization has a contract with the City of Windsor to provide para-transit services in the City of Windsor.  Handi-Transit is a pre-booked, curb-to-curb transportation service for persons with physical disabilities who are unable to use the conventional bus system.  The operating funding sources for Handi-Transit are passenger and other operating revenue and a grant from the City of Windsor.

There is an application process, which includes an application form that must be signed by a physician.  Persons may register temporarily (6 months) or permanently – depending on the advice of her physician.  There is no cost to register.

Persons with disabilities other than physical disabilities (i.e. Alzheimer’s or Downs syndrome) may also access Handi-Transit. Registration is not restricted to persons with physical disabilities.  They do however need to the get the application form signed by their physicians.

There were 2,190 registrants of Handi-Transit in 2003[31].

Handi-Transit has 12 – 15 mini- buses. [32] Bookings are available up to three weeks in advance.  Same day bookings may also be made.  Bookings, however, are not guaranteed:  Priorities of bookings are given in the following order: employment, education, medical, persons business, leisure.   The cost of individual tickets is $2.30 (except to tickets to neighbouring Lasalle which are $5.25)

Handi-Transit serves the city of Windsor and also the neighbouring Town of LaSalle.  Conventional transit service operates only within the boundaries of the City of Windsor.

City of London

  • Transit Service-Provider: Transit Commission – London Transit
  • Para-Transit Service: London Community Transportation


The London Transit Commission was originally incorporated by the Legislature in 1873 as the “London Street Railway Company”.  The first streetcar service commenced in 1875.    In 1931, the City of London bought the London Street Railway Company and formed the London Transportation Commission, which was later renamed as the London Transit Commission.   The first scheduled bus operated in the City in 1926.  The last streetcar ran in 1940.

Conventional Transit Service

There are a total of 36 fixed bus routes operated by London Transit.  As of September 2004, 18 of these routes were designated accessible.[33] Of the 10 mainline downtown buses routes, 6 are designated as low floor bus accessible. All 10 downtown/ suburban routes are accessible. [34] 48% of the bus fleet was accessible in 2003.[35] By December 2004, it is projected that 104 of the 178 buses will be accessible low-floor buses. [36]

Para-Transit Service

Responsibility for public para-transit service used to rest with the City of London.  At that time, private contractors provided the service for the City.  But in 1997, responsibility for provision of the para-transit service was transferred to the London Transit Commission. London Transit services encompasses a range of service delivery options designed to meet the range of needs of the citizens of London who have a disability which prevents them, on a regular basis, from being able to use London’s regular, fixed route transit service.[37] These services are organized through the London Community Transportation  Brokerage and include a community bus, trip planning services to assist persons with disabilities to find accessible routes on the fixed route system, medical shuttles and para-transit service.

The Para-Transit program is a shared ride door-to-door service.  London Transit has a contract with a brokerage operator for the provision of drivers and accessible vans.  All other functions of the para-transit service, including registration, booking and dispatching is handled through London Transit.

In order to apply for services, an applicant must obtain a registration form from London Community Transportation Brokerage directly.  A health care professional must complete part of the application form.  Effective January 1, 2004, the $30 3-year registration fee for the specialized service was eliminated. [38]

Registrants are able to book trips three days in advance.  Trips, with the exception of subscription trips, are awarded on a first come first serve basis.[39]  Trips, however, are not guaranteed.[40] Trips on the Para-Transit system cost the same as conventional transit ($2.18 per trip).   Companions must each pay the same fare as the customer. Drivers will not assist with carrying parcels. (Although amendments were made to this policy in July 2004. [41] The program operates 21 vehicles. [42]

Excessive late cancellations or no-shows could result in suspension of an individual’s registration.[43] There is an appeal process effective July 2004. [44]

The Para-Transit system operates on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and on weekends and holidays from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. The Para-Transit service operates within the City of London boundaries (as defined in 1998). [45]

In 2004, there were 1,850 registrants for the shared ride, door-to-door service.

London Transit’s Para-Transit Program services the entire area of the City of London, which includes, since 1997, outlying communities which were annexed to the City.  The conventional transit service has not extended to provide service to these outlying areas.

[5] CUTA Ontario Specialized Transit Services 2003 Fact Book
[6] S.O. 1953, c. 73.  Section 106 of the Act, specified the mandate and powers of the Commission: s. 106  On or after the 1st day of January 1954, the Commission,

Shall consolidate and co-ordinate all forms of local passenger transportation within the Metropolitan Area, with the exception of steam railways and taxis, and shall plan for the future development of such transportation so as to serve best the inhabitants of the Metropolitan Area;

Shall have and may exercise, with respect to the entire Metropolitan Area, all the powers, rights, authorities an privileges with respect to the construction, maintenance, operation, extension, alteration, repair, control and management of local passenger transportation which the Former Commission [Toronto Transportation Commission] has with respect to any part of the Metropolitan Area on the 31st day of December 1953;

Shall have an may exercise all the powers, rights, authorities and privileges with respect to the construction, maintenance, operation, extension, alteration, repair, control and management of local transportation systems heretofore or hereafter conferred upon or exercisable by the council or corporation of any area municipality, and such power, rights, authorities and privileges shall not be exercised by any area municipality or its council or by the Metropolitan Corporation or the Metropolitan Council

[7] S.O. 1997, c. 2.  Section 25 of the Act continues the TTC’s existence:  s. 25   The Commission known as the Toronto Transit Commission in English and Commission de Transport de Toronto is continued.
[8] TTC Accessible Transit Services Plan (2003) at 17
[9] TTC Accessible Transit Services Plan (Status Report, September 2004)
[10] TTC Accessible Transit Services Plan (2003) at 24
[11] TTC Accessible Transit Services Plan (2003) at 29
[12] “ A Brief History of Wheel-Trans Service” – Report of the TTC Task Force on Accessible Transit, Appendix 1.
[13] TTC Operating Statistics (2003)
[15] TTC, Accessible Transit Services Plan (2003), at 9
[16] see Odell et al. v. Toronto Transit Commission (Minutes of Settlement, May 2002)
[17] TTC, Accessible Transit Services Plan (2003), at 9
[18] TTC, Accessible Transit Services Plan (2003), at E-2
[19] TTC, Annual Report 2003
[20] CUTA Ontario Urban Transit Fact Book (2003 Operating Data)
[21] CUTA Ontario Urban Transit Fact Book (2003 Operating Data)
[25] CUTA Fact Book, supra at  25
[26] per Neusch and Fox v. City of Hamilton et al. (Minutes of Settlement, December 2003)
[27] The State of DARTS: The 2004 DARTS Para-Transit Service Annual Report (2004) online: at 20
[28] CUTA Ontario Urban Transit Fact Book ( 2003 Operating Data)
[29] “Accessible Transit Routes Using Low Floor Bus Technology” last accessed 29 September 2004 []
[30] CUTA operating data at 100
[31] CUTA Fact Book, supra  at 71
[32] CUTA Fact Book, supra  at 71
[33] London Transit,  Accessibility Plan - 2004 Update (September 2004) at 4
[34] London Transit,  Accessibility Plan - 2004 Update (September 2004) at 2
[35] CUTA Operating Data at 46
[36] London Transit,  Accessibility Plan - 2004 Update (September 2004) at 2
[38] London Transit,  Accessibility Plan - 2004 Update (September 2004) at 5
[39] London Transit,  Accessibility Plan - 2004 Update (September 2004) at 3
[41] London Transit,  Accessibility Plan - 2004 Update (September 2004) at 6
[42] London Transit,  Accessibility Plan - 2004 Update (September 2004) at 3
[44] London Transit,  Accessibility Plan - 2004 Update (September 2004) at 6
[45] London Transit,  Accessibility Plan - 2004 Update (September 2004) at 6


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