Did 2015 TTC Public Forum on Accessible Transit Lead to Improved Accessibility? No.

@TTCHelps got this button fixed. If only TTC's
system-wide accessibility was as easy.

The TTC is about to hold its annual Public Forum on Accessible Transit. So I thought I'd analyse its response to last year's as I reported on it in Fall of 2015.

Its Comments and Feedback Summary page includes the conversation on Twitter through the #TTCAccess hashtag, which I participated in.

Streetcar Stop Request Buttons Out of Reach of Priority Seat Customers

I brought up the problem of the stop request buttons on the new streetcars with the chief engineer during the Forum. Under the TTC's summary of streetcar design comments and response, the stop request buttons issue of not being near the priority seats was neither noted nor addressed. That's probably because they haven't amended the new streetcar design to add them.

Back Doors Require Upper Body Strength

TTC's Response under Conventional Bus Design

"Customers do not need to push rear bus doors fully open. Rather, a slight push or pull on the yellow bars will activate the door opening system and the doors will automatically open fully on their own."

That just negates my lived experience. If I tell you, you need strength, then you need strength. What is the TTC's idea of a slight push? What is the force in joules required? And how does that compare to the force a person with upper body impairment has?

My comment should have elicited a remedy note to the accessibility designer for new bus designs and should have been in the official TTC response that that is what they're going to do. Of course, I don't know if the TTC has a competent accessibility designer on staff. Perhaps that's a false assumption on my part.

Automated Stop Announcements

TTC's Response under Automated stop announcement reliability

"The automated stop call system is tested before the bus enters service. If it fails, the bus does not enter service. If the system fails in service, the Operator is required to call the stops verbally and the bus is removed and replaced at the first opportunity. Note that the stop announcement system is scheduled for replacement in the coming years as part of the new “Smartbus” CAD/AVL project."

Well, the drivers sometimes do, sometimes don't. David Lepofsky on Twitter asked people to complain when the drivers don't. It's a headache. Why does one have to consistently nag people to do their jobs, whether it's your physician to follow up on a referral or the TTC driver to call out the stops or the garage to ensure the stop call system works? Unfortunately, those of us with brain injury have to nag everyone about everything so we really would just like to be able to get on the bus and ride it like everyone else sans nagging. Is that too much to ask?

One good thing: they're upgrading it and said so. They've acknowledged it's a problem.

Subway Station Design

One comment: "Return the walkway at Spadina Station between the subway lines. It’s very hard to walk the entire walkway."

TTC's Response

"Unfortunately, it was not possible to continue to maintain the moving walkway between the subway lines at Spadina Station. The walkway machinery had reached the end of its useful life and walkways of that length were no longer manufactured. As a result, the TTC Board approved the walkway removal in 2004. Acting on ACAT advice, TTC added benches in the middle of the corridor between the two subway lines in 2013, so that customers with limited stamina could pause along the way, if needed."

I don't know about you, but I've been on very long moving walkways in airports, and where there are long distances, the airports have installed more than one. Benches are good but don't cut it.

This issue is strictly a lack of funding because of our Ontario government cutting stable operating funding, of past city and provincial governments stopping funding capital infrastructure like moving walkways, and now our new Mayor trying to cut the budget and our new Toronto Council not voting for preventative maintenance. You want a walkway at Spadina station, call your Councillor and MPP and complain loud and long. Do what people with a brain injury have to every day: nag.

Boarding Subway Trains

One comment: "On your University‑Spadina line with your new trains, the Toronto Rockets, the guard car is the very last car, and there might be some sort of safety concern here is if the guard is in the very back car. How is he going to see somebody trying to get on at the DWA with all the other people in the way?"

TTC's Response

"The Designated Waiting Area (DWA) is equipped with benches, bright lights, and a Passenger Assistance Intercom, and provides a safe place to wait for trains. TTC Operators are trained not to close the doors until all customers are safely onboard the train. Trains cannot leave the station if doors are not fully closed. TTC plans to further improve the boarding process in the future through the installation of cameras on each platform which will provide the train crew with an improved view of customers boarding and alighting along the entire platform."

They do not mention that they intend to follow more hostile-to-customers systems, which have no guard. The human dimension is what contributes to our sense of safety as we go about our daily lives in Canada's biggest city. TTC drivers on Twitter aren't impressed with management's approach to the DWA. My CNIB orientation mobility trainer has been pointing out the DWAs to me and the problems that come because they don't line up with the Guard, especially on the Bloor-Danforth Line where you can't stand near the DWA and then get in the same car as where the Guard is. Safety isn't just literal, it's also felt. When customers feel safe, TTC employees also are because customers feel connected to them. It's when customers become disconnected from drivers and Guards that the barriers to violent reactions to TTC employees come down.

Hasn't anyone at TTC read Jane Jacobs' famous book? Someone needs a refresher course on what creates safety. It's humans.

Fares for people with disabilities

Comments: "“Accessible should also consider the financial barriers that people with disabilities experience.”

“In most other major cities, individuals with disabilities are afforded the same discount as Seniors, because it makes for a more accessible public transit. Might the TTC consider doing the same?”

“Fare hike proposed is the opposite of what low income people can afford.”"

TTC's Response

"The TTC is working with the City of Toronto and various other city agencies on the Transit Fare Equity component of the overall Poverty Reduction Strategy. Recommendations to the Board on how best to deal with providing subsidized transit for Torontonians who are most in need will be made in early 2016."

The city is still thinking on this. Calgary was able to do it; why can't Toronto?

Better Information in Subway Stations

One comment: "Signs in subway stations announcing when next train is coming and the time are very hard to read. Are you going to improve readability?"

TTC's Response

"The customer information screens in subway stations are operated by a third party. Our agreement with them specifies the space available for customer information. We are currently reviewing the interface with a view to improving consistency with other TTC design elements and will take these comments into account."

So basically we're politely telling you we think readability is fine and we're not going to improve it; consistency is more important. And since maps are tiny, higher than a lot of short people, and inscrutable, I think we can safely say maps and screens will remain hard to read.

BTW I had no such problem on the London Underground. Maps and signs were huge and uncluttered and contained only the information I needed. Amazingly easy to read; made it amazingly less fatiguing to use the system.

Cognitive Accessibility

One comment: "You need to make TTC cognitively accessible, ditch numbers from subway line names."

I wrote about this issue on my blog on the 2015 Public Forum, subway line names, and signs.

TTC'S Response under Cognitive Accesibility [sic]

"Along with numbers we use symbols, colour and plain language specifically to help people with cognitive limitations. In addition, new Wheel-Trans eligibility criteria will welcome customers with cognitive impairments to the paratransit system, if they are unable to be trained to use the conventional transit system. More information will be available in 2016."

Interesting how they simply ignore the issue of changing the subway line names to numbers. People and companies ignore comments when they know they are in the wrong -- that the commenters have a valid point -- but due to pride or hubris, refuse to acknowledge and rectify their mistake that causes so much misery and rage from confusion and frustration in trying to navigate an impossible system.

One should not have to be trained to use the TTC.*

I used the London Underground, a system I haven't used in decades, with its 11 lines far easier and with no guidance than I have the TTC, which I've used week in and week out.

Cognitive accessibility means that colours, signage, subway and streetcar line names are all comprehensible to those with memory, navigational, cognitive issues. The fact that they are not is why the TTC has become harder to navigate not easier. Changing the subway line names to numbers while pretending that they haven't changed the names and increasing the sole use of streetcar numbers sans names in the same vein of ridding official announcements, maps, etc. of subway line names is only spreading the cognitive confusion to the entire system.

Wheel-Trans exists because the main system has failed.

CEO Andy Byford will not achieve beacon status when the TTC refuses to acknowledge it has decreased its cognitive accessibility and perpetuates its colossal error in changing subway line names to numbers.

I wrote CEO Byford about the subway line names. Brad Ross, corporate communications replied but I am still awaiting a formal reply from Byford. Ross indicated that the names remain in all TTC printed material and maps and that in a PA they will say the line number first followed by the name. Neither is true. Formal announcements over the PA leave out the names. And maps use numbers only for subways, streetcars, and buses. Maybe the names are in the legend, which adds to cognitive difficulty in reading a map (you need memory to read a legend and translate to the map).

To summarize:

The TTC will not install stop request buttons next to priority seats on the new streetcars.

The TTC will not design future "accessible" buses with back doors that anyone can open.

The TTC will not reinstate accessibility between Spadina stations.

The TTC will not reverse their colossal mistake in renaming subway lines and still don't use colours and signage effectively.

The TTC is extending their mistake of using numbers only for subway lines to bus and streetcars, decreasing cognitive accessibility in the entire system.

The TTC will not improve safety but replace humans with cameras, as if cameras can respond to people in distress and drivers can multitask driving trains with customer safety.

The TTC's maps and customer information screens will remain as tiny and inscrutable as ever.

The City of Toronto is dragging its heels on making the TTC affordable for people with disabilities.

The TTC is working on improving the stop call system.

One yes to 8 nos.

And that doesn't include all the other comments on lack of accessibility. What then is the point of the TTC's Public Forum on Accessible Transit when they don't actually rectify real concerns?

The Forum isn't just a gripe session. It's the TTC's access to free smart advice on how to become the beacon of accessibility to the world. Why then is the TTC ignoring most of it?

The TTC politely ignoring the real problems of people with disabilities accessing a publicly funded transit system is why people have begun holding disruptive protests like #AccessibilityNow.


*Full disclosure: due to eye surgery and resulting huge improvement in vision, I'm having to be retrained to walk, including how to use the TTC. I know the TTC, I've been using it for decades. But I have to relearn how to cope with its inaccessibility -- you wouldn't believe how much some of its stairs are tough to use because of lack of contrast to show depth or mesmerizing grout lines, and that's just one of many things I'm having to re-adapt to -- and how to use its features like the DWA. The CNIB is providing this service through orientation and mobility training. Relearning how to use the TTC would be far easier if it was the London Underground because that system is accessible, despite its size and many of its stations being ancient. So yes, I'm being trained to use it. But a truly accessible system would not necessitate training beyond what newbies, eg, children or new Torontonians, need.