Whither Toronto's TTC, Accessibility, and Wheel-Trans: Complying with the AODA

You may think that this post has nothing to do with you because you don't use Wheel-Trans. Neither do I. But the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians Disabilities Act, 2005) is starting a sea change at the TTC so that it integrates with Wheel-Trans and community buses. You have a stake in this too because if the TTC integrates our feedback, your TTC experience is going to become better -- if. Also: I bet you didn't know the TTC have community buses open to all and that you can flag them down. I didn't! More in a bit on that.

BIST (Brain Injury Society of Toronto) copied this email along to me and asked, “if you’d like to come?”
"TTC will be hosting a series of public meetings in April where staff will provide an update and request feedback on the Wheel-Trans 10-Year Strategy. The update will include more details on the expansion of the Family of Services Pilot, Access Hubs and the Community Bus pilot routes. Participants will have an opportunity to ask questions and provide input on each of these initiatives.

“Prior to these public events, we would like extend an invitation to key stakeholders such as yourself to update you on our progress and also get your feedback."

Nature chucked ice down and followed up with buckets of rain on the day of the Stakeholder Information Meeting. It didn't deter me, but so many others couldn't make it that me and the Executive Director from BALANCE for Blind Adults were pretty much able to hog the Q&A hour, and, as well, while they waited for what turned out to be only one more person, a rep from West Park Healthcare Centre, I was able to vent about an accessibility issue I ran into on the way up, something I hadn't thought about before. More on that in another post.

The two TTC staff who were holding the meeting were courteous, concerned, good listeners, took notes, and seemed dedicated to making the TTC inclusive by 2025 -- as mandated by the AODA, as one honestly admitted. Dean Milton, Manager of Strategic Initiatives, Wheel-Trans, and Mitch Underhay, Senior Community Liaison, Community Relations, CEO’s Office, demonstrated a new attitude of inclusiveness; their presentation seemed to aim for an accessible TTC I’d thought in the 1980s was becoming possible but had done a U-turn back to exclusion. They assured us six stakeholders that they knew some customers will always need Wheel-Trans; they were adamant Wheel-Trans would always exist for them, including for those who need it only on their bad days or seasonally, etc.

This simple acceptance of good days/bad days really blew my mind. It's a concept I stopped trying to explain to those who seemed like they wanted to help but who really just wanted to think if you can do x on one day, you can always do it, so that they didn't have to accommodate the tortuous ups and downs of brain injury recovery. Anywho . . .

The TTC has set up five “pillars of customer experience” in their move to abide by the AODA by 2025: Simple, Flexible, Anticipates Needs, Modern, Invisible Support. Dean presented on these five principles, I mean, pillars.

Can I pause for a moment and enjoy the jargon? It's like peeking through a porthole at a carpeted world of bustling people in suits. Anyway . . .

Dean presented on these principles with bright, clear PowerPoint slides on a huge screen. Where people needed to see details, Mitch, who was operating the laptop, readily blew them up on the screen so that we could all study them. The only huh? moment for me was when there was more text on the screen than I could read at my slow speed and when Dean referred to community bus routes solely by their numbers. I had no idea where 400 was located geographically. (I can memorize numbers, not tie them to locations. Many can’t memorize, either.) I mentioned the latter to him; he nodded in understanding and jotted down a note.

It took me awhile to follow the structure of his presentation because, you know, brain injury, but I’m handy at taking notes on my iPhone, and it slowly became clear to me.

5 Pillars of Customer Experience
TTC PowerPoint Presentation 16 April 2018


Dean noted that the TTC couldn’t meet customer expectations because they were not written down. They’re working to rectify that in the next two years. I didn’t know what he was referring to and wondered if this had to do with the new The TTC Way posters that have been popping up on the TTC and in Mayor John Tory’s feed.

I had tweeted a few of my thoughts back on 5 February 2018:

He also noted that a TTC employee can be intimidated by securing a mobility device, especially if they don’t do it that often. I thought: better, more regular training, sort of like the required CPR training health care workers in hospitals must do, and better documentation seem to be in order. Dean indicated that the new policies will be customer focused, including, “Policies focus on setting clear expectations for both employees & customers.” Personally, I don’t think the TTC should be placing expectations on customers — we’re not children nor employees — rather, they should be inspiring customers, like through courtesy campaigns or even better, modelling, a form of learning where you behave in the way you want others to behave.


The new Family of Services is all about the flexible pillar. For those of you don’t know what this is: from the point of view of some, the TTC is trying to shift customers from Wheel-Trans on to the regular TTC to get rid of the former. From the TTC’s point of view, it’s about integrating Wheel-Trans with the TTC to provide independence and flexibility to those who can use the regular service while still needing Wheel-Trans for part of their journey or maybe seasonally or at certain times of the day or only on their bad days.

Basically, it’s like this:

Family of Services Infographic
TTC PowerPoint Presentation 16 April 2018

Right now, the transfer points from Wheel-Trans to the regular TTC are at subway stations like Eglinton (you may have noticed the Wheel-Trans stop inside the station), and bus routes like Dufferin, Sheppard East, Sheppard West, Yonge, and York Mills. The TTC is expanding the number of places where customers can transfer onto accessible vehicles in accessible locations. How accessible those vehicles are is a debatable point. The old buses at least are leap years ahead of the new streetcars in that.

You'll notice in the picture above that the bus stop has many symbols on it. The bottom one in a black box above the bottom red stripe is impossible to make out even blown up. I suggested that it was too busy for anyone with cognitive issues like brain injury to make out even if it was clear. A simple symbol with stark colour contrast if you want customers to know that's a stop for Wheel-Trans transfer.

The other part of the TTC’s move to be more flexible is community buses. Say what?

Community Bus routes on a map
TTC PowerPoint Presentation 16 April 2018

Community buses run on schedules along fixed routes in five areas of Toronto, have fixed stops but can be flagged down anywhere along the route, use Wheel-Trans vehicles (the ProMaster currently), and have been doing so for apparently 20 years. Say what?! Toronto has community buses??? Since when?! They admitted they’re not well known. Well, no kidding when no-one talks about them, not the TTC, the mayor, nor media, it’s kind of hard to know about them. In two areas, the TTC is piloting extended routes (East York and Lawrence) with two ProMaster buses on the route instead of the usual one. These buses run only during the daytime, but the TTC has extended the hours slightly as well.

They’ve also changed their cancellation policy for Wheel-Trans, which they claim has been widely received positively. During the Q&A session, the ED of BALANCE kind of disputed the results, pointed out that they should be looking at why over a fifth remain unhappy, and noted that how and when the survey is done can affect results. She suggested that they use feedback methods like Uber does, where the customer can give immediate feedback at the end of a journey using a star system in a mobile app. The TTC is working on a mobile app to book Wheel-Trans by 2019 that will, from what I could gather, mimic the current telephone booking system. She also suggested a pole method that conventioneers use apparently. Basically, one can hit a smiley face button or a frown face at the bus stop at the end of your commute. I think she was suggesting that for Wheel-Trans customers using the Family of Services, but that could be useful for any TTC customer. A TTC mobile app used by all customers that allows for instant feedback with a comments field would be far more useful for everyone.

Anticipates Needs
“We have researched and surveyed our customers
and have learned some interesting facts:

• 78% of our customers are retired
• Average age of our customers is 72
• 74% are ambulatory
• 81% have total household incomes under $50,000
• 65% use Wheel‐Trans to get to medical appointments”

I wonder how many use the regular TTC service to get to medical appointments? I don’t use Wheel-Trans for a couple of reasons; one is that I need to arrive at my medical appointments on time not hours early or so late that I completely miss them. Believe it or not, I have a better chance of doing that using the TTC than booked-time Wheel-Trans. Anyway, the TTC is using this data to better understand their customers and anticipate their needs. I would have thought a fairly obvious one would be arriving and departing on time, not being picked up hours too early, dropped off hours too late, nor waiting hours for their return trip.

Access Hubs Possible Locations
TTC PowerPoint Presentation 16 April 2018

The TTC is piloting Access Hubs. I think these are supposed to be part of the Family of Services, but I’m not sure why there is only one of them right now when they’re connecting Wheel-Trans to the TTC on five bus routes. The Access Hub provides a larger, enclosed bus shelter with three benches and space for scooters with motion detection doors, heat, and lighting where people can wait when connecting from a bus to Wheel-Trans. The criteria include being outside downtown, on routes with frequent bus service (I would have thought being sheltered would be more important on infrequent routes), and far enough away from the subway to make sense installing something of that magnitude. The first one is at the Meadowvale Loop; they will build up to three new ones in 2018 and up to another three in 2019. They’re kind of hedging with “up to.” So the TTC for budgetary reasons may build only two more by 2019? Nice idea, but why so few? Tokenism.


The TTC will be installing a new phone system for Wheel-Trans booking (unsure if also for customer complaints on the regular TTC system). But there will be no staffing increase, so the queue will remain as long as ever. This is what happens when the Liberals and PCs continue to starve our public transit of needed operating funds — it doesn’t just affect the ordinary commuter but vulnerable customers even more. The online booking system will get a mobile booking app, initially only for Family of Services then for door-to-door Wheel-Trans. The plan is that the app will know your commuting needs, for example, you need Wheel-Trans only in winter but can use Family of Services in the summer. Apparently, this kind of profile data is available through the current clunky telephone system and is not gathered through AI nor machine learned. OK. Manually entered then?? I was also unable to get an answer about how this data is secured not just from the outside world but also from nasty TTC supervisors who want to track you for things like carding or calling the police/special constables to intimidate the vulnerable from demanding better service, protection from customers who’ve assaulted them, and so on. I guess confidentiality is assumed by all the stakeholders because they know more about this system than I do. But once data is transferred to a digital in-the-cloud system, all sorts of things can happen to it as the public is starting to learn. Just because a person uses Wheel-Trans or the Family of Services doesn’t mean that they should have less privacy and anonymity than the average TTC commuter. The Presto card and mobile pay are introducing all sorts of ways to track customers travels and thus learn about their private lives unless the public and politicians demand the right to require our permission first.

Modernized Scheduling
TTC PowerPoint Presentation 16 April 2018

Invisible Support

The TTC is apparently going to catch up with other public transit services by providing a travel training pilot. A sticking point for many moving from Wheel-Trans to the TTC is that they’ve never used the regular service and are afraid of it. Given some of the experiences I heard at the 2015 TTC Access meeting, I don’t blame them. And given how bad the new streetcars are for accessibility, I’d finally ditch in the towel on the TTC and go with Wheel-Trans if I didn’t find their application forms so opaque and didn’t value my freedom to head out when I wanted, take another route and walk between appointments if I suddenly had the energy and could, and enjoy the rare independence of being able to travel to some places without depending on someone.  Their one employee for travel training apparently began her job the same day as this meeting. She’s from Canadian Helen Keller Centre but will have to learn about orientation training for people with other kinds of disabilities and develop a travel training plan before she can begin training customers on how to travel on the regular TTC.

Travel training is a six-month pilot program to support the Family of Services. It will provide one-on-one training on the TTC, similar to what I’m receiving now through the CNIB, except mine includes orientation and mobility training of both the TTC and the city. Customers will receive training on wayfinding and navigation, planning and preparing for their trips, and on how to handle the unexpected. York Region has every one of their customers do this through their travel training program. So why is the TTC only doing a six-month pilot? Why not replicate York’s success and go whole hog, especially when all I’ve heard through the customer grapevine is anxiety over the Family of Services? And quite frankly, the TTC is an energy-sucking nightmare to use for anyone with accessibility issues. And that’s for someone like me who grew up with it as a “normal” person and who used to love it. I can’t imagine how intimidating, scary, and running-away-screaming from it it is for someone who never used it before as a person who could navigate the hardest of places and read tiny dark maps with ease.

The TTC intends for Wheel-Trans to be fully integrated with the “fixed-route TTC” by 2020 and the fixed-route TTC  to be fully AODA-compliant by 2025. To meet those goals, the TTC is looking for customers with conditional eligibility to use the Family of Services who want to learn how to travel on all TTC services. Is that you? Do you know someone like that? If so, contact the TTC. There are 9,000 conditional customers now, and conditions to use the Family of Services are not yet mandatory.

One of the good points made by BALANCE is that we shouldn’t call it “accessible design” but “universal design” because what works for someone with a disability can help others on the spectrum of abilities too — elevators are used by people in wheelchairs and also people with scooters, using crutches, have bad knees, very tired after an exhausting day, or the lazy — colour contrast designed for people with low vision make it easier for everyone to read signage — and so on.

Other points brought up in the Q&A

The TTC will reach far more than the six of us who skated and slushed over icy sidewalks to Davisville if, instead of telling people to go to the TTC, Mitch attended community support services offices and gave them the same presentation as we received. I understand there are about 60 of them in Toronto. I suggested that BIST invite Mitch to speak at a community meeting. That way members could be informed without having to fatigue themselves with extra travel and he could receive feedback directly from the people who use Wheel-Trans and/or the TTC, not filtered through the “experts.”

The TTC ought to work with other transportation services provided by a host of organizations. I used one when I was in outpatient neurorehab at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. I had to take the bus to Bayview and Eglinton, then get to the grocery parking lot where a Senior Link car would pick me and a couple of other people up and drive us to the TRI Rumsey Centre, which was one heck of a walk from the closest bus stop. That car ride was a heart saver for me. And it wasn’t integrated at all with the TTC, so I always stressed about missing it, especially after I did once or twice because of delays on the bus route. Miss that car, miss the appointment, and be worse off from the stress and fatigue of travelling and not making it.

Almost all the issues I’ve brought up over the years on my blog and on Twitter: subway line names changed to incomprehensible numbers, stop request buttons not available on the new streetcars, difficulty snagging priority seats, obscure maps, hard-to-read signs, unclear information, fatigue from using it unlike the London Underground where you get off with the same energy as get on it. As Dean wisely noted, that’s mental fatigue from the cognitive effort of using the TTC. London Underground doesn’t make your brain work hard to use it. Basically, the TTC is systemically ableist. The Ontario Human Rights Commission lists ableism as being in its mandate. These two men seemed dedicated to changing that. I saw that in their body language and facial expressions. They really listened. But as I noted, the attitude comes from the top. It doesn’t matter how dedicated they and the helpful drivers I’ve met are if the CEO doesn’t give a crap about true accessibility.

TTC Direct Message to me

I conveyed to Dean and Mitch that the sign for me that the TTC really had undergone an attitude change towards accessibility and inclusive design and towards seeing all as valued customers, is if they change the subway line names back to their original word names and ditch the numbers; if they admit they made a mistake and they are listening now. That would say: we respect Toronto history, we are a part of Toronto’s culture, and we embrace inclusivity for all.