Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Flashy projects take priority over TTC station accessibility

By: Metro Published on Wed Feb 04 2015

The most concerning part of the TTC’s 2015 capital budget comes on page 14 when staff acknowledges they just might blow the deadline to make all subway stations accessible by 2025.

So if you’re a wheelchair-using resident waiting to gain access to the TTC, prepare to wait longer.

The budget notes that there remains a $165-million unfunded shortfall in the plan to renovate the 39 remaining inaccessible stations across the TTC. The money, they say, just isn’t there.

“While the Commission acknowledges the importance of meeting [Accessibility of for Ontarians with Disabilities Act] requirements,” the report says, “the funding shortfall and competing capital priorities to ensure the [state-of-good-repair] and safety requirements of the existing aging transit system, may compromise our ability to fulfill this requirement without additional funding to support this costly initiative.”

That isn't acceptable.

First of all, an accessible transit system shouldn’t be labelled a “costly initiative.” Accessibility should be fundamental to any transit system As Glyn Bowerman wrote in his Metro column last week, it must be a priority.

There's no reason it shouldn't be.

Sure, it would be nice if the province kicked in money to cover the funding shortfall, but it’s wrong to characterize this as a problem the city can’t handle on its own.

After all, Toronto found about $900 million in capital money to throw toward a Scarborough subway. The city even cobbled together somewhere in the neighbourhood of $85 million to go toward Scarborough LRT cancellation costs — in other words, to buy us nothing.

And in this year’s capital plan city staff, found another $433 million to accelerate repairs on the Gardiner, meaning Toronto will spend almost a billion dollars over the next decade making sure our lakeside highway doesn’t fall down.

But we’re supposed to believe Toronto can’t find $165 million for something as vital as accessibility?

Besides, this isn’t just about making things more equitable. There’s a stone cold economic argument in favour of accessibility. A fully-accessible TTC would allow more passengers with disabilities onto the system, taking pressure off the TTC's WheelTrans service.

The potential budget implications could be significant — the TTC subsidizes WheelTrans rides to the tune of about $34 a trip, compared to 88 cents on the conventional system.

But this sort of argument — whether based on equality or economics — tends to fall on deaf ears. Retrofitting stations with elevators and ramps just doesn’t seem as politically appealing as announcing a flashy new subway extension. Unless something changes, Toronto will be opening new stations on the Scarborough extension while current stations remain inaccessible.

We're going to need to ask hard questions, starting with this one: When a city repeatedly opts to expand its transit system before making sure that system is accessible to all, what does it say about our priorities?

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post reported the unfunded shortfall for TTC accessibility funding at $139-million. It's actually $165-million, according to the TTC's 2015 capital budget.

This post was originally published at on 2015-02-04T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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