In winter of 2007, I suffered a severe ankle sprain that left me on crutches for several weeks. If you haven’t had the joy of being a non-driver with no local family hobbling on crutches in the winter, it’s a true delight. I loved hobbling through improperly cleared sidewalks, tripping in slushy residential roads that the city took its time to clear and balancing my body and a backpack on two wooden sticks.
The absolute highlight of my miserable experience, however, was trying to take the TTC to the grocery store and doctor’s appointments.
First, the bus stops: seldom adequately cleared for me to navigate safely from sidewalk to bus door. Once on board, many people refused to offer me a seat when I blatantly needed one, and few TTC drivers cared to demand one on my behalf. The elevators at Broadview frequently broke down. Most stations were anything but disabled-friendly. As a young twenty-something woman, I admittedly had not noticed until this experience just how poorly the TTC treats those of us with mobility issues. Even escalators were frequently down, or only operated upwards on all units, leaving me to hobble down stairs, certain I was about to fall face-first.
Years later now, I am permanently disabled. I have early stage arthritis in one knee, and said sprained ankle never fully recovered. I regularly struggle to walk for long periods, and cannot stand for very long. In my future, I know I will need services like Wheel Trans. This is why I am so against worsening the crowded state of the TTC and cutting Wheel Trans under the deluded notion that the disabled somehow use the main system.
I commute daily during the rush hours of morning to school downtown. I come from the east end. Despite living a five-minute walk from a subway station, I take instead a bus to a streetcar, and my physical travel time increases ten to fifteen minutes each way. I do this because I can get a seat on a streetcar this way, but on that subway, just a few stops from the end of the line, it’s debateable if I will get a seat to Bloor-Yonge, where I will wait up to ten minutes to squeeze into standing room to go southbound. I cannot stand for half an hour, forty minutes each way physically, and due to crowding and apathy, no one will relinquish their seat for me. I walk without aids, so my disability is not obvious; my age suggests health.
Having taken the TTC at all times of day, being a shift worker, I have experienced how ludicrous it is to suggest that disabled users reliant on an already shoddy Wheel Trans fold onto the main system. There’s no room for a wheelchair, let alone people willing to give up seats. Many stations do not have elevators, and many of those we have break down regularly. We already cannot accommodate those who actually do take the main system, like myself.
Further, in all of these discussions, no one has remotely stopped to consider the impact on those with mental disabilities, such as social anxiety, claustrophobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I have claustrophobia and frequently feel sick and anxious on the TTC at peak times, and my case is minor. To increase crowding would be to effectively bar my usage of the system. I shouldn’t have to take cabs or walk because public transit doesn’t give a damn about those in the public with disabilities.
Our population is aging, and mental illness rates are higher than most understand. We should be working towards alleviating crowding, not worsening it. We should be reducing wait time, not increasing them. We should not be cancelling new trains and LRTs that would aid with crowding and be more accessible. Ontario is currently pushing for more accessibility in voting; perhaps the city should be pushing for them to fund the TTC adequately instead.
I can only speak for myself, but I know that should crowding worsen, my ability to work and live in this city will be dramatically impaired. I have the right to be treated equally. Stop targeting me.