Sunday, June 20, 2010

Another Accessibility Nightmare on the TTC

To start with I ran into problems with the barricades that were erected on Front St., in front of Union Station for the G20. The street was blocked so Wheel-Trans could not pick me up at the usual spot. The last time I was to be picked up at Union Station the driver no-showed me, even though I was sitting right there. I still don't know for sure what happened, but what I do know, was I was not willing to endure another nightmare of the dispatcher and customer service rep literally yelling at me and telling me that Union Station and Via Rail where not one in the same.

I learned the last time that there is supposed to be a designated bus stop for Wheel-Trans and, when there's construction, even if it is minor, Via is supposed to let them know where the stop is being moved to. The day they stood me up, I was told that Via Rail and Union Station are not the same thing, (they could have fooled me), so when they had Front St. closed, I was a little fearful that the bus would not find me. Besides, when I booked the call, they never told me that the street was closed, and they would be picking me up at another location. I was semi-panicked about what problems might develop out of this one.

Fortunately a friend had sent me a media release from Via Rail that warned of the street closures. It said their employees would be accompanying people with disabilities to one of two side doors, to meet their ride. The thing is, the employees didn't know anything about Front St. being closed, until I showed them the printed copy of the media release. I gave it to them, then for posterity purposes, asked them to walk me over to the Bay St. door. I wanted to make sure there were no glitches.

Well, there were, but I had no idea what to say to the employee. No cars were coming south on Bay so that meant that likely Wheel-Trans couldn't come down that side either. To get across the road a wheelchair user had to jump a barricade, or go back inside Via Rail, up an elevator, across a street overpass, and down on the GO Transit side. I had no idea what side Wheel-Trans would be looking for me at, so I decided to phone them. I let the Via employee go on his way.

When I phoned Wheel-Trans, I asked where they would be picking me up. They said Front St. Obviously, they had no idea about the street being closed either. I told them about the Via Rail media release and they said they had not received a notice from them yet. I had to urge them to go on the Via Rail web site to look for it, or ask questions from someone internally so they could come back on the line and tell me where to go. When they came back on the line, they said they would meet me on Bay St. I told them the west side was closed and they said, well then that means we're not to look for you at Via Rail then. You want us to meet you at GO. I gave up. I was not convinced the bus would actually find me at GO, and I was not sure if I would be allowed to go unaccompanied up the elevator to use the pedestrian walkway to get to the GO side. The G20 rules were definitely not clear.

As an aside, I have never seen Union Station look so clean and pristine, before though. It is odd that they're washing and painting the whole thing when the trains won't even be allowed to enter the station.

Back to picking a location for Wheel-Trans to find me at Union Station. I was so frustrated by the communication break-down and the inability to get a clear answer that I decided the easiest thing to do was cancel Wheel-Trans and find my own way to the hotel. At least I knew how to get to the hotel by subway.

The next step was to figure out how to get to the TTC meeting on the CNE grounds. I phoned Wheel-Trans to ask them for advice and they said it would be best to catch a shuttle bus at the Bathurst Subway station; that they would start at 6 pm and would be running every 15 minutes until everyone had got there. That sounded easy. I know the subway routes so I figured we could get over to the Bathurst Station by about 3 pm, explore the area around the station, and then catch the shuttle at 6 pm.

Famous last words.

I got on the northbound subway at Dundas, headed to the Bloor station stop, and got off to transfer. I had no idea the elevator was out of order and had been under repair for several months. I took another elevator upstairs, found a TTC fare collection worker, and them where to find an alternative route. She didn't have a clue. She said she was new.

I decided to take the elevator down to on the south side in hopes of finding another elevator down to the Bloor Street line. No such luck. I went back upstairs. I found another clerk and I asked her for directions. She didn't know the answer either, but at least she made a call to find out.

It turned out the answer was, to get back on the southbound subway, take it down to Union Station and around back up the University line. I was told I could get off at Bloor then. Little did I know, the station was not called Bloor on the University subway side. According the map, there were two choices; St. Georges and Spadina. Both had wheelchair symbols, but Spadina had the words, Bloor only. I interpreted this to mean, it was the only transfer point that would get me onto the Bloor line.

I got out at Spadina and discovered the only way out was up the stairs, or up the escalator. There was no elevator. Now I know there are 2 Spadina subway stations and the one on the Bloor St. line is the one that is accessible. The one on the University line is not.

The only way out was to get back on the northbound train and hope to find a station with a centre platform so I could cross over and head south. I knew the train would eventually go south once it got to the furthest point north, but it would take a long time. No centre platform was forthcoming so, at Eglinton, the last accessible station, I decided to get out. I went to the Help button at the DWA (Designated waiting area) and pushed it. I asked the person who answered if I could get to the southbound tracks without having pay for another fare. He had no idea. I asked him what station the button was alerting him at, and he said he was upstairs.

It appeared to be a waste of time to ask any more questions so I decided to take the elevator upstairs and, if nothing else I could use my cell phone to call for help. Fortunately as soon as I got up there I could see it was easy to get to the south tracks. I just had to go across the hall and take the elevator down. If the guy in the booth had looked out his window he could have seen this, so I knocked on his door to ask questions. I wanted to know why he didn't know the answer. The guy was a summer student and he had not been given any training on routes. You could tell he was frustrated about not knowing how to answer the questions. I knew there had to be a good explanation, so I was easy on him.

The subway trip went smoothly after that. I took the southbound subway from Eglinton and got off at St. Georges. I then transferred onto the Bloor line and caught the subway to Bathurst. By the time we got there we had been on 4 subways and, due to failing equipment, communication breakdown, and my lack of knowledge of the Toronto subway system, it ook us close to 3 hours to do what the trip planner says can normally be done in 17 minutes. When we arrived at the Bathurst Station we had a grand total of 30 minutes to relax, breathe the fresh air, and calm down, before we had to catch the shuttle to the Accessibility on the TTC meeting. Needless to say, the experience had me well primed to talk to them about their serious communication breakdown.

Please read my other Blogs:
Accessibility: http://wheelchairdemon.blogspot.com
Health: http://wheelchairdemon-health.blogspot.com

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