The History of Accessible Transit on the TTC

By Godfrey Mallion

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The story of transit for individuals which may have mobility, agility, hearing, mental, seeing, or speaking functional limitations begins, under the direction of the Motor Coach Department, in September, 1926. In that year 3 coaches were used to transport approximately 30 wheelchair bound children from their homes all over the city to the Wellesley Street School, at the north-eastern corner of Bay and Wellesley Streets. By 1930 four coaches were employed in this service. On January 22, 1948 modified R-23 Twin Coach #574 entered wheelchair service. The seats had been removed from the bus and a wider rear exit had been installed. A long ramp was stored under the bus. 8 wheelchair positions were created. Through the next several years people, who had previously been transported by ambulances, were making trips to and from work, doctor’s appointments, Sunnyside, the Island, and youngsters now enjoyed visits to Department Store Santas downtown.

By 1975 the initial Wheel-Trans service would have 46 regular customers. The equipment would grow to include 62 Thomas Mighty-Mite vehicles and 22 station wagons. In 1978 17 Wheel-Trans vans would provide service for 2,500 patrons.

In 1979 the Technical Advisory Committee on Improved Accessibility was formed by the T.T.C.. They surveyed the entire T.T.C. system for obstacles for the handicapped.

From the imput of the Advisory Committee the T.T.C. began to work on improving the system. A textured strip would be added to aid the blind in recognizing the subway platform edges. Handholds would be added to entrance doors of buses and trolley coaches. An electronic amplification system was added to subway collector booths. Additional subway platform benches were added. Pending projects included automatic subway station announcements, colour contrasting the edges of steps and escalators, and the use of symbols to help the mentally challenged.

By May 1, 1983 Wheel-Trans scheduling, reservations, dispatching, and administration of this special service was done by the Wheel-Trans Department of the T.T.C.. 45 mini-buses and cabs handled 20,000 one-way trips monthly.

February 1, 1985 saw a contract signed of 30 Orion II buses, at a cost of $2.8 million.

In December, 1986 additional 32 Orion II Wheel-Trans vehicles were ordered to begin to replace the Thomas Mighty-Mite fleet. This would grow to 62 buses in total. The Orion II vehicles began service in June of 1986.

In 1986 an Accessobus, highway lift-equipped bus, was demonstrated in Toronto. This was followed on February 2, 1987 with the testing of a Dutcher Wheel-Trans vehicle in the city.

The Orion II bus order was increased in July of 1988 to eventually have 123 buses and 27 station wagons in service for special patrons. On January 1, 1989 the take over of 125 Wheel-Trans buses by the T.T.C. was complete.

October 15, 1990 saw the beginning of accessible Community buses with the start of the Lawrence Manor route. Six additional Community buses were ordered by July, 1991. At the July 23, 1991 low-floor buses were promoted as a tool in making the entire rolling stock of the T.T.C. accessible.

Wheel-Trans celebrated its one-millionth customer on November 13, 1991. On June 22, 1992 four additional Community bus routes PARKDALE, NORTH BATHURST, SOUTH DON MILLS, and EAST YORK, joined the LAWRENCE MANOR route. A short-lived DOWNTOWN Community bus would be added 3 years later.

In 1993 the T.T.C. embarked on additional Easier Access Improvements to the system. Automatic doors were added at some subway stations. Benches, with side handrails were added. Additional escalators and improved platform edge markers were installed. Chime trains were added.

Wayfinding platform tiles were added to the subway platforms. Extended end-gates on subway cars aided the visually challenged in finding the subway doorways. Priority seating signs were placed in vehicles. New subway emergency door out-of-sevice barriers were introduced. SRT cars received door threshold improvements. Automatic stop announcements were made. High-exit turnstiles were made accessible to wheelchair patrons.

Enlarged token vending machine coin slots aided those with motor challenges. Key station elevators were being planned and installed. The pending T-1 subway car order contained wheelchair positions near the cab end of each car. Regular route buses were bought with accessibility features. Kneeling bus signs were added to the exterior of the vehicles. Easier-to-read electronic bus signs were purchased.

February, 1994 saw the order for 100 low-floor CNG buses placed. A New Flyer low-floor bus visited the city in June of 1995. On June 5, 1996 the first Orion V accessible bus arrived at Hillcrest. By February, 1997 lift-equipped buses served 11 routes, including 2 routes serving Downsview Station, 4 serving Finch Station, 2 serving Kennedy Station, and one serving Kipling Station.

On September 19, 1997 new elevators at Queen Station joined those already in service at Bloor-Yonge, Union, Downsview, and Spadina Stations.

In 1998 the order of new ELF buses (127 in total initially) to replace the Orion II’s was placed.

In 2003 the T.T.C. had 35 accessible regular bus routes, 4 accessible Community bus routes, 2 accessible Night bus routes, 22 subway stations with elevators, and 2 RT stations with elevators.

On December 18, 2011, the last of the non-accessible GM “New Look” buses were retired, as the [52 LAWRENCE WEST](/bus/routes/lawrence-193419.shtml) and the [352 LAWRENCE WEST NIGHT](/bus/routes/352-lawrence-we.shtml) buses were rendered accessible, making the whole of the TTC’s bus network fully accessible. In 2012, the TTC unveiled [the next generation of Toronto streetcar](/streetcar/4506.shtml), promising fully accessible streetcar service beginning in 2014 and fully implemented by the 2020. That same year, 30 of the TTC’s subway and RT stations were accessible.

The goal to make the entire system accessible continues.

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