So I’m a bit of a transit nerd (and part-time wheelchair user) in Toronto, and I figured I’d send along what I can say about accessible public transit in Toronto.
Disclosure: I alternate between my cane and my manual hybrid wheelchair, depending on a lot of factors, so this is written from that point of view. I have a few friends with visual impairments, so I’ve mentioned a few things in relation, as well.
First note: Under Ontario Laws, Disability is recognized as a protected class under the Human Rights Code. You cannot legally be denied service due to a disability.
That being said, onto Transit! I can’t speak much to Pearson International or Billy Bishop Airports, but Commuter Rail, and the Toronto Transit Commission I can speak to, as well as a few notes on traveling to the suburbs of Toronto.
Cost & Transit Fares
Many GTHA (Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area) transit systems can use a smart-card payment system called Presto (www.presto.ca). The exceptions I know of are the Toronto Transit Commission and Via Rail (which is the long-distance rail).
I strongly recommend the Presto Card for tourists, so you’re not having to juggle different fares for different jurisdictions. Toronto Transit Commission is currently working to put Presto on the remaining vehicles, so right now about half the subway, and all of the streetcars/LRT vehicles have the capability to accept Presto. The smart card system should be fully implemented across all vehicles by 2017. Via Rail does not use Presto since it has a much wider scope.
Important Note: While all conventional vehicles may use Presto, not all Paratransit vehicles do! York Region Transit has Presto on all vehicles except their Paratransit fleet, for example. So if you’re looking at using Paratransit, inquire if their vehicles have the ability to pay with Presto.
GO Transit Commuter Rail and Buses
Commuter Rail between Downtown Toronto and various suburbs is done primarily by GO Transit (www.gotransit.com). All of the trains are accessible with a designated accessible car. The accessible bathrooms on the trains are tiny, though. I can barely get my manual chair in there, so I’m not sure that some larger or powered chairs would fit. They do have grab bars, however, which is very nice.
Go Trains use a bridge plate to a raised platform on the station. But. . . not all GO Train stations have elevators. Most do, but check the specific station online. (Note that under the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, all public transit must be accessible by 2025, so this is something that is being actively worked on).
The same agency that operates GO Transit also operates the UP Express (www.upexpress.com), which is a dedicated train from Pearson International Airport to Toronto Union Station, with two additional stops on the way.
The UP Express train is accessible, and both Bloor station and Union Station are accessible for sure, since I’ve been to both those stations! However, the cost is prohibitive, at $27 CAD (~$20 USD) one way (%19 if you have a Presto Card). Also, I’ve not been through the Pearson Airport end of the line, so I can’t speak too much to it except to say that it must be generally accessible as it was built relatively recently (and any new infrastructure built must be accessible as outlined in various building codes and standards — if you’re curious, look up the Ontario Building Code, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and the Integrated Standards Act).
GO Transit also operates a bus fleet. All of the buses are wheelchair accessible, but check the dimensions of your mobility device to make sure it will fit. Some Go Bus runs use high-floor buses with a wheelchair lift, and some use low-floors with a ramp.
(Editor’s Note: In general, public transit buses that offer barrier-free wheelchair access can accommodate all standard manual and power wheelchairs that are sold to general consumers. This is true, in my experience, all around the world. –John)
However, not all GO Bus stops are accessible, as there may not be a place to safely deploy the lift/ramp. Call ahead. The main stops are marked on the various GO Bus schedules, but in places where GO Bus stops share with local transit stops, not all stops will be labeled.
Also, bear in mind that this is Canada, and we do get snow. It’s not uncommon for bus stops, sidewalks and curb cuts to be covered in snow and snowbanks in the winter, so be prepared for rougher terrain. Sometimes, buses can’t deploy the ramps/lifts due to snowbanks, though in all those situations I’ve been in, the staff have been pretty good about figuring out a way to make it work.
GO Transit also suggests you call ahead when dealing with their Bus service, as on some models of vehicle, they must remove seats to make space for the wheelchair securement area, and, it lets the driver know to look for you.
Note that GO Transit often provides connections to other regional transit agencies (Durham Regional Transit, York Region Transit, Toronto Transit Commission, etc.).
Under the AODA, if you require an attendant/support person, they do not have to pay transit fare. However, you may have to fill out forms depending on the transit agency you are using. GO Transit does not require (last I checked) you to do so, but Toronto Transit Commission does.
Note that GO Transit does have automated stop announcements on most of their vehicles for passengers with Visual impairments.
Toronto Transit Commission
The City of Toronto uses the Toronto Transit Comission (TTC – www.ttc.ca).
The TTC is semi-accessible. Half of the subway stations are accessible, and all of the bus fleet is accessible. There are broad swaths of accessibility information on their website: www.ttc.ca/….
All subway trains are accessible — however, on Line 1 (Yellow Line), there can be substantial lips or gaps between the train and the platform. Some stations provide specific boarding/deboarding assistance for people using mobility devices for that reason.
On Line 2 (Green Line), look for the designated waiting area. The waiting area places you close to the ‘guard car’ which is the car that has TTC personnel inside. While they cannot directly assist you, getting their attention can be useful if you will need additional time to board.
Note that there is no direct assistance available on the subway. If you do need assistance, contact the collector in the collector booth.
TTC Subway Trains: Accessible Seating & Wheelchair Spaces
There are designated spaces for wheelchairs on all subway trains except the Scarborough RT (Line 3/Blue Line). On Line 1, there are designated seats at each end of each car. On Lines 2 and 4 (Purple Line), look for the International Symbol of Access beside the doors of the subway train to indicate where flip-up accessible seating is. On Line 3, there is no designated accessible seating. (Note that on Line 3, the terminal station – McCowan Station) – does not have elevators! There are only two stations on line 3 that have elevators: Kennedy and Scarborough Town Centre).
Again, under the AODA, other passengers -must- vacate the designated accessible seating if required. Most people will if you ask them politely. Also note that there is additional accessible blue seating that does not flip up, but if you use a mobility device such as a cane/walker, those seats are reserved near the doors of the vehicle.
On Lines 2 and 4, there is a clamping mechanism for wheelchairs, but it is legacy equipment and I actually don’t suggest using it. Lines 1 and 3 do not have wheelchair securement options.
Elevators in Subway stations do occasionally break down. When that happens, it will be posted on the TTC’s service alerts: www.ttc.ca/…
As well, you can find a listing of planned elevator/escalator maintenance; subway closures, and route diversions here: www.ttc.ca/…
The current Streetcar/LRT fleet is not accessible. There is a slow process of converting to new, accessible vehicles, with a few of the new vehicles running on selected streetcar routes. The only route at the time of my typing that has enough new vehicles to be designated accessible is the 510 Spadina route.
On the new streetcars, the operator will come out to assist with the operation of the bridge plate. The bridge plate will either deploy to the curb or raised platform, or right to the street. If it is deploying right to the street, the operator will assist if the ramp is too steep to get up/down safely.
Yes, that is right to the street. Toronto streetcars operate in some (most) areas in mixed traffic. It is a known concern and issue that drivers do not stop for the open streetcar doors (as they are required to do under the Highway Traffic Act). Be cautious! If you’re using a cane/walker/crutches and exiting the old streetcars, you’re going to really want to keep your eyes open.
That being said, all of the 510 Spadina stops (currently the only accessible streetcar route) go to curbs, island platforms, or interior stops in stations.
Both old and new streetcars have automated interior stop announcements, and new streetcars have automated exterior stop announcements, for passengers with visual impairments.
All buses in the TTC fleet are accessible, but not all mobility devices can fit. The TTC posts detailed descriptions of the space requirements on their website: www.ttc.ca/…
In addition, like Go Transit, not all bus stops have somewhere to safely deploy the ramp. Sometimes that means going to the next stop. All accessible bus stops will be marked both online and at the bus stop with the blue International Symbol of Access (that’s the symbol of a person using a wheelchair).
Buses come with tie-down options to secure your chair. If you require assistance either flipping up the bench seat, or securing your chair, you can ask the bus operator for assistance.
TTC buses also have interior automated stop announcements for people with visual impairments. There is currently a program to install exterior stop announcements on buses, so some buses will also have an exterior speaker announcing route/destination/etc. Again, under the AODA, such things are being phased in in transit systems across Ontario.
TTC Paratransit Service
TTC also operates a Paratransit fleet for people with disabilities: www.ttc.ca/…
If you are eligible for Paratransit service in your home city, you -may- be eligible for WheelTrans. However, it can be difficult to obtain visitor status. Also, depending on your travel plans, bear in mind that WheelTrans trips must be booked at least one day in advance. You must know the dimensions of your mobility device, as WheelTrans operates its own vehicles plus a fleet of contracted accessible cabs — and not all devices fit in accessible cabs. While right now, WheelTrans does not take the Presto payment card, that is also being planned for and should be available in 2017.
Other jurisdictions also operate paratransit services — such as York Region’s Mobility Plus. However, these Paratransit services are not well integrated, and will not take you outside established boundaries. In theory, they have designated transfer points (that is, you go part way on TTC Wheeltrans, and part way on YRT’s Mobility Plus). Unfortunately, because they are not integrated, you can end up waiting over an hour between rides. If it is an option, I strongly suggest taking a regular vehicle for travel into the various suburbs of Toronto (Durham, York, Peel, etc). GO transit is the best option for that.
Triplinx has a list of all GHTA Paratransit Providers here: www.triplinx.ca/en/…
Other Toronto Area Transit Systems
The various suburbs of Toronto all have their own transit systems, and they also are required to run a Paratransit service concurrently.
Most (if not all) of the bus fleets are accessible. There may still be the occasional inaccessible bus in service, but inaccessible buses are an exception overall and not the norm. Most transfer points between systems are also accessible.
However, again, when you enter more rural areas, be aware there may be no sidewalk, and thusly no space to safely deploy a bus ramp, so you’ll probably want to ask about specific stops if you’re uncertain. (That also comes back to my previous comment about snow!)
The best bet is to check out each suburb’s public transportation website and/or give them a call.
Another useful resource is Triplinx: www.triplinx.ca/en – It shows integrated trips across the GTHA, (note that it does not include Via Rail) and has an option for accessible trip planning. So far, it’s been pretty accurate for me.
I’ve mentioned Via Rail several times, and it deserves a point of mention, simply because it is long-distance rail. If you want to travel between Toronto and Ottawa or Montreal, this is the best way to do it, I find. Via offers rail service across all of Canada.
Important Note: Canada does not have a federal disability policy. The AODA I’ve been referencing here applies to Ontario only.
Via Rail Stations are usually accessible within the various major cities, but some of the more rural stations may not be — contact them for specifics as to each station, train type, etc. While their infrastructure may not always be the best when it comes to accessibility, I’ve found their staff to mostly be quite helpful (actually, Via Rail staff tend to be a bit over-helpful, which is a whole other issue — but when I’m traveling, I’d rather have over-helpful then not helpful).
With all that being said, Toronto, as a city, is actually somewhere I would suggest traveling to. I was nervous when I moved here (I’ve been living in Toronto for a while now!), but have found that people are helpful and there are many accessible places. People with disabilities are slowly becoming more visible here — it’s not super-uncommon to see someone rolling down the street, or walking along with a service dog.
Finally, if you’ve got any questions, the best people to contact are the people who run the various transit agencies. They usually either have answers, or can find people who have answers. You can use the links I shared throughout this post to locate the relevant contact information.