for those of us in wheelchairs, TTC buses with lifts and low-floor buses with ramps are supposed to make getting around the city easier. The specially-equipped vehicles are currently on 34 routes in the city. And travelling on the regular system should be so much more convenient than Wheel-Trans.
Actually getting on these buses, however, is something else entirely. I often see drivers behind the wheel of these buses panic at the sight of a wheelchair. They push several buttons with the hope they'll finally hit the one to open the ramp. On occasion, I've observed drivers flick the control lever down when they should be flicking up to open the ramp -- or not bothering to deal with the ramp at all.
One day, for example, five different drivers of these specially equipped buses wouldn't allow me on board at the Bathurst subway station because they claimed their ramps weren't working.
When I finally insisted to one of the drivers, positioning my chair so that the doors couldn't close, he threatened to call the police.
A week ago Saturday, I waited for more than 20 minutes for a wheelchair-accessible bus I could get on.
The driver who pulled up asked me to wait for the next one, saying the bus was already "kinda full." I protested. He grudgingly opened his ramp. He came on over the loud speaker to apologize to the rest of the riders for the "inconvenience."
Later, at Bathurst and Davenport, with the vehicle much emptier, another wheelchair user was waiting to board. His response: "Not another wheelchair."
I don't think the majority of bus drivers are exactly thrilled that these buses were put on the road.
From time to time, the ramp genuinely may not be working, but an override switch can be used to open the ramp manually.
All this after the Tories, ironically enough, introduced an Ontarians with Disabilities Act that's supposed to give people with disabilities like myself equal access to transportation, among other things.
Vince Casuti, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union representing drivers, says there have been a lot of mechanical problems with buses equipped with wheelchair lifts.
"The lifts don't work that well," he says. "They were having problems with the ramps a while back." Which begs the question of why they're being deployed in a state of disrepair in the first place. Is it that they don't really expect disabled people to use them?
While noting that drivers are trained on how to use the ramps, Marilyn Bolton, the TTC's official spokesperson, downplays the notion that there are serious mechanical problems with the contraptions.
"Anything that has a mechanical component to it is prone to failure, but this is not necessarily an overwhelming problem."
Bolton bristles at my suggestion that the glitches in the system may be more serious than she thinks.
"I don't know that they are," she says.
She adds that while it may be more difficult to get a wheelchair-accessible bus during rush hour, they're scheduled to run every 20 minutes at off-peak hours.
Not when I tried to get home after a concert recently. With the elevator at Bathurst station out of order, I had to get off the subway at Spadina and wheel to the Bathurst station.
I'd planned on taking the bus north to Lawrence, but neither of the last two buses to leave the station that night were wheelchair-accessible. Neither was the overnight bus that runs every half hour. The TTC pulled an accessible bus off of Dufferin Street to take me home. It arrived at the station at 2 am.
The TTC says it intends to phase in more of these buses over time. But I wonder if what is really needed is an attitude adjustment.