Disability advocates gain traction in push for London Transit paratransit fixes

After more than 20 years of pushing for changes to a "broken" and "dysfunctional" paratransit system, accessibility advocate Jeff Preston says he's fed up with the inaction.

"Enough is enough," Preston, an assistant professor of disability studies at Western University's King's University College, told members of the London Transit Commission (LTC) in a delegation Monday night.

"COVID was difficult," he acknowledged, but "paratransit has been a problem for as long as I've been here. We can do better. But to do that, we need to work together."

The delegation by Preston and advocates Jacqueline Madden and Wendy Lau highlighted the challenges faced by many riders who rely on LTC's specialized transit system and a plan needed to address them.

Echoing concerns raised by many riders, they spoke about a strained bus service that leaves passengers with limited rides to social activities and daily necessities like groceries and medical appointments.

"We've heard stories from riders, people talking about dialling 300 to 400 times over and over again," Preston said of scheduling a ride, which must be done days in advance and is only by phone.

Look no further than the meeting to understand how riders are affected by the flawed system, said Madden, former chair of city hall's accessibility advisory committee.

Even with a strong turnout of disabled Londoners, their families and personal care workers, she said many more people wanted to participate but could not get a ride. "Also, we asked for a virtual option, which was not available."

Still, she added, the attendance alone "tells you the story."

Nearly 12,000 people are registered to use London Transit's specialized transit service, which provides shared rides for people physically unable to use the conventional bus system. The wheelchair-equipped buses are run by the private transportation company Voyago.

Advocates pitched a detailed plan to improve the system, including introducing same-day booking options, smart card access in every bus, and sensitivity training for drivers by the fall.

They also proposed an online and app booking system, live bus tracking and efficiency to reduce ride times by January 2024, and a four-year goal of increasing ridership capacity by 10 per cent year-over-year.

The plan, which earned unanimous support from city hall's civic works committee last month, was well received by commissioners Monday.

"When you originally approached me and other councillors, you brought the same passion that you're bringing in today," Ward 13 Coun. David Ferreira, who sits on the transit commission, said to Preston of his delegations.

"So as a commission, we are listening to your questions," he said, calling it a "good start" to make some change.

Most of the recommendations presented are already outlined in the commission's 2023 work program, said London Transit general manager Kelly Paleczny.

"So it gives me a sense that we are on top of what the issues are and what the issues from the customer perspective are. We do have plans in place to address those going forward," she said.

The commission backed a motion to direct staff to report back on the recommendations proposed by the delegation along with any associated costs. Preston, Madden and Lau agreed it was an encouraging step forward.

"I'm very thankful and appreciative that motion (went) through," said Lau, chief executive of LEADS Employment Services, a London non-profit that supports people with disabilities and employment-related barriers. "We're looking forward, for action."

Added Preston: "They seemed to agree with us that it was time to change. And the motion means we're moving forward. This is another foot forward in a very long journey."


Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press