Toronto’s five leading mayoral hopefuls all pledge to build a bus stop closer to Variety Village, but that’s where the consensus on accessible transit ends.
Rob Ford, George Smitherman, Sarah Thomson, Joe Pantalone and Rocco Rossi each made the promise on Sept. 16 at a debate focused on issues of disability held at Variety Village ahead of the Oct. 25 municipal election.
Though a new stop outside the Danforth Avenue fitness and life-skills centre would be a start — the nearest one now is a 10-minute walk away and can be difficult for people with disabilities to reach — the candidates’ pledge isn’t enough, some at the debate said.
“We need all the stops to be wheelchair accessible,” said Peter Athanasopoulos, of the Canadian Paraplegic Association.
He said Toronto’s transit system is “two-tier”, where half of the public infrastructure is accessible and the other half is not. For example, 29 of the 69 subway and Scarborough RT stations in the city are wheelchair accessible, according to the TTC.
“For me, transportation is the big issue here,” said Athanasopoulos. “If we can make any wins in the mayoral election, it would be to improve transportation for the disabled.”
“We have to build a city that is fully accessible,” Thomson said.
She plans to do this, she said, by developing the subway system.
Rossi said that if elected mayor, he’d ensure people with disabilities receiving social assistance would pay a discounted fare.
People with disabilities and seniors should ride free, Ford said without making a commitment.
Smitherman shot back at Ford, saying he had pledged to not give free transit at a prior meeting.
Pantalone, meanwhile, said that as mayor he would make sure people with disabilities are allowed to get off a bus anywhere along the route.
Funding for Variety Village
The political sparring continued as the debate turned to another hot-button issue: money for Variety Village.
Variety, which offers services to 3,350 people with disabilities, has asked for annual funding from the city to cover operating costs. The centre went through a round of layoffs in 2008 and is today facing deficits.
Ford said he could get the private sector involved by donating money.
Rossi argued cash from the private sector wouldn’t go far enough. Instead, Rossi suggested funding for Variety Village would come from city spending on day care, recreation and skills development, all of which Variety offers.
Money could be found in the $15-million special recreation funding proposed for the 2015 Pan Am Games, Smitherman said.
Pantalone said he couldn’t promise funding, pointing his finger at the province instead.
Funding for Variety Village could be found by reorganizing municipal spending, Thomson said, and that might include releasing funds from Toronto Community Housing.