Transit accessibility for all remains a dream unfulfilled across Canada
There's a pair of elevators to nowhere at one of the busiest subway stations in Montreal.
Get off the train at Place Bonaventure and it's 36 stairs up to the next level. The elevators are there for riders who can't do that walk, but they go only from the train platform to the ticket-booth area, one level up. It's a long walk and many more stairs from there to the street.
The station has been like this for eight years, a jarring reminder of how much of the system is off-limits to those unable to walk.
"There are good intentions, but we've got to go further than good intentions," said Laurent Morissette, who heads the disability rights group RAPLIQ and laments that "accessibility doesn't sell" when politicians are campaigning for office.
According to the STM – the local transit agency whose headquarters is in a tower above Bonaventure – the rest of the elevator system is the responsibility of the regional transit agency, RTM.
A spokeswoman for that agency said the work began this year after a long planning and negotiations process, and should be complete by the end of 2018.
The limited accessibility of Montreal's transit – a situation that has started to improve a bit more quickly – is not unique to that system. European transit can be hit-or-miss on accessibility and even the much-vaunted rail networks in Japan can fall short, with trains sometimes coming to a stop with their floor well above or below the platform, or with a large gap between.
In Canada, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is racing to meet a legal requirement to be fully accessible by the middle of the next decade. And the regional agency Translink in Vancouver says that, although their Skytrain network has elevators in every station, work remains to be done on their system.
This matters to more than those who are disabled. As society ages across the Western world, the group of people who might be helped by accessibility-related improvements will only grow.