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Rocket's space invaders

Time for stroller-pushers and people with disabilities to take on TTC

Andrew Cash

I’ve taken up the challenge of riding the subway with my young kids as if it were training for an urban iron man competition where strength, endurance and speed are tested in a gruelling and hostile environment.

I’m not, of course, the only sort of person experiencing the TTC as a formidable opponent. Physically disabled people are getting so pissed off that some of them have taken to direct action. On Friday, December 7, 40 members of the Disability Action Movement Now (DAMN) blocked all four entrances to the St. Patrick station at King and University for a few minutes during rush hour to make their point.

It’s one I get, even though transporting tots gives me but a mere taste of the transit rigours faced by the DAMN folks.

For example, it’s rush hour and I’m waiting for the eastbound subway at Bloor and Yonge with one kid in a stroller. Not one of those SUV models, mind you, but the sleekest of aluminum-framed umbrella strollers.

Train rolls in, people push out and others spill in. By the time we get to the door, I have to calculate the odds. I may be able to get the stroller in, but will I make it? I’ve seen it happen, doors closing on strollers. So we wait for the next train, get jostled some more and again calculate odds: how likely is that woman’s handbag to smack my kid in the head as we board and find stable standing positions.

Strategizing about whether my partner could actually get both kids (one infant, one aged two and a half) to the doctor on her own required a leap of faith. We counted on someone offering to help her with the stroller down the two long staircases at Pape station while the newborn snoozed in a wraparound sling.

But no longer do we rely on the kindness of strangers, since few ever offer to help. Now she walks several blocks west to Broadview station to take the elevator. It’s a nice walk - when the weather cooperates. This plan, dodgy as it is, works for trips that only require subway travel to and from stations that have elevators or escalators going in the right direction.

Excursions that require the use of a bus or streetcar are simply out of the question unless both parental units are involved. Solo parent with more than one kid: forget it.

Even with just one, you need to be a yoga master to negotiate a stroller through the front door of a streetcar. And once that’s accomplished, you’re overwhelmed by the collective, if silent, groan of hostility from the cranky majority already jammed in and uncomfortable.

Even the newer buses, the ones that “kneel,” oftentimes don’t kneel enough. Drivers, it seems, have very little training regarding strollers. I recently watched one - bless his heart - help a woman lift her stroller onto the bus. Unfortunately, he grabbed the plastic tabletop apparatus, which, as he lifted it, came away in his hand, sending the baby tumbling head first.

These buses have even less standing room than streetcars, and you eventually get the message that unless you’re able-bodied, slim and childless, you just aren’t welcome on the TTC. That excludes a lot of people. The elderly have considerable problems on the TTC, which will become a considerable problem for the TTC as our population ages. And then there are the disabled.

DAMN organizer Loree Erickson tells me most people just don’t understand what it means to move through the world unable to negotiate stairs. “At the demo, we weren’t trying to be nasty or to inconvenience people for too long. We were just asking them to walk a few blocks to an accessible station. This kind of thing happens to us every day.”

Subway riders, she says, got nasty, yelling at demonstrators and jostling them to get to the entrance. “Even-tually, the cops showed up and began shoving some of our members, too. It was a real eye-opener. Maybe every time I’m inconvenienced I should push, yell and demand that the cops ensure my access.”

Who knows? It may come to that: the disabled, the elderly and moms with strollers blocking a subway station entrance to make a point. Just try to rough up that kind of coalition.