TTC Accessibility: Getting from Yonge Station to Bloor Southbound without stairs

I take public transit. I take it everywhere I go, where possible.  Even if that means travelling with luggage.

I don’t expect it to be convenient, but I also don’t expect it to be impossible.  Over the years, people with disabilities have fought hard to gain access to public transport.  As an able-bodied person, I’ve always believed transit should be accessible, not only out of concern for those who need it, but also out of complete selfishness.  Vehicles that announce and display station/stop names make it easier for me to figure out where I am and where I’m going — and having both visible and audible announcements helps when you’re in a loud vehicle or in a crowded vehicle (respectively).  Wheelchair accessibility makes it easier for so many people — people like myself who travel with luggage, but also parents with strollers.  As long as we all share the space, and no one is preventing anyone who needs the service from using it, we all benefit.

Since being in Toronto, I’ve had issues with Bloor-Yonge subway station.  I couldn’t find any accessible access to get to the Southbound platform on the Yonge line from the Bloor line platforms.  I tried tweeting with @BradTTC about it, and got this response: “when you get to the NB platform, there’s an elevator at the north end – you have to cross where the collector is…  then take the other elevator down to SB platform level.”  I pointed out the lack of signs and got: “There are signs. There is just the one elevator, however, from Yonge to Bloor.”

Today I was travelling with a large suitcase from Downsview to Wellesley — involving a transfer at St. George to the Bloor line (easy) and then at Bloor-Yonge to the Yonge line, Southbound.


I’ve taken to using escalators to make this change because I hadn’t yet found the proper sequence of changes to make, but today the up escalator to the Yonge Southbound platform was out of service (as was the one up to ground level at Wellesley — sadly, there, I had to lug this thing up by hand).  So I decided to try Brad’s suggestion.  I took photos.

Step 1: get on the only elevator/lift on the Bloor platform, at the very Eastern end of the platform. The one clearly labelled “To Yonge Line; Bloor Street.”


Step 2: Press the button for the only floor you’re not currently on. As the elevator rises, panic because the button says “Trains Northbound” and you’re actually going Southbound.

Step 3: If you’re really freaked out, do what I did the first time I attempted this (about a month ago), get back on the elevator, go back down to the Bloor platform, go all the way up and down the platform looking for another elevator, discover there is no other one, and go back to this one.

Step 4: Get off the elevator, and look all around for any signs or information that might suggest how one is to get to the Southbound platform without using stairs.  Find only two pieces of information: One a sign saying that if the elevator you just got off is out of service you should follow the instructions (which do, coincidentally, also explain how to get to the Yonge Southbound platform, but one wouldn’t intuitively continue to read if the elevator was in fact in service… as an aside, having the accessible alternative require travelling an extra 20-30 minutes out of the way is a bit absurd), and the other another sign reading “Yonge Trains Northbound.”


Step 5: Either keep reading the sign that appears to be about something unrelated to your needs, or wander around confused for a little bit, until you find a sign that reads “EXIT / Bloor St. North Side / Yonge Trains Southbound.”  Follow it, hoping it’s an accessible alternative despite not saying that it is.
Step 6: Finally! A sign directing me to Yonge Line Southbound, with a wheelchair logo!  Push through large crowds of people crammed around the North end of the Northbound platform to get to the elevator.


Step 7: Get on the elevator and eventually figure out that you’re going up, not down. Press up button. Cross fingers and/or pray that the fact that the level selector says “Mezzanine / Tickets” doesn’t mean you’re going to the wrong place again.

Step 8: Get upstairs, encounter a stream of people heading down the stairs to where you just came from, search frantically for a sign, finally find a sign, and get on an elevator about 15m away from where you just surfaced.

Step 9: Rejoice! This elevator actually says it goes to Yonge Southbound!!!


Step 10: Arrive on the Yonge platform, relieved!


This is a bit much, to say the least.  For one of Toronto’s busiest transit stations, the difficulty of getting around is a bit of a mess.  But it would all be not so bad if it were all clearly marked — it’s not.

Sydney’s Central Station has a few line transfers that are as messy and complicated as this (some even involve leaving the fare-paid area and re-entering it through gates that are manually operated by staff), but I can always find them. Why? Because they paint coloured lines on the floor and have clearly-visible and labelled descriptions for where those lines go.  I just follow the blue line on the floor, and it takes me where I need to go. I never have to stop, double back, or wander around lost while trying to avoid stairs when travelling with too much luggage (or if I were, heaven forbid, actually in a wheelchair and in a real need of the lifts).  It’s such a simple communication tool, but I’d even settle for some signs that clearly point the way and/or clearly identify themselves as directions to the track I want.  That’s not asking much, is it?

4 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for this Neil. The issues for the differently abled in negotiating the TTC are well, numerous to say the least! As you know, both my children are autistic. There’s challenges about using the TTC that I just have to suck up (like short-turning streetcars – man, my kids just do NOT understand why we’re getting off) but there’s so much that the TTC could do to make things better that’s cheap and effective. Your point about clarity regarding directions is an excellent one. One of the things I don’t understand about the TTC is how poor the signage is. How can it be so difficult to negotiate a subway system that is basically two lines (plus the Shepherd thing)? Why is everything so colourless and wordy? We need clear VISUALS plus braille and aural assistance for the blind/sight-impaired. If a neurotypical young guy has a hard time working out where to go, what hope do the rest of us have?!


  2. Even for a transit geek like me, this whole experience sounds like a bit of a nightmare. As you’ve mentioned, a bit of colour and clarity can go a long, long way to increase wayfinding – to the point where you might not even have to consciously think about which turn to make, or how many floors to descend, because it’s just so obvious. Ideally, this would be the goal for all transit authorities… and some are certainly closer than others.


  3. The Blue Line at Sydney’s Central Station:

    (I have negative comments coming soon about Sydney too – it’s not really that great!)


  4. […] area.  My first email pretty well explains it all.  This isn’t quite as annoying as my recent interactions with Bloor-Yonge station in Toronto, but annoying nonetheless: (Email sent May 23rd, […]


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