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Wheelchair user hit crossing Southdale Road as paratransit refuses home pickup | CBC News

For Tom Mahoney — a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy — having to cross four lanes of traffic on Southdale Road to get to his paratransit stop is the ultimate test of nerves.

Mahoney was hit by a car at the intersection of Southdale Rd. E. and Verulam Street on Jan. 15, adding to a long list of bumps and near misses at the same location that have left the 63-year-old not wanting to cross the busy road again. 

In the most recent incident, a car whipping around the corner from Verulam to Southdale hit the side of his wheelchair, ripping off its arm rest. It happened in broad daylight and the driver fled the scene, Mahoney said. 

“It’s dangerous,” he said. “I haven’t gone out since.”

And while he would rather not risk crossing the street, Mahoney has little choice. 

That’s because while he lives in an assisted living residence on the north side at 608 Southdale Rd. E., paratransit won’t come to that address, forcing him to use the closest pickup point at the No Frills plaza on the south side. 

PHSS built a driveway designed to ease paratransit pickups but after it was finished, but was told that it’s too narrow. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Paratransit is the specialized transit service run by London Transit Commission (LTC). It offers door-to-door transportation for people with a disability that prevents them from using regular bus service. But in Mahoney’s case, it’s the “door-to-door part” he’s missing out on. 

LTC provides pick-up and drop-off locations to its contracted company, Voyago, which supplies vehicles and drivers for transportation, a spokesperson for Voyago wrote to CBC News in an email.

Mahoney’s residence is run by PHSS Medical and Complex Care in Community and opened in 2013. LTC’s specialized transit service used to pick up passengers in front of the complex years ago until the spot was moved, he said. 

LTC has done a review and said the plaza pickup spot is still the safest option. 

Since the most recent incident, Mahoney says his life is on hold because he relies on the service to get around. He’s cancelled appointments and visits to Tim Hortons because he’s unwilling to risk crossing the road again. Two months ago, he was bumped by a car near his paratransit stop after coming home from his part-time job at Stronach Arena. 

a hand pushes a crosswalk button
Snow, ice and rain can be a challenge for Tom Mahoney, who uses a wheelchair, to get to his paratransit stop. (Michelle Both/CBC)

The traffic is “horrible,” he said. Ice, snow and rain can also be a deterrent to making the trek across Southdale. Sometimes he waits half an hour outside to be picked up. 

“We freeze our tails off while we wait,” he said. “It could be a downpour and we [have to] come over there. To me that’s very inconvenient … I don’t like it at all.”

PHSS built driveway for paratransit pickup

Four lanes on a busy road is a “long stretch” to travel for someone with any kind of mobility issues said Brian Dunne, president of PHSS. 

“It’s very concerning that people are put at risk to have to cross that road,” he said. 

The organization’s struggle to get a safe paratransit pickup spot at the residence is years long and has been met with a series of challenges, said Dunne. 

When the residence opened in 2013, Dunne understood they had assurance paratransit vehicles could go behind the building for pickups. However once it was built, they were told it was too narrow. 

“They said we needed to put in the circular driveway at the front, which we did at some enormous cost,” said Dunne. The driveway was installed about seven years ago for $135,000.

man in wheelchair presses crosswalk button in winter
Tom Mahoney needs to cross the busy intersection at Southdale Road East and Verulam Street in London to get to his paratransit pickup spot at the No Frills plaza. LTC says they’ve reviewed alternative locations but the plaza is still the safest. (Michelle Both/CBC)

Despite consultations with the City, engineers and architects, Dunne said they were told the driveway still wasn’t wide enough for paratransit vehicles. 

“They still refuse to use it,” he said. “I think paratransit should be stopping in the driveway that was designed specifically around what they told us their needs were.”

At the time of publication, LTC has not responded to questions about the driveway. 

London Transit review found plaza to be the safest pickup location

London Transit said they reviewed alternative stop locations in the area on Jan. 20 but found the No Frills plaza is still the safest location. 

“Customers from PHSS can access this plaza via signalized crosswalks,” wrote Kelly Paleczny, general manager of the LTC, in an email to CBC News. 

The LTC determined that stopping outside Mahoney’s home was not safe because of an incline on the roadway and sidewalk that affects the safety of the vehicle’s wheelchair lift. Riders would be required to take a higher step up onto the vehicle than is safe, Paleczny wrote. 

A proposed location on Verulam Street was also deemed unsafe due to “the high level of traffic coming out of the plaza and off of Southdale,” the email said. 

That same “high level of traffic” is the reason Dunne still believes another solution needs to be found to get pickup at the door. Meanwhile, Mahoney says he and other paratransit users in his building are feeling cut off from the community.

“We’re supposed to be a welcoming, inclusive community. Well, if people can’t access the transportation they need to take them someplace, that kind of says it all, doesn’t it?” he said. 


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