Get Out of My Parking Spot!

 

 By Howard Moscoe

The accessible parking permit system in Ontario needs to be scrapped and re-engineered.

There are almost 600,000 disabled parking permits issued by the province of Ontario.  Many, if not most of them, are owned by people who do not deserve to hold them.  The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the Province of Ontario and elected politicians who don’t have the guts make real changes to the criteria for issuing permits.

A handicapped parking permit is one of the most valuable permits you can own, not only because of the money that you save, but the privilege it conveys.  Those privileges include: the right to park in conveniently located reserved parking spots, the right to ignore most “No Parking” signs and (in Toronto) the right to free on street parking.

In the 70s, when the accessible parking permit system was being developed, I represented the Association of Municipalities of Ontario on a stakeholder committee that was advising the government of the day on how to structure the accessible parking system.  Two members of that committee, John Feld who represented an association for people with disabilities, and I warned that the proposed system for obtaining a permit was fraught with potential for abuse.

To obtain a permit, all that you need is a letter from a physician.  Most physicians are advocates for their patients. Under these conditions, the letters would be too easy to obtain.  How many of you know someone who has a permit that they don’t deserve or is using a permit that belonged to a deceased relative?

Now, I have a disabled parking permit. I have a breathing disability and a leg muscle problem that requires me to wear a leg brace.  I drive my car using hand controls and I resent the fact that I have to circle a parking lot to find a distant parking space because some inconsiderate slob is occupying a handicapped spot that they don’t need or deserve.

What is the answer?  Raise the fines?  The present fine for abusing a disabled parking spot is more than $250.  Has it helped?   Better enforcement?  Perhaps, but it’s a tough regime to enforce because you actually have to catch someone with a permit they shouldn’t have and have then to prove that they shouldn’t have it.

In 1995 I was vice-chair of the Toronto Transit Commission. We ran the Wheel-Trans system.  Wheel-Trans provides door to door accessible transit for disabled riders.  It was costing us more than $28.00 for each one way trip (riders paid a TTC ticket).

The TTC was financially pressed to the wall.  Not only had funding been cut for Wheel-Trans, but we had come to realize that there was widespread abuse of our eligibility criteria.

The Wheel-Trans system had become a free taxi service for anyone who could get a letter from their doctor.

At the urging of our Disabled Advisory Committee we scrapped our Wheel-Trans permits, dumped the doctor’s letter, changed the eligibility criteria to “unable to ride a regular bus” and forced all of our permit holders to re-apply.

They had to attend in person and be interviewed by a panel that included a disabled person and a physiotherapist.  It was tough love, but it had to be done.  We had to reserve the Wheel-Trans rides for those who really needed them.

As a result, we dumped more than half of those who held permits, many of whom didn’t even bother to apply.

It was politically painful, but necessary to preserve the integrity of the system. That is what has to be done to ensure the disabled parking permit system is socially defensible and free of abuse.

The system has to be scrapped and re-booted.  Will politicians in Ontario have the guts to tell 300,000 citizens that they have to give up their permits?  I wouldn’t bet on it.


Welcome to Historic Downsview

by Howard Moscoe

This is the first of a series of articles on the history of our community.

Have you ever wondered what Downsview looked like 150 years ago?

The Township of York had its beginnings in 1793 when it was carved out of the bush by Governor Simcoe.  The township’s rugged farmland fed the growing town of York, the capital city of Upper Canada on Lake Ontario.

Elia Church today

By 1825, four small villages dotted the farmland in the north west part of the township: Downsview (Keele and Wilson), Elia (Keele and Finch), Kaiserville (Jane and Steeles), and Fisherville (Dufferin and FInch).

Downsview was later established as the site of the district post office, and the name came to be applied to the entire district.  Many local residents still remember the old post office – now closed- at Keele and Victory Drive. Many, like me, still give their mailing address as Downsview.

In 1800s Downsview, farmland consisted of 200 acre lots that sold for $60 to $250.  Lots with hardwood were worth more than those with softwood.  As a Downsview farmer, you would earn your livelihood growing wheat in the summer and harvesting trees in the winter.

Villages were organized around the mills- grist mills where you took your wheat to be ground into flour, and saw mills where you dragged your logs to be sawn into timber.  In the village of Elia, you could have your lumber cut at John Wilson’s saw mill north of Dufferin and Finch on the west branch of the Humber or grind your grain at Wriggitt’s grist mill south of Finch.  Other local businesses included a carriage and wagon shop and a blacksmith shop.

Elia Church in 1911

Construction cranes have now replaced the mills as the most visible symbol of economic activity in Downsview, but its residents still retain the same pioneering spirit. Over the years, land has changed hands many times. First, English soldiers of the Queen’s Rangers were granted lots by Simcoe when he moved he capital from Niagara to York in 1872.  Later, land was sold to Pennsylvania Germans who came north in Conestoga wagons between 1798 and 1805.  Successive waves of immigrants have carved out new opportunities for themselves and their families, transforming a once quiet village into a busy multicultural hub, where more than half of all households now list a mother tongue other than English.

 

New communities are now maintaining the vibrancy of historic centres of community life.  The Episcopal Methodist Church was erected by the early pioneers as a frame building in 1851.  The present building – a brick structure erected in1901- is now occupied jointly by the Reform Hungarian Church and the Church of the Lamb of God with services in Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu.

Elia Middle School still bears the name of the historic village, but the old brick schoolhouse that once proudly stood at the northeast corner of Keele and Finch has long succumbed to the forces of change. I am sure that the first teacher, Jacob Hoover, would be surprised to see a subway station being constructed on the site where he taught arithmetic an spelling to eight grades.

And yet, Downsview has long been a communications and transportation hub.  First it was the post office that kept early residents connected.  Later innovators would bring the airstrip (stay tuned for a future article on Downsview’s aviation history).

With the new subway extension, our community will play a key role in linking Toronto and York Region. History continues to be made in Downsview. Jacob Hoover would be proud.

(Much of the information in this article comes from Pioneering in York, by Patricia W. Hard, General Publishing, Toronto, 1968.)