Tokens are being phased out by the TTC

After multiple false attempts due to public concerns, the TTC retired tokens from general circulation on November 30th. TTC booths no longer sell tokens. Instead the TTC is encouraging the public to “move to a PRESTO card now to avoid potential line ups”. The move was delayed several times due to a myriad of problems with PRESTO. The TTC itself is going after Metrolinx for costs related to PRESTO’s for millions and the troubled pay system has created problems for customers from day one. 

Tokens were simple and their functionality is still years away from being replaced by PRESTO. This affects all transit users, but more so those that face barriers to get around. The design of the PRESTO system was never user friendly, from its retrofit of stations that reduced payment points for the sake of efficiency, to cards that take 24 hours to charge online, to the lack of payment points outside of subway stations. 

The public paid hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a system where it is harder to find a place that can charge your card. Whereas before, you could go into a number of small stores that sold tokens and tickets, now only Shoppers Drug Mart carries them and they are not everywhere. In buses and streetcars, every single user of the PRESTO card has run into broken equipment. The problem in development may be the lack of foresight into how people use transit and what their needs are. 

Case in point are the criticisms of the change from social and community workers and schools. There were people out there that needed free tokens to bridge gaps that allowed them to go to a job interview, attend school or receive health care services. For someone out of a job, going to 5 interviews with the price of tickets for adults being what it is, can add up quickly and prevent them from trying. Some students sometimes skip school because they cannot afford a bus ticket every day and this can lead to lower grades. Schools know this and always have bus tokens on hand. The new PRESTO system does not allow for an easy exchange of a single trip fare. 

This again is a design problem that other transit systems have already figured out. Since we are behind here in Toronto, an exception is being made for some of the social agencies and school boards. They will continue to have access to tokens until the system is more functional. The TTC thinks it has lost $3.4 million in fares due to the pay system. The app itself is still being upgraded and several years into it, there are many functionalities that are still a work in progress.

Needless to say that the consensus is that this was not an improvement, as much as moving towards a regional payment system was necessary. Tokens will be missed. 

Reflections on the federal election: Next time, let’s choose something other than the blue and red team

On October 21,  Canada and Downsview voted for a new Federal Government. After a very messy election, the result was a Liberal Minority government and the Conservatives as the official opposition, with the NDP and Bloc Québécois  holding the balance of power.

Every time there is an election in Canada, Ontario voters seem to be given two picks. With one exception 30 years ago, since Confederation in 1867 voters have only made one of two choices at the ballot box in Ontario: red or blue. We vote Liberal when we cannot stomach the cuts that the blue team is promising to carry out. We vote Conservative when we cannot stomach the corruption and waste of the red team. In this riding we lean red federally for decades. 

Here is a list of what bouncing between the blue team and the red team have gotten us: 

  • Housing that is unaffordable in the GTA because the government stopped building cooperative housing and affordable rentals in the 1990s. 
  • Nearly 30 years of unfulfilled promises for a Universal Childcare Strategy.
  • Rising medication costs, because pharmacare is not a priority for the two main parties. 
  • The most expensive phone bills in North America, and bad internet coverage.
  • The most expensive monthly metropass in North America, and bad bus service. 

These issues affect all of us day in and day out. Whether we are stuck in traffic because public transit is not an efficient way to get around, or we are jammed in a hospital where there are not enough nurses to treat us when we need help the most. Many people have to choose between buying their prescriptions and paying their rent on time, even if they work more than 40 hours per week.

These are all things that governments in other places have tackled and worked on. Collectively, people in Ontario seemed to feel that we avoided the cutting of programs from another Conservative government. But same as the blue team – the priority of the red team on the first day after the election were tax cuts for the rich and to build a pipeline for Alberta. 

There is very little difference between the priorities of the blue and the red teams. This is why when we vote for the same people, we get the same results.

All of Toronto’s representation is from the red team. It is as if we threw a red carpet over all of the GTA to cover up all that is wrong from the last decision we took in Ontario – hoping it would make up for it.

The good news is that minority governments tend not to last the full term, so there might be an opportunity to demand more and to demand differently sooner rather than later. The same old decision to go back and forth between red and blue is not moving us forward as a society.

Families still waiting despite local MPP going to bat for children with autism

In March, the Downsview Advocate printed a story about my son with autism, Misha, and what the Ontario Autism Program (OAP) changes announced in February meant for children on the autism spectrum and their families.  The article highlighted the importance of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, an evidence-based best practice treatment for children with autism, and how the changes proposed by the Ford Government would not allow most children to access this life changing therapy.  

The OAP program changes were a ‘one size fits all’ plan that did not address the individual needs of the child.  I was devastated that other children would not get the therapy they desperately needed. As a result, along with other parents and advocates, I attended rallies, visited MPPs and organized my community demanding the government to not go through with those changes.  

I met with my local MPP, Roman Baber. At first meeting I was disheartened by his support of the OAP changes, nonetheless, I continued to meet with him.  At one meeting, I showed him a video of my son practicing for his Bar Mitzvah and explained this was only possible because of the therapy he received. Roman was intrigued and attended Misha’s Bar Mitzvah.  

The ceremony was very moving and meaningful.  All in attendance were in tears because they knew how far Misha had come.  Roman witnessed the benefits of ABA therapy firsthand.  

In April, Roman Baber was asked by Premier Ford to review the Government’s Autism plan. He continued to meet with me along with many other autism advocates and professionals.  Baber’s review of the OAP and later termed as the “Baber Report” was shared with the Government’s Autism Advisory Panel and then subsequently leaked by the Globe and Mail on June 28th.  In the Baber Report, Roman courageously criticized his own government’s plan and called for an immediate reset to the Government’s Autism plan.  

On July 29, the Ontario Government acknowledged that its proposed changes to the autism program were wrong and they reversed the course of the OAP.  Many Ontario autism advocates, including myself, praised Baber for his work and feel all the rallies along with Baber’s report set the stage for the government to change its direction and provide families with funding based on the needs of individual children.

The revised OAP announced by the government would be needs-based, sustainable, within $600 million and would treat as many children as possible.

The Ontario autism advisory panel made up of parents with lived experience, autistic adults, educators and other experts from a range of disciplines released their report on October 30th.  This report included many excellent recommendations.  However, an implementation committee needs to be created in order to implement panel’s recommendations.  Implementation of the new program is planned for April 2020.

Many children have lost valuable time not having access to therapy.  It will be well over a year from announcement of the disastrous plan back in February to the new OAP program implementation in April 2020.  Still, I extend a thank you to my MPP, Roman Baber, and all the advocates that made the government see the error of their ways.