Current Issues

September 30, 2009

Hon. John Baird
Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities
330 Sparks Street, 29th Floor
Ottawa, ON K1A 0N5

Dear Minister:

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) is well known for its long history of advocacy regarding accessible transportation for Canadians with disabilities. In fact access to Canada’s transportation systems was the foundational issue for the creation of our organization over 30 years ago. Certainly improvements have been made but many barriers still exist and sadly new ones are being created.

There is a federal/provincial/territorial meeting of Ministers of Transport October 22nd in Vancouver. As you are aware, Greyhound had announced suspension of their services in Manitoba and part of Ontario. We understand that a short term agreement has been reached to continue services and that a longer term solution will be discussed at your meeting in Vancouver.

For many persons with disabilities accessible bus service is the only means of travel both across this country and within provinces. Bus services are particularly critical for rural and remote regions of the country and we urge you to find a long term service solution that is fully accessible to persons with disabilities.

CCD has not found the federal Department of Transportation to be open to discussions of access and federally regulated carriers in the recent past. Since there has been no dialogue on creating an action plan to improve accessibility at Transport Canada, we have found ourselves left only with the option of bringing forward complaints or litigation to ensure that national transportation systems are accessible. Our seven year battle with VIA Rail regarding their purchase of inaccessible passenger rail cars ultimately ended at the Supreme Court of Canada and VIA was ordered to retrofit the cars they purchased. That decision clearly stated that transportation providers are not to create new barriers to access. Equally challenging for us was the battle with Air Canada and WestJet regarding what is known as “one person/one fare”. This case ensured that people with disabilities requiring attendants for services not provided in flight by airline personnel do not have to buy two tickets. Again we were successful with our complaint but this was a long battle which could have been resolved through policy and law reform.

Canadians with disabilities have concluded from past experience and from the fact that new barriers are being created that access will only be assured if regulations are developed so that carriers understand and are required to comply with access standards. In Ontario this need is being addressed through the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

It is CCD’s view that market forces have not and will not ensure access and that only through the creation of regulations will Canadians with disabilities be assured the same access to public transportation that non-disabled persons take for granted. CCD does not believe we need “disability legislation” at the national level to create regulations, in that existing legislation governing federal transportation has the capacity for the creation of regulations.

We urge Ministers of Transport to find a long term solution to the provision of bus services across Canada that are fully accessible to persons with disabilities. We urge you individually and collectively to place accessibility for persons with disabilities on your agenda for future discussion. CCD, and our members, would be most willing to work with you to provide greater understanding of current issues. To that end CCD has attached a short overview of current transportation access issues that have been identified by us at both the national and provincial/territorial levels.

We ask that in any communiqué coming from your deliberations the fundamental right of access to transportation for persons with disabilities be affirmed. Together we can build a more Inclusive and Accessible Canada.


Marie White
National Chairperson

Current Issues:

1. Air Canada’s smaller CRJ planes are in many instances not accessible to persons with disabilities in that standard sized wheelchairs do not fit in the cargo hold. Boarding of these smaller planes now at some airports occurs on the runway because there are insufficient gates able to accommodate these planes and with some gates stairs must be used to board the plane. This recreates a barrier of 30 years ago.

2. Airports continue to expand their electronic ticketing processes. These “ticket spitters” are not accessible to persons with vision impairments or to some people with mobility impairments.

3. The VIA Rail case did require the retrofit of 33 coach cars but the sleeper cars remain inaccessible.

4. An individual who is deaf/blind was required to fly with an attendant. There was no individual assessment of his capacity to travel independently. The case remains before the Courts.

5. The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) has been unable to institute systemic or system wide solutions to complaints thus the same complaint must be filed again and again.

6. Federal carriers rely upon Voluntary Codes of Practice. The recent experience of Canadians with disabilities is that these voluntary codes do not result in full access, regulations are required to ensure access.

Provincial/Territorial Barriers

1. Repeatedly across this country people with disabilities have had to be aggressive to ensure bus and subways stops are audibly announced. Individual human rights complaints have been filed to rectify this but there has been no systemic change.

2. Paratransit systems created some years ago have experienced significant increase in demand from persons with disabilities and from elderly persons, yet there has not been a similar increase in supply. With an aging population demand will continue to rise. Service in many instances is being withdrawn or becoming more limited.

3. Audible pedestrian signals are being installed but progress is slow and in some centres not provided. There is no local, provincial or national government indication that this is a priority.

4. Even though 48 hour notice is provided to book an accessible intercity or interprovincial bus, persons with disabilities report buses that are not lift equipped or whose lift is broken arrive at depots.

5. In some instances even though ordered an accessible bus was not provided and the carrier had to provide taxi service for the individual. (ex. Winnipeg to Brandon)

6. Certainly more accessible taxis are being put on the road but as yet some major centres provide very limited or no accessible taxi service.

7. Accessible transportation services and stations in rural areas remains a problem.

Disability Access Experience in Other Jurisdictions

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A Transportation Success Story

US trains are compliant with ADA access regulations. American airports and airplanes are world leaders in accessibility, and because of their influence on world markets, American standards of aircraft design are becoming international standards.

Title II: Public Transportation of the ADA required the provision of accessible public transport. Regulations passed pursuant to the ADA govern the purchase of new or used vehicles and the reconditioning of old ones. In addition to very detailed regulations, there are legally mandated Manuals on Transportation Design produced by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Board that describe an accessible vehicle. The Public Transportation sections of Title II are enforceable either through private law suits or by registering a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights in the Federal Transit Administration of the Department of Transportation (DOT). Privately operated transportation [e.g. trains and intercity bus] is covered under Title III. Complaints of Title III violations may be filed with the Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division. The Department is authorized to bring a law suit where there is a pattern of discrimination. Private actions are rare. This reflects well on the ability of counsel at DOT and DOJ to represent the interests of people with disabilities effectively. Due to their regulatory framework, America has better access than Canada.
UK’s Disability Discrimination Act (1995)
The Mobility and Inclusion Unit of the UK Department of Transport oversees regulation for access. Before vehicles go into service in the UK, they require a license from the Inclusion Unit.
The inaccessible passenger cars purchased by VIA Rail in 2000 were originally destined for the UK. When the manufacturer sought a license to operate the trains on British rails, it was refused because they did not meet access standards.
Canadian travelers with disabilities wish that Canada had a body with the power to refuse to license inaccessible transportation equipment that carriers seek to put into service.

CCD’s Recommendations for Building An Inclusive and Accessible Federal Transportation System:

The Minister of Transport Canada must immediately develop accessibility regulations similar to the United States regulatory model for all federally regulated modes of transportation.

1. The Minister of Transport must immediately develop a Disability Organizations Advisory Committee on Accessible Transportation that is resourced to undertake research and provide advice to the Minister for advancing access and inclusion for persons with disabilities to all federally regulated modes.

2. The Minister of Transport must rebuild the capacity of the Accessibility Unit within Transport Canada to develop a national action plan, research success in other jurisdictions, report annually on achievement of stated goals, monitor type and focus of complaints made to CTA, and ensure appropriate consultation with the disability community.

3. The Government of Canada must attach a strong access standard principle to all infrastructure initiatives.

4. The Transport Canada Accessibility Unit must make public an action plan for creating an Inclusive and Accessible National Transportation System and report annually on its goals and achievements.

5. The Canadian Transportation Agency must develop an action plan for addressing systemic barriers encountered by persons with disabilities.