Jan 16, 2009

Wheelchairs and winter

Sometimes Durham Region Transit drivers find themselves in awkward situations.

An Oshawa man who uses a wheelchair says Durham Region Transit is not doing enough to accommodate his needs during the winter.

Corey Jasvins said he regularly asks transit drivers to stop at side streets instead of regular bus stops when dropping him off because the stops are often snowy and icy and it's easier to manoeuvre his wheelchair on the road.

But, he says drivers don't always comply. Last week, on Monday, he said this escalated into a battle on a DRT bus.

"Last night I nearly got arrested because they didn't want to help me off," Mr. Jasvins said the day after the incident.

He was riding the 916 Rossland bus eastbound in Oshawa and asked the driver to drop him off at a side street. But, as the bus got closer to the street, he said he was told it wasn't a valid stop. Instead, the driver pulled up at a regular stop. Mr. Jasvins refused to get off the bus, the situation escalated and a supervisor was called. Mr. Jasvins said he was told he would be charged with trespassing if he didn't get off the bus. He admits to losing his temper and using foul language, but says the frustration with DRT has been building over time.

"A lot of stops are ridiculous out there and it's not accessible," said Mr. Jasvins, adding that, to be fair, some drivers are accommodating and helpful.

DRT investigated the incident, said Phil Meagher, deputy general manager of operations. He said drivers often accommodate special requests for stops, such as when women want to stop closer to home after dark.

"We do everything to ensure the safety of our passengers and the location that was requested by this person was in the driver's opinion unsafe."

There was a snowbank at the alternative stop and the driver couldn't deploy the ramp, but the regular stop was cleared of snow. Further, Mr. Meagher said there were several witnesses to the incident who said Mr. Jasvins and his companion were swearing and belligerent.

"They were very uncivil and very rude."

Still, accessibility is a concern for DRT. Many of DRT's 2,600 bus stops are not accessible, said Mr. Meagher.

"The majority of them are on the grass boulevards and not on the hard-surface boulevards, so it's a major cost factor and a major undertaking to upgrade them."

The transit organization is working on making the system fully accessible, but it's an expensive and lengthy process. The current cost estimate is $13.6 million over 18 years, although recent reports to the transit executive committee indicate that figure will likely rise.

It amazes me how one blind person, with a free ride transit pass is able to grab the attention of the Ontario Human Rights Commission in regards to drivers announcing bus stops. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario made a ruling that ensured announcements of all stops on public transit. The ruling was fair.

Now, here is a physical challenged person that pays a fare and has to contend with a majority of stops that are on grass boulevards. The accessibility requirements for transportation vehicles apply only to new vehicles but there is no mention of accessible bus stops. The Human Rights commission's “Transportation Standard” states "The only available defense to such discrimination is showing that providing access or services would constitute undue hardship having regard to cost, outside sources of funding, or health and safety factors."

This did not prevent the Supreme Court of Canada decision, that upheld an order of the Canadian Transportation Agency that Via Rail modify newly purchased rail cars to make them accessible for persons using personal wheelchairs, despite the argument of the transportation provider that this would significantly add to the cost of the rail cars.

So Durham Region appears to be able to use the defense of cost of catchup for the bus stops that are presently in existence. Would they be able offer the same defense when a new route is created? A complaint to the Human Rights Commission could prove interesting.

I know I sort of got of got sidetracked from the original complaint that started because the passenger requested to be dropped at a location the driver consider unsafe. My own personal transit experience of having to find a location near bus stops to accommodate wheelchairs and scooter makes me wonder what is being done to improve the location. I can't think of one location that has been changed.

Snow is a different thing. Even Specialized Service drivers have to search around for a safe location when the weather turns foul. We are all one time or another placed in a situation that impedes physical movement. For some the struggle is greater.

Original from Metroland Media Group Ltd: 
Using transit in winter filled with road blocks

Whitby Bus Stop from Hell

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

By the time I've read this announcement, it was shocking.

The guy could have sued DRT for an undisclosed amount. But DRT might be able to fight that appeal. I haven't seen a similar fate to myself over the years (although I can't really tell you what happened to me, so I would like to keep it personal).

My older sister is a law clerk btw and she works at a law firm in Toronto.

As the old saying goes, "things happen".