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HUMAN RIGHTS AND PUBLIC TRANSIT SERVICES IN ONTARIO
ONTARIO HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
Approved by the Commission:
Available in various formats: IBM compatible computer disk, audio tape, large print
Also available on Internet: www.ohrc.on.ca
Disponible en français
I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Equal access by persons with disabilities, older Ontarians, and families with young children to adequate, dignified public transit services is a right protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code. For many, it is also a necessity # in order to obtain an education, find and keep a job, or use basic public services like health care. Lack of access to transit may also lead to isolation, as visiting friends or participating in the life of the community becomes difficult or impossible.
Recognizing the importance of accessible public transportation to the ability of persons with disabilities, older Ontarians, and families with young children to fully and equally participate in their communities, during 2001 the Ontario Human Rights Commission consulted with transit providers, seniors# organizations, disability consumer groups, labour organizations, advocacy groups and individuals regarding the status of accessible transit in Ontario.
Unfortunately, equal access to transit services is far from reality for many Ontarians. While many improvements have been made in recent years to improve the accessibility of conventional transit services, such as increased use of low-floor or lift-equipped buses, and modifications to bus and subway stations, progress remains slow, and many of Ontario#s transit systems anticipate that it will take 15 years or more to achieve maximum accessibility. At the same time, there are troubling limitations in many of Ontario#s specialized or paratransit systems. Patrons too often face restrictive eligibility criteria, long waits for rides, punitive cancellation policies, and unequal fare structures.
Improvements in accessibility of public transit services have been hampered by a lack of resources. Public funding for transit in Ontario is relatively low, accounting for only 25% of revenues, the rest coming from the fare box, as compared to American transit systems, which typically receive about 60% of their revenue from public sources.
Another stumbling block has been the lack of common, objective standards or benchmarks for accessible transit services. Standards are essential in motivating and sustaining increased accessibility, as well as in ensuring that access to transit is not contingent on where in Ontario people live.
Accessible transit is a complex issue, involving many players. For advances to be made, all players # transit providers, municipalities, senior levels of government, non-governmental organizations, the Ontario Human Rights Commission itself, and persons with disabilities - must rethink their roles and responsibilities, and work together to find solutions.
The Commission recommends that transit providers set a goal of full integration and accessibility; design inclusively when developing new policies and procedures, creating new services, or building or purchasing new structures or capital equipment; develop and maintain plans to achieve full integration and accessibility; involve persons with disabilities, and older Ontarians when planning accessibility improvements; and take all steps short of undue hardship to achieve integration and maximum accessibility.
The Ministry of Transportation has an important role to play in this field, and should take accessibility issues into account when considering transit funding initiatives. As well, the passage of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the creation of the Accessibility Directorate create a timely opportunity to address the urgent need for standards for accessible transit services.
The Commission itself will continue to take an active role in furthering transit accessibility. It will work with transit service providers to ensure they understand their human rights obligations and work to fulfill them. As well, the Commission will continue to monitor developments in this area, and to raise awareness about these issues through a variety of communication mediums.
Accessible transit services are a key factor in assisting people to participate fully in the community # getting out and about, getting to work, conducting business, reaching health care, participating in events, being with friends and combating loneliness and isolation.
-Canadian Pensioners Concerned
Barriers to public transit services raise important human rights issues. For persons with disabilities, older persons, and families with young children, the lack of adequate, dignified, and accessible transportation can pose major barriers to participation in employment, education, and community activities. Many of the most vulnerable citizens of Ontario cannot assume access to public transportation, even though the Ontario Human Rights Code guarantees the right to equal treatment in services, including public transportation services, without discrimination because of age, handicap, or family status.
Despite the importance of this issue to the daily lives of many Ontarians, it has been the subject of relatively little public discussion. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (#OHRC#) therefore undertook a major initiative to promote public discussion and facilitate improvements in accessible public transportation.
This initiative was particularly appropriate in light of the OHRC#s release of its new Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate in March 2001. This Policy, the result of one of the largest consultations in the OHRC#s history, outlines the OHRC#s approach to issues surrounding disability and the duty to accommodate, including an emphasis on the right to full participation and integration, respect for dignity, the importance of inclusion by design, and the responsibility of all parties to an accommodation to work cooperatively. The Policy reaffirms the high standard for assessing undue hardship. This Policy provides the theoretical framework for the OHRC#s work in the area of accessible public transportation.
As well, the OHRC#s public consultations and report on age discrimination in Ontario highlighted the scope and importance of issues facing older Ontarians. There is an urgent need for action to eliminate ageism and age discrimination, so that older persons can fully participate in our communities, enjoy the same rights afforded to others, and can live their later years with dignity. Several submissions to the OHRC#s consultations on age discrimination highlighted issues around transportation, noting that, for older persons, particularly those with mobility impairments, transportation is extremely limited, and this can lead to isolation from family, community and from the general activities of daily living.
Demographic trends indicate that this issue will only become larger over time. Currently, it is estimated that 1.6 million Ontarians have a disability. As the population continues to age, it is estimated that in 20 years, one in five Ontarians could have a disability. A recent study for the Quebec department of transportation on the projected demand for paratransit from 1993 to 2006, based on data from the Health and Activity Limitations Survey found that even in the short term, aging may have a substantial impact on demand for these services.
There has recently been some renewed public interest in issues surrounding public transit. For example, in September 2001, the provincial government announced that it would invest $3 billion in public transit, spread out over 10 years. The Ministry of Transportation committed to provide operational and base capital funding for GO transit, as well as to consult with stakeholders to coordinate transit planning and services throughout the Golden Horseshoe region. The recent passage of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (#ODA#) will also have a major impact on transit services, given that it explicitly requires providers of public transit to develop and make public plans for accessibility. Given the opportunities presented by these government initiatives, it is particularly urgent that new investments and projects in the area of public transit take into account human rights issues and principles. The OHRC#s first step in the area of public transportation was a survey of Ontario#s public transit providers, launched in July 1999. The purpose of the survey was to obtain information about the status of accessible transit in Ontario, and to identify key issues. Twenty-five transit service providers were contacted, of whom 19 replied. The survey revealed that, while significant efforts had been made to improve the accessibility of transit services across the province, much remains to be done. There are several gaps in the accessibility of conventional transit systems in Ontario. As well, people using paratransit services experience major discrepancies in service levels across the province, including eligibility criteria, fees, and geographic limitations. In some cases, persons with certain types of disabilities, such as persons with mental disabilities, or with ambulatory or temporary disabilities, are unable to access either the conventional or the paratransit system.
The OHRC#s Discussion Paper on Accessible Transit Services in Ontario (#Discussion Paper#) was released in February 2001. It identified a number of key issues, and requested written submissions from interested parties. This information was sent to more than 400 stakeholders, as well as posted on the OHRC#s Web site. Over thirty submissions were received from transit providers, seniors# organizations, disability consumer groups, labour organizations, advocacy groups, and individuals. A list of contributing organizations is included as an appendix to this Report. We are grateful to all who took the time to share their knowledge and experience with us.
The transit consultation has made clear both the urgency of the human rights issues surrounding public transportation services in Ontario, and the many opportunities for advancement. The issues outlined in this Report will not be resolved without concerted effort by all parties. However, the costs of failing to address the issue of accessible public transportation make action in this area a priority.
III. SCOPE OF REPORT
This Report is based on the many and varying viewpoints
presented to the OHRC in the course of its public
consultation on accessible public transportation in Ontario. As well, in the
summer of 2001, the OHRC updated its 1999
transit survey, gathering current information on the status of conventional
transit and paratransit systems, as well as planned initiatives to increase
The Report begins with a brief outline of the status of
accessible transit in Ontario today, based on the transit
surveys conducted in 1999 and 2001, as well as information
received through the consultation process. This section also identifies some
best practices among transit providers.
Conventional and paratransit systems are then examined in
depth, in terms of the human rights principles that apply,
the issues raised, and the impact on older persons, persons with disabilities,
and families with young children.
Three key issues raised throughout the consultation were
funding, standards, and roles and responsibilities. These
issues are examined in depth.
Throughout, there has been an attempt to allow transit
users, providers, and other stakeholders in the system to
speak for themselves. Discussions of public transportation
can seem mired in technical details and process issues.
These seemingly technical decisions have, however, a
powerful daily impact on thousands of lives in this
province. The effect of decisions about transportation on
the dignity, independence and opportunities of thousands of Ontarians is
profound, as the submissions to this
consultation make abundantly clear.
Beyond simply identifying issues surrounding accessible
public transportation, and the human rights principles that apply, this Report
suggests ways to move the issue of
accessible public transportation forward, making
recommendations for transit providers, municipalities, and
senior levels of government, as well as commitments for the OHRC#s own actions.
The Report is intended to assist all
parties in identifying constructive ways to work together to improve the public
IV. KEY THEMES
The dominant theme in the submissions received by the OHRC
was the magnitude of the impact of access to transit
services on the lives of Ontarians. Public transportation # or the lack of it #
touches the lives of thousands of
Ontarians in profound ways. Being able to use transit can
make the difference in access to work or education. It also has major
consequences for those who need to get to health
care and other essential government services. For many, it
makes the difference between isolation and loneliness, and
full participation in the life of their communities. Without accessible
transportation, employment, education, and
community life remain out of reach for many. The would-be
contributions of many to their communities are lost. As
well, the transportation options that exist may at times
jeopardize the dignity, security, and autonomy of users. For many Ontarians,
the lack of accessible, dignified
transportation options is a source of ongoing frustration.
The changes required to achieve an accessible transportation system are major.
Some changes require large investments of resources, and will take time to
implement. Others can be
quickly and easily achieved, with minimal cost. What is
lacking is not awareness of the issues, or even of
solutions. All parties agree on the goal: a system that is
accessible, that is integrated to the degree possible, that fully respects the
rights and dignity of persons with
disabilities, older Ontarians, and families with young
children, and that provides appropriate alternatives for
those who are unable to use even the most accessible
conventional services. What is needed is agreement and
leadership on standards for accessibility, the will to
implement them, and the resources to do so.
It was also very clear that improvements in accessible
transportation can only be made through a partnership
approach. Public transportation is a complex business,
involving multiple levels of government, private
organizations, non-governmental organizations, and
volunteers. All parties must work together if accessible
transportation is to become a reality in Ontario. No one
sector alone can make the necessary changes.
V. TRANSIT SURVEY UPDATE
As part of the preparation of this Consultation Report, in
the summer of 2001, the OHRC updated the results of the
transit survey that was conducted in the summer of 1999. The OHRC contacted 25
transit service providers, including all
those who responded to the 1999 survey, as well as the 6
transit service providers who did not respond in 1999.
It should be noted here that, since several municipalities
have undergone amalgamation since 1999, some transit service providers have
also amalgamated, and in some cases there
have been changes to services as a result.
Transit service providers were asked about accessibility
improvements to their conventional and paratransit services since 1999. They
were also asked about changes to their
accessibility plans. Information was gathered about industry standards and
practices, such as the percentage of
accessible bus routes and standard booking times for
We would like to thank all of those transit service
providers who responded for the helpful and detailed
information that they provided.
Overall, the transit survey update did not reveal any
dramatic changes in the status of accessible transit over
the two-year period between surveys. Incremental progress
continues to be made. However, there are still large gaps in both conventional
and paratransit services across the
province, and there are no indications that maximum
accessibility will be achieved in the near future.
The update below does not attempt to exhaustively describe
each transit system surveyed. Rather, it provides a survey
of trends, and attempts to highlight some best practices and advances in this
2. Plans and Standards
A number of transit systems, notably the Toronto Transit
Commission (#TTC#), have Accessibility Advisory Committees, which represent the
needs and concerns of persons with
disabilities and seniors, and provide input into
accessibility initiatives and improvements. For example,
persons with disabilities and older persons are consulted on the allocation of
new accessible buses, priorities for
station access improvements, and new design standards.
The TTC also conducts #Open Forums# to consult on accessible transit issues
with agencies, advocates and various
organizations serving seniors and persons with disabilities.
A number of transit services indicated awareness of future
demographic pressures on accessible transit services, and
have been conducting surveys or re-evaluating services in
order to develop new transit plans.
However, there are still many transit services that do not
have current, publicly available, accessibility plans.
3. Conventional Transit Systems
Replacement of existing bus fleets with accessible models is a significant, but
necessary investment in order to make
public transit accessible. According to the Ontario
Community Transportation Association (#OCTA#), about 15
percent of Ontario#s total bus fleet (about 700 buses) is
now either lift-equipped, or low-floor. Ninety percent of
Ontario transit systems have a procurement policy in favour of low-floor buses.
Most transit providers surveyed
indicated that between 20 and 40 percent of their bus fleets were accessible.
Some have a much higher percentage (Thunder Bay#s fleet, for example, is 65%
accessible) and some much
lower (Niagara Transit has no low-floor or lift-equipped
buses at all). The percentage of accessible bus routes
varies widely as well, particularly as some transit
providers have decided to concentrate their accessible
vehicles on selected, high priority routes, while others are spreading their
accessible vehicles over all routes. It
should be noted that, because of the long life span of
buses, it will take many years to achieve complete
accessibility. Plans for full accessibility of bus fleets
range from 2005 (for Thunder Bay) to 2016 (St. Catharine#s) and beyond. Not all
transit services have identified time
frames for maximum accessibility.
The TTC indicated that by 2004, 30 of its 69 subway and RT
stations (including the new stations on the Sheppard line)
will be fully accessible, if the necessary capital budget is funded. The TTC
hopes to have elevators and other
accessibility features in all stations by 2012. As well, the TTC plans to have
50 fully accessible bus routes by 2004,
and a 100% accessible fleet by 2010. Routes where there is
higher demand, such as routes near hospitals or senior
citizens# residences, are being given priority in this
respect. All new buses and subway cars (as well as the new
subway stations under construction) will be fully
accessible. The OHRC was also encouraged to hear that the
TTC is planning to begin acquiring low-floor streetcars, as the lack of
accessibility of the streetcar system was a
major concern highlighted in the Discussion Paper.
Interestingly, the TTC also indicated that it is exploring
opportunities for improving existing TTC stations in
conjunction with private and/or public sector development
adjacent to stations. Since TTC stations are attractive
locations for many types of development, where connections
to stations are required, the TTC may require elevators and other easier access
features as a condition to connection
agreements. This appears to be an innovative way of
involving other partners in accessibility advances.
Some other types of accessibility enhancements being carried out by transit
providers are listed below:
# The TTC has invested in a number of accessibility
enhancements to its subway stations, including
accessible turnstiles, elevators and washrooms, modified rest benches, tactile
platform edge tiles and wayfinding systems.
# Some systems encourage drivers of low-floor or lift-
equipped buses to make special request stops where
possible for customers using mobility devices.
# Investments in accommodations for persons with sensory
impairments include lights indicating #next stop# at the front of vehicles,
improved public announcement systems, and bright yellow colouring on next stop
cords, bus step nosings, and hand and grab rails.
# Several systems give information about the next arriving accessible buses for
each route through their
computerized telephone information lines.
# Some transit systems have trained operators to recognize the need for, offer
and provide assistance when
necessary to passengers with disabilities as they board, deboard, and secure
themselves on the bus. Other transit systems require passengers with
disabilities to bring an attendant if they will need assistance in any of these
# A number of transit systems have undertaken major
programs to improve the accessibility of bus stops. For example, many transit
providers are in the process of,
or are completing, programs to ensure that transit
shelters are accessible. Some are also working on
improving access from the sidewalks of bus stops on to
# Thunder Bay identified snow removal at bus stops as an
accessibility issue, and indicated that snow removal
standards have been improved in the downtown core, near medical facilities, and
senior citizen#s homes. As well, there has been an effort to coordinate bus
removal with the sidewalk snow removal.
# Several systems offer various levels of #community bus# service, generally
targeted to areas of the city heavily populated by seniors or persons with
impairments, which provide rides to shopping and medical centres. For example,
Markham operates a #Connector#
bus, a fixed route Mobility Bus that does not require
# Guelph Transit offers a subsidized bus pass for adults
# OC Transpo has recently undertaken two marketing
campaigns dealing with environmental sensitivity issues.
4. Paratransit Systems
As noted in the OHRC#s Discussion Paper, paratransit systems vary widely across
the province. Some paratransit services
consist exclusively of specialized vehicles offering pre-
booked, door-to-door service. Others combine such services
with contract taxi/livery services and/or taxi scrip
services. These taxi services are used to transport
persons with ambulatory disabilities, and, where usable, are generally found to
be more cost-effective per trip than
specialized vehicles. For example, in 1993, Hamilton
calculated the cost per trip of its taxi/livery service at
$8.27, as opposed to $24.30 for its accessible van service. A number of
municipalities also have some form of community bus services. For example,
Toronto#s Wheel-Trans also offers some #zone# bus service that provides more
spontaneous door-to-door service within specific high trip generating zones.
Rides must generally be pre-booked, with booking
requirements ranging from 24 hours in some municipalities,
to 2 weeks in others. Many services permit subscription
bookings e.g., regular trips to and from work. OC Transpo
provides booking priority to persons who use a mobility aid, over those who are
All systems have formal eligibility requirements, although
some are more restrictive than others. Some systems restrict eligibility to
persons with permanent disabilities. Most
eligibility requirements focus heavily on mobility
restrictions # the inability to walk 175 metres or to climb steps, for example.
Some systems require extensive in-person applications, while others rely on
certification from the
applicant#s primary care physician. OC Transpo indicates
that eligibility for its paratransit services is #based on a functional rather
than a medical model. Persons are not
qualified or disqualified on the basis of a specific
diagnosis or disability. An individual will be certified as eligible if there
is any part of the conventional
transportation system which cannot be used or navigated by
that individual because of a functional disability#.
Most services have fare structures that mirror those of the conventional
system. Some, however, charge higher rates to
paratransit passengers, or charge registration or
application fees. Some systems allow attendants to ride
free: most, however, require attendants to pay the regular
Some systems provide service on a #priority basis#,
priorizing trips that are for work, education and medical
Most systems provide some form of training for employees
operating paratransit services. Burlington also provides
Taxi Operator Training for taxi drivers transporting
passengers with special needs.
VI. CONVENTIONAL TRANSIT SYSTEMS
Without adequate and affordable transportation, a senior
loses her independence, does not have the means to
participate in activities outside her home, loses the chance to participate in
social activities, and can actually take
transportation means that are unsafe, or suffer isolation.
-Ontario Society (Coalition) of Senior Citizens#
1. Conventional Transit Systems and Human Rights Law
The OHRC#s Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate
highlights the importance of the right to
integration and full participation for persons with
disabilities. This requires barrier-free and inclusive
designs and removal of existing barriers. Segregated
treatment in services is less dignified, and is
unacceptable, unless it can be shown that integrated
treatment would pose an undue hardship, or that segregation is the only way to
In the context of public transit services, this means that
the accessibility of the conventional transit system is
essential, even where excellent paratransit services are
available. Conventional transit services should be designed as inclusively as
possible, from the outset, and barriers
should be removed where they exist. This is the approach
that most respects the dignity of persons with disabilities.
Increasing the accessibility of conventional transit may
also make good practical sense. It is possible that
increased accessibility in conventional transit will
decrease demands on paratransit services. The TTC noted in
its submission that, as its conventional system becomes more accessible, there
has been a movement by persons with
disabilities towards using the conventional service and
being less reliant on the paratransit service. This
increases efficiencies: for example, the average public
subsidy per passenger trip for Wheel-Trans in 1999 was
$25.98, as opposed to $.35 on the conventional system.
However, the submission from OCTA and the Canadian Urban
Transit Association (#CUTA#) is sceptical on this point,
stating that the majority of people who are eligible for
door to door service would be reluctant to give up this
higher level of service to ride on conventional fixed route transit, even
though it would eliminate the need for advance reservations, and provide
greater flexibility and
spontaneity. Kingston Transit notes that the types of
paratransit users in each community vary widely, so that the impact of
increasing the accessibility of conventional
transit may differ between communities.
In any case, many modifications that increase accessibility also lead to
improvements for other riders. For example, a
recent study conducted by the American Transportation
Research Board found that, for most of the transit providers surveyed, the most
important reason for improving
communication methods for persons with disabilities was the benefit it provided
to all riders.
2. Accessible Conventional Transit Services in Ontario
There are 58 conventional transit systems in Ontario. This
includes commuter rail systems like GO Transit, and the
subway system operated by the TTC. Public funding accounts
for about 25% of the revenues, and in recent years has been contributed solely
Many of Ontario#s older public transportation systems were
not designed to accommodate persons with disabilities, and
face significant challenges in removing existing barriers.
Progress towards maximum accessibility is continuing, but at a slow pace. While
transit service providers express support for the principle of maximum
accessibility in the
conventional transit system, they also universally indicate that lack of
funding is posing significant obstacles to
As indicated by the transit surveys, most public transit
systems are operating at least some lift-equipped or low-
floor buses. However, the information provided to the OHRC
indicates that there is a long way to go to achieve
completely accessible fleets. While 90% of Ontario transit
systems have a procurement policy in favour of low-floor
buses, in many cases, these commitments are dependent on
budget constraints. In recent years, accessibility
initiatives have also focussed on improvements to bus stops and shelters.
Several systems offer some #community bus#
While many accessibility improvements are relatively low
cost (such as having drivers announce stops), others are
very costly. For example, retrofitting subway or transit
stations to add elevators costs millions of dollars per
station. Modifications to streets and sidewalks to improve
access to low-floor buses are also expensive.
The sections below outline some key areas of concern with
respect to the accessibility of conventional transit systems that were raised
in the submissions to the OHRC.
3. General Issues
Many submissions pointed out that older persons and persons with disabilities
often face significant challenges simply
getting to and from fixed route transit, particularly during the winter months,
when snow creates major barriers in most parts of Ontario. Unless these issues
can be addressed, no
amount of improvements to conventional transit systems will make conventional
transit truly accessible. Some issues
include the lack of benches at bus stops where passengers
can rest while waiting for transit, long distances to buses, and long waiting
periods. Piles of snow at bus stops can
also pose hazards for persons with disabilities.
This concern was echoed in the submission of Canadian
As well, some submissions pointed out that priority seating for older persons
and persons with disabilities is not
always respected, particularly when transit is overcrowded.
Concerns were also raised that drivers on the conventional
transit system may not receive sufficient training regarding assisting
passengers in need. As a result, even where
accessibility features are in place, passengers may not
always be receiving the full benefit. For example, drivers
may not give passengers with mobility or sensory impairments sufficient time to
take their seats prior to moving the
vehicle. As well, because of tight schedules, drivers are
sometimes reluctant to take the time to lower the floor of
kneeling buses or to ask other passengers to make way, or
are uncertain as to how to operate lift-equipped buses.
Further, breakdowns of elevators or lifts, or non-
functioning escalators are not uncommon.
As well, ongoing sensitivity and anti-discrimination
training for transit staff is essential. Several submissions identified lack of
sensitivity and discriminatory attitudes among transit personnel as barriers to
A number of submissions pointed out the need for a broad
understanding of accessibility. The focus of accessibility
initiatives has most often been on mobility impairments.
However, persons with sensory impairments, or invisible
disabilities such as environmental sensitivities or mental
disabilities, also have needs that should be taken into
account when designing public transportation services, or in barrier removal.
4. Access for Persons with Mobility Impairments
As noted above, 90% of Ontario transit systems now have a
procurement policy in favour of low-floor buses, and lift-
equipped and low-floor buses now make up 15% of Ontario#s
total bus fleet. There are Easier Access features on the
majority of the Ontario transit industry#s 5600 buses, and
there are a growing number of fully accessible bus routes in many Ontario
cities. As well, many bus and subway stations
have been made more accessible to persons with disabilities through the
addition of elevators, accessible washrooms,
modified rest benches, and other accessibility features.
However, there is still a long way to go. Information from
the transit surveys indicates that maximum accessibility may be 15 years or
more away in many urban centres in Ontario,
even if all accessibility plans currently in place are
implemented. This is partially due to the high costs of
renovating transit stations and purchasing accessible
vehicles, and partially due to the long life span for
capital equipment: for example, in the city of Windsor, over half the bus fleet
is over 25 years old. Procurement
policies in favour of low-floor vehicles will therefore
produce results only slowly.
5. Accessibility Features for Persons with Sensory
In its submission, the Canadian National Institute for the
Blind recommended a number of measures to increase
accessibility for persons who are blind or visually
impaired, including making all information, including maps, available in
alternative formats; consistently and clearly
announcing all stops along subway, bus and streetcar lines; placing
colour-contrasted, appropriately-sized signage in
convenient locations; and using tactile ground surface
indicators to indicate stairs, platform edges, and way
finding. Although some transit systems have made advances in this respect, many
Individual submissions also emphasized the importance of
providing announcements of stops, and training for transit
The Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (#CILT#)
recommended coin operated TTYs at bus and subway stations,
using existing moving LCD signs on subway platforms to make public
announcements, and installing LCD signs in buses and subway cars.
6. Other Issues
Accessibility features that would benefit persons with
environmental sensitivities include implementing no-scent
policies for drivers and passengers; prohibiting buses and
taxis from idling at pick-up stops, in order to reduce
chemical exposures; installation of benches at bus stops;
and ensuring that elevators and escalators are not only
available, but in good repair. OC Transpo has recently
undertaken two marketing campaigns dealing with
environmental sensitivity issues, the first of which was
undertaken in partnership with the Environmental Health
Association of Canada.
VII. PARATRANSIT SYSTEMS AND COMPARABLE SERVICE
The establishment of truly accessible public transit and
paratransit systems will enhance the opportunity for people with disabilities
to participate fully in their communities. Lack of accessibility in public
transit systems creates
barriers for people who are disabled that do not exist for
the able-bodied population. While able-bodied people have
the right to decide at the last minute to participate in a
community activity or be on-call for work, this option does not exist for
people who are disabled who must rely on
paratransit as it currently exists. Changes should and must be made to allow
all people to participate on an equal
-Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, Ontario Division
1. Paratransit Systems and Human Rights Law
Where individuals are unable, because of their disabilities or because of the
non-inclusive design of many older transit systems, to access conventional
transit systems, transit
service providers have a duty to accommodate these needs, up to the point of
undue hardship. While some transit providers argue that paratransit is a type
of voluntary special
program under human rights law, it is the position of
the OHRC that paratransit is a form of accommodation that
can be required to meet the duty to accommodate under the
The OHRC#s Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate
emphasizes the importance of inclusive design and barrier removal in ensuring
the right of persons with
disabilities to integration and full participation. The
Policy states that:
[E]mployment, housing, services and facilities must be built or adapted to
accommodate individuals with
disabilities in a way that promotes their integration
and full participation. Segregated treatment in
services, employment, or housing for individuals with
disabilities is less dignified and is unacceptable,
unless it can be shown that integrated treatment would pose undue hardship or
that segregation is the only way to achieve equality.
The Policy goes on to recognize that even up-front inclusive design and
systematic removal of existing barriers may not
always result in full participation for persons with
disabilities, and at this point, differential treatment may be required in
order to provide equal opportunity to full
This applies to transit services. There will always be
individuals who will be unable to use even the most
accessible conventional transit system. Certainly, at this
point in the evolution of conventional transit, there are
many individuals in these circumstances. A segregated
paratransit system is therefore a necessity to achieve
equality for persons with disabilities, and this will most
likely always continue to be the case, although the need may diminish as the
accessibility of the conventional system
The right to equal treatment in services means that
paratransit systems should be comparable to conventional
transit services in terms of the types and level of services they provide,
unless the provision of comparable services
will cause undue hardship for the transit service provider.
Further, as with any type of accommodation, paratransit
services must be provided in a manner that most respects the dignity of persons
with disabilities. Respect for dignity
includes individual self-respect and self-worth, as well as the privacy,
confidentiality, comfort, autonomy,
individuality and self-esteem of persons with disabilities.
2. Paratransit Services in Ontario
According to OCTA, there are 72 paratransit services
currently operating in Ontario. The Canadian Urban Transit
Association#s statistics indicate that Canada#s urban
paratransit systems provide rides to almost 11 million
riders per year. In Toronto alone, Wheel-Trans has over
18,000 registrants, and in 1999, it provided almost 1.5
The public subsidy per rider tends to be much higher for
paratransit services than it is for conventional transit.
For example, again in Toronto, the public subsidy for each
passenger trip on Wheel-Trans was $25.98, as compared to
$.35 for each passenger trip on the conventional system.
Paratransit services are provided through a variety of
institutions. In some cases, services are provided directly by a municipality,
or by a municipal transit commission. In others, paratransit services are
contracted out to
specialized providers. Community agencies, such as Community Care Access
Centres, often provide some form of paratransit service. As well, there are
paratransit-type services across the province. Concerns have been raised about
the heavy involvement of volunteer
organizations in providing paratransit services. As one
Community Care Access Centre noted: #Our agency does its
best to give service to this client group but volunteers
cannot be expected to shoulder this responsibility, but can augment municipal
and county services. Governments are
shifting the responsibility for core services more and more to the voluntary
sector# (Community Care Peterborough).
The nature of paratransit services varies widely across the province, as
outlined in Part V, section 4 of this Report,
the Transit Survey Update. Some areas provide a combined
family of services, including wheelchair accessible vans,
contracted taxi services, and taxi scrips, while others
provide only wheelchair accessible vans. Some services
provide community bus services on routes heavily populated
by seniors and persons with disabilities. Some provide
services only for restricted purposes, such as employment,
education, and medical appointments, while others have no
such restrictions. Eligibility requirements also vary
widely, as do fares and fare structures, and booking
3. Impact of Limitations in Paratransit Services
Submissions received by the OHRC spoke very strongly to the powerful negative
impact on persons with disabilities and
senior citizens of insufficient or inadequate paratransit
services. Difficulties in accessing paratransit services
restrict access to employment, education, and services. An
employment counsellor who works with persons with
disabilities pointed out the major barriers that lack of
transit creates for job seekers with disabilities. For
example, employers will frequently call and offer interviews on the same day or
the next day, while paratransit services require patrons to book substantially
ahead of time. Because some paratransit services often run behind schedule,
seekers may frequently find themselves late for job
interviews, or unable to guarantee fixed start times for a
job (CILT). The Kidney Foundation indicated that limitations in paratransit
services may actually have serious health
implications for some. Access to comprehensive medical
treatment is not simply a function of adequate medical
facilities, but also of the existence of the necessary
supports to complement these centres. For example, the
Kidney Foundation states, #When transit is not available,
delayed or long waiting periods are encountered, they [renal patients]
experience stress reactions that can be very
detrimental to their already compromised health status#.
Seniors# organizations also raised concerns about the social isolation that can
result from lack of access to paratransit services. This is particularly the
case where paratransit
systems priorize, or exclusively provide, trips for
employment, educational, or medical services.
As well, limitations in paratransit services raise larger
issues of respect for dignity.
It should be emphasized that several submissions also
highlighted how highly valued and appreciated the available services are, the
professionalism and courtesy of many of
the drivers, and the willingness of administrators to engage in ongoing
dialogue about improvements to the system.
Summarized below are some recurring themes from submissions. In reviewing the
issues below, the wide variance in
paratransit services across the province must be kept in
4. Key Concerns
All paratransit services have eligibility criteria of one
form or another, although the criteria, and the method of
assessing eligibility, vary widely. Some paratransit
services limit eligibility to persons with permanent
disabilities, while others permit persons with temporary
disabilities to access the system. In general, most systems have eligibility
requirements that focus heavily on persons with mobility restrictions, for
example, the inability to
climb stairs or to walk 175 metres unassisted.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (#ADA#), which
sets standards for accessible transit in the United States, the criteria for
eligibility for paratransit services is
simply whether or not an individual can use the
transportation provider#s fixed route system # for example, because the person
is unable, because of his or her
disability to use accessible conventional transit services; because accessible
conventional transit services are not
available at that time on that route; or because the person is unable, by
reason of his or her disability, to travel to or from the boarding or
deboarding location. Eligibility is therefore a functional determination of
whether the person
can use the regular transit system as it currently exists,
and not simply a medical or physical diagnosis. This
approach appears to be more in keeping with the broad
definition of disability in the Ontario Human Rights
Code, as well as with the requirement that persons with
disabilities be considered, assessed, and accommodated
Concerns were repeatedly raised that restrictive eligibility criteria are
leaving some individuals with access to neither the conventional system, nor
the paratransit system in their communities. For example, the Kidney Foundation
that persons with kidney-related disabilities may experience changes in their
mobility, and therefore may not be eligible for paratransit. The Environmental
Illness Society of Canada reported that attitudinal barriers to the validity of
invisible disabilities, such as environmental illnesses,
have led to evaluation procedures that deny services to
passengers who need the service.
As noted in the Discussion Paper, persons with mental
disabilities are generally only eligible for paratransit
services if they also have a mobility restriction. This
leaves many persons with mental disabilities with no access to transit
One individual submission raised concerns about the combined effect of
disability and family status. As a blind person,
he is generally able to access the conventional transit
system. However, as a parent with a small child, the
combined effect of his disability and his family status
present him with serious transportation difficulties.
The Advocacy Resource Centre for the Handicapped (#ARCH#)
states that, in the case of Toronto#s Wheel-Trans system,
the criteria are not designed to individually assess a
person#s need for accessible transportation: only persons
with mobility disabilities who use the #right# assistive
devices are accepted on to the program. According to ARCH,
Wheel-Trans does not accommodate persons with disabilities
such as cognitive disabilities, respiratory disabilities, or visual
disabilities, for example. There are as a result many people who have no access
to public transportation.
For some paratransit systems, bookings must be made up to
two weeks in advance, which can severely restrict patrons#
ability to attend appointments, or access services. Even
where services provide for much shorter booking requirements (in some systems,
only 24 hours in advance), it may be very difficult to actually get a booking.
Many patrons mentioned having to start trying to call the system at 5:30 a.m.
order to book a ride, and spending up to 45 minutes trying
to get through on the telephone.
As well, some submissions mentioned services that are
routinely 30 minutes or more late, causing difficulties for persons trying to
reach medical appointments, or employment. Particular concerns were raised
about situations where rides have been several hours late or have not arrived
at all, and patrons were left waiting outside, sometimes in inclement
weather, with no idea of when or whether their ride would
arrive. It was pointed out that this raises real safety
concerns for persons with disabilities or frail seniors.
Some paratransit systems have policies penalizing patrons
who cancel rides on the day of service. Penalties can
include suspensions from the service of up to 30 days. As
several submissions pointed out, these policies seem
particularly unfair when they are applied regardless of the reason for the
cancellation, especially since paratransit
systems are dealing with persons whose health status may be fragile and
Fares and Fare Structures
Fare structures for paratransit services vary widely,
especially when one considers the effect of taxi scrip
services. Some services charge the same fares as those
charged to riders on the conventional system, while others
charge higher fees per trip. Some paratransit systems levy
one-time registration fees. Few paratransit systems permit
patrons to purchase monthly passes, or bulk tickets, as is
common on the conventional system.
Priorizing of trips
Some paratransit systems will only carry riders on trips for employment,
educational, or medical services. Others
priorize such trips, and allow patrons to ride for other
purposes on an availability basis. Some do not priorize
trips at all. A number of submissions pointed out the
isolating effects of priorization policies, as they cut
people off from social, recreational, and other services.
Several submissions raised concerns about the lack of
reciprocity arrangements between Ontario paratransit
systems, which would allow those eligible for paratransit
services in one system to use the equivalent service when
visiting another area. This is especially the case given the rigorousness and
length of the eligibility screening
procedures for some systems. This lack of reciprocity, some patrons felt, posed
a real barrier to travel for persons
dependent on paratransit services. As one individual
submission said #Blindness and its subsequent dilemmas do
not recognize # boundaries. Needing a #ride# somewhere is
needing a #ride# somewhere whether you are in Moncton, N.B., or Sechelt, B.C.
#. A short-term visitor may have to wait a week or more to be accepted as
eligible for paratransit
Cross Boundary Travel
Travel across the many boundaries in the Greater Toronto
Area (#GTA#) is a major issue. As the GTA continues to
expand and develop, residents more frequently have need to
cross various municipal boundaries in order to work, obtain an education,
access community programs, or receive medical services. However, the
paratransit systems in the GTA have
been unable to come up with a formula to permit persons who are dependent on
paratransit to cross a municipal boundary.
According to the Kidney Foundation, cross boundary trips can be quite
physically onerous, creating significant
difficulties for patrons who are attempting to travel home
after arduous medical treatments, such as dialysis.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada emphasized the
importance of amenities such as functioning shock absorbent systems and air
conditioning for persons with certain
disabilities. For example, persons who have acquired
osteoporosis from being in a wheelchair for many years can
actually suffer stress fractures from a rough vehicle ride, while persons with
heart and lung disease, multiple
sclerosis, and in some cases muscular dystrophy would
benefit from having a cool environment during a ride. CILT
submitted the story of a patron who was actually physically injured because of
the poor suspension on a paratransit
vehicle, and the carelessness of the driver. The rider, who was a quadriplegic
in a wheelchair, and paralysed from the
neck down, with limited range of movement in her neck,
stated, #I was devastated. The only part of me that was
working and that gave me a measure of independence was now
Many paratransit services in Ontario supplement their bus
and van operations with taxis, either sedan or accessible.
Some use taxi services as a supplement only when their
accessible vans are overbooked or suffer breakdowns, while
others make taxi services a regular component of their
family of services. Some also provide taxi scrip services,
where eligible persons can take taxis at a reduced rate.
Taxis tend to be a much cheaper and more flexible mode of
providing accessible or door-to-door service than are vans, especially in small
towns and rural areas, although they are not appropriate for all persons with
However, because taxis are operated by private, for-profit
companies and independent drivers, it is very difficult to
set standards for courtesy, dignity, and assistance. For
example, concerns were raised in submissions that taxis
contracted by paratransit services, especially in the
Toronto area, are frequently extremely late, and at times do not even show up,
and yet there are few or no repercussions. The Kidney Foundation#s submission
stated that, in Toronto, while the Wheel-Trans buses are fairly reliable, there
is a severe problem with the taxi services, to the point where
some patients refuse to use certain taxi companies, as the
stress of the delays they experience has an extremely
negative impact on their health status. One case was cited
where a patient waited five hours for a pick-up from
dialysis. Transportation Action Now suggested in its
submission that this is perhaps because the rates of return are low, so there
is always a temptation to grab another
fare off the street and let the client wait. This submission further suggested
that the Metro Licensing Commission does
not take this type of behaviour seriously, and as a result
there are no penalties.
The Kidney Foundation stated that it is important to ensure that there are
effective and timely complaint and appeal
systems for paratransit systems. As well, the Foundation
recommended that regular #rider satisfaction surveys# be
administered, with key concerns followed up in a timely
The financial realities for transit in Ontario have become
increasingly harsh during the last decade, even as transit
has struggled to fulfil not only its traditional economic
and social roles, but also its newly recognized mission to
help protect the environment. One by one the financial
supports for capital improvements and operating costs #
subsidies that were largely responsible for the resurgence
of public transportation in the seventies and eighties #
have fallen away, until it is now only municipalities and
passengers who shoulder the entire cost of public transit.
- Canadian Urban Transit Association/Ontario Community
The lack of funding for accessible transit systems and the
impact of funding constraints was a recurring theme in
Transit service providers have a duty to accommodate to the point of undue
hardship. This encompasses both the
conventional and the paratransit systems. Factors in
assessing undue hardship are costs, outside sources of
funding, and health and safety. To amount to undue hardship, costs must be
quantifiable, shown to be related to the
accommodation, and so substantial that they would alter the essential nature of
the enterprise, or so significant that
they would substantially affect its viability. Costs may
include capital costs, operating costs, costs incurred as a result of
restructuring, or any other quantifiable costs
that are incurred directly as a result of the accommodation.
In calculating costs, consideration must be given to:
# the possibility of recovering some or all of the costs
in the normal course of business,
# the availability of funds from government or non-
government sources that could offset the cost of
# the possibility of distributing the costs of
accommodation throughout the entire enterprise,
# the ability to amortize or depreciate capital costs
according to generally accepted accounting principles,
# the ability to deduct from the costs any savings that
may be available as a result of the accommodation.
A number of submissions pointed out that public funding for transit is
relatively low in Ontario, accounting for only
25% of revenues, as compared to, for example, American
transit systems, which typically receive about 60% of their revenue through
public funds. Further, in recent years
public funding has come only from municipalities, as the
province has gradually withdrawn from its historical role of providing
operational or capital funding for municipal
transit services. Publications by the Canadian Urban Transit Association point
out that, although Canada is one of the
most urbanized countries in the world, it is the only G-7
country without an urban transit investment program at the
national level. Municipal governments are constrained by
law from operating at a deficit, which leaves funding for
transit services vulnerable when economic downturns occur.
A number of transit providers pointed out that superior
accessibility of transit systems in the United States can be attributed as much
to the provision of adequate, stable
funding to transit providers, as to the effect of the ADA.
A number of suggestions for creative financing options for
public transit services have been put forward, including:
# Exempting public transit organizations from the payment of various taxes
(such as property taxes);
# Directing road tolls to funding public transit;
# Entitling transit organizations to the proceeds arising from the real estate
developments over and above transit property;
# Creating a levy on motor vehicle licenses directed to
funding public transit; and
# Directing a portion of the gas tax to funding public
In an important step, in the fall of 2001, the Ontario
Ministry of Transportation announced new funding for transit in Ontario, in the
form of $3 billion over 10 years, as part of a proposed federal, provincial and
municipal partnership. As part of the transit plan, the province will establish
an operating authority that will take responsibility for 100%
of GO Transit#s operating and base capital funding.
No reliable estimate has been developed as to the cost of
ensuring fully accessible transit services. The costs,
however, are likely to be large. The TTC, for example, has
estimated that the cost of implementing its full
accessibility plan would be in the order of $1 billion.
The lack of funding for accessible transit, therefore, poses a substantial
barrier to achieving maximum transit
accessibility. The TTC estimates that, without further
funding, maximum accessibility will take 10-15 years to
achieve. Transit service providers express concerns that,
should accessibility initiatives be funded solely through
increases in fares, ridership on the conventional system
would decline, and the ability of transit services to meet
their economic, social and environmental missions would be
Further, some submissions pointed to a troubling trend
whereby responsibility for accessible transit is
increasingly being shouldered by volunteer initiatives.
Community Care Access Peterborough offers a service whereby volunteers provide
transportation to medical appointments
and quality of life activities, as well as a multi-
handicapped vehicle that serves county residents.
Peterborough CCAS notes that the van operates with a
significant deficit each year because of the lack of support from the province,
and that the deficit is covered by the
fundraising initiatives of volunteers. While committed to
providing this service, the organization notes, #we would
like this recognized as an essential service and funded
accordingly#. Transportation Action Now stated that the
province#s Community Transportation Action Program (now
discontinued) is a #blatant attempt to return the provision of paratransit
service to the volunteer sector or to the
status of a charitable service#, and noted that, while these types of
initiatives may work in small homogeneous rural
communities where there are more volunteer drivers, for
larger cities, these programs are completely inadequate to
the level of need.
Several submissions pointed out that there are also
substantial costs associated
with the lack of accessible transit. For example, lack of
access to transportation can prevent persons with
disabilities from accessing education or employment.
The role and responsibility of the provincial and federal
governments in ensuring sufficient funding for accessible
transit was emphasized by several organizations.
Transportation Action Now states that if paratransit
services across the province do not have the money to run
effective services, it is the province and city councils who are ultimately
responsible. OCTA states that it considers
that the local, provincial and federal governments must
share responsibility for ensuring access to transportation, pointing out that
there are numerous methods of creatively
financing public transportation, as discussed above.
Kingston Transit and Kingston Access Service point out that funding
responsibilities should be extended to other
concerned ministries, such as those responsible for health, and for social
services. Transportation Action Now, on the
other hand, notes that the Ministries of Education,
Community & Social Services and Health & Long-Term Care
spend nearly $1 billion on transportation services each year to transport
clients whom the TTC does not accommodate, and suggests that these funds would
be much more effectively
used if they were dedicated to improving paratransit and
Ontario has no technical or service benchmarks aimed at
creating standards for accessibility. The lack of standards makes it difficult
for people to know what is required.
-Centre for Independent Living in Toronto
The Transit Survey conducted by the OHRC in 1999 revealed
that levels of access to transit services for persons with
disabilities, older persons, and families with young
children varied widely across the province. The update to
the Transit Survey conducted in the summer of 2001 indicated that this
continues to be the case. Persons with
disabilities, older persons, and families with young
children should have equal access to existing transit
services, regardless of their location in Ontario.
Standards also create certainty and clarity for transit
providers. They can play an important role in motivating and sustaining
improvements to transit accessibility. As one
submission pointed out, rights should not be dependent on
the goodwill of strangers.
The call for standards was a major theme in the responses to the OHRC#s
Discussion Paper. While respondents differed on
how standards should be created and enforced, there was a
broad consensus on the desirability of some type of
standards for accessible transit services.
Currently, there are no standards for accessible public
transit services in Ontario. There are some guidelines and
standards in the Building Code that would apply to subway or bus terminals.
However, this applies mainly to physical
disabilities, and only to new buildings, or to renovations
in certain limited circumstances.
Many responses to the Discussion Paper pointed to the
standards for accessible transit set in the United States by the ADA. This
legislation sets out detailed standards and
timelines for the accessibility of both conventional and
paratransit services. For example, the ADA sets benchmarks
for paratransit services, requiring that they have
comparable hours of service, fares, geographic services
areas, waiting times, and levels of service as conventional transit services,
and that there be no priorizing of trips. The passage of the ADA in 1990 has
resulted in significant
improvements to the accessibility of transit services in the United States, in
a period of just over 10 years.
A number of respondents felt that significant progress on
accessible transit would occur only when there were clear,
enforceable, legislated standards in place. They therefore
advocated the passage of an ODA that would contain many of
the significant features of the ADA. Submissions described
an effective ODA as setting out clear standards for
accessible transit services, having timetables for
implementation, and including an enforcement mechanism.
The importance of the involvement of persons with
disabilities and older persons in setting any standards was also emphasized in
several submissions. As the CILT
submission pointed out, persons with disabilities know what is best for them.
Some transit service providers emphasized the importance of flexibility in any
standards developed, in order to reflect the diverse needs of local
communities. For example,
Kingston Transit pointed out that it has a high population
of seniors per capita, as well as a large percentage of
wheelchair users per capita, compared to like-sized cities. Kingston Transit
therefore recommended the use of local
action plans, which could give cities the ability to set
local targets, local priority setting, realistic time
frames, and some flexibility with regard to funding capacity at the local
Transit service providers also strongly stated that new
standards must be accompanied by increased funding from
government. Otherwise, transit service providers could find themselves unable
to meet commitments to all of their users and stakeholders.
A number of submissions contained suggestions for steps that could be taken in
the absence of any legislated standards.
CILT suggested that perhaps the Canadian Standards
Association could be asked to do a study of what is needed, and produce
guidelines and measurements. The Canadian Red
Cross suggested that the OHRC could take a partnership role in facilitating the
development of Accessibility Guidelines that would provide service providers
with common, province-
wide benchmarks or minimum service requirements on which to base conventional,
complementary and paratransit service
delivery for persons with disabilities and older Ontarians. It was suggested
that these Guidelines would cover such
issues as common build practices, attendant requirements
when transporting persons with mental disabilities,
accommodation requirements for walkers and wheelchairs,
eligibility criteria, etc.
Since the consultation period on the Discussion Paper
closed, the Ontario government has passed the Ontarians with Disabilities Act
(#ODA#). The ODA differs significantly from the ADA. The focus of the ODA is on
and standard setting. Section 14 of the legislation requires every public
transportation organization in Ontario to
prepare a yearly accessibility plan, addressing the
identification, removal and prevention of barriers to
persons with disabilities in the organization#s bylaws,
policies, programs, practices and services. This
accessibility plan must be made available to the public.
While municipalities are required to take accessibility into account when
purchasing goods or services (s. 13), no such
requirement applies to transit services.
The government will develop guidelines for the preparation
of accessibility plans. These guidelines may exempt
organizations, including public transportation
organizations, from their application.
Section 19 of the Act mandates the creation of an
Accessibility Advisory Council, which shall advise the
Minister of Citizenship on the implementation of the ODA,
programs of public information, and accessibility of
services provided or funded by the government.
The government has the power to adopt codes of conduct,
guidelines, protocols or procedures as regulations, and to
require compliance with them.
As well, any building project funded by a government funded capital program
must meet or exceed the accessibility
requirements of the Building Code and regulations.
While requiring transit providers to plan for accessibility, there are no
provisions within the ODA requiring the
implementation of plans, or the ultimate achievement of
Section 3 of the ODA states that nothing in the Act, its
regulations, or standards and guidelines set under it,
diminishes in any way existing legal obligations to persons with disabilities.
In other words, the Ontario Human Rights Code, including the duty to
accommodate persons with
disabilities and the undue hardship standard, as outlined in the OHRC#s Policy
and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate, continue to apply.
The Code will continue to operate as the major enforcement mechanism for the
rights of persons with disabilities.
The ODA has potential to assist in the creation of
standards, through the power of the government to develop
guidelines. Unless this power to create guidelines is
exercised, however, the ODA is unlikely to result in the
creation of the kinds of standards for accessible transit
that have been envisioned in submissions to the OHRC.
Without enforceable guidelines, services across Ontario will likely continue to
exist as a patchwork, and access to
transit will vary from municipality to municipality.
Benchmarks for excellence and improvement in accessible
transit services will not be available for the assistance of transit providers
The requirement under the ODA for all transit providers to
develop publicly available, annually updated, accessibility plans will mark a
step forward in this area. A number of
transit providers have already taken this step and have
plans in place, but several do not. It is essential that
plans set out accountability structures and timelines, if
they are to be effective.
X. ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES
The transit industry is committed to making its services
fully accessible to persons with disabilities by continuing and, if possible,
accelerating the process of transforming
our fleets, facilities and employee skills. The key factor
that will determine the pace of this transformation is the
extent to which all levels of government recognize and act
on their shared responsibility to work in partnership with
-Canadian Urban Transit Association/Ontario Community
Accessible transit is a complex issue, with many players.
For advances to be made, all players # transit providers,
municipalities, senior levels of government, non-
governmental organizations, and the OHRC itself # must
rethink their roles and obligations, as well as work
together collaboratively to find solutions. Improvements in accessibility will
require senior levels of government to
take leadership in setting standards, and providing funding. Transit providers
must make full integration and
accessibility a priority, and begin to plan for
implementation. The OHRC must ensure that it is fulfilling
its mandate in this area, not only in terms of its complaint system, but also
in terms of public education, and by taking a facilitative role on this issue.
As the Supreme Court of
Canada has pointed out, accommodation is a shared
In the Discussion Paper, the OHRC set out some suggestions
on roles and responsibilities for transit providers and
government. Specifically, the Discussion Paper suggested
# Transit service providers set a goal of full integration and accessibility,
and begin developing and implementing plans to achieve this goal. This goal
includes, not only accessible conventional transit services, but also
paratransit services that are comparable to those
received on the conventional system. This goal applies
to all persons with disabilities, not only persons with mobility-related
# Municipalities and provinces make stronger commitments
to transit accessibility, including continuance and
expansion of the Community Transportation Action Program (now discontinued),
and exploration of creative
# Governments consider developing legislated standards, or universal design and
shared accessibility guidelines for public transit.
Numerous submissions were received relating to roles and
responsibilities, including comments on the suggestions
outlined in the Discussion Paper, as well as new ideas.
There were also several suggestions on possible ongoing
roles for the OHRC itself in the development of accessible
transit services. These suggestions are set out below.
1. Providers of Transit Services
Both transit providers and transit users endorsed the
principles that transit providers should set as a goal the
integration of riders with disabilities into a primary
transit system accessible to all customers, and that patrons who could not use
even a highly integrated primary or
conventional system should have access to an effective
As well, many submissions supported the recommendations that transit providers
engage in proactive planning and inclusive design. Both the Multiple Sclerosis
Society of Canada, and
the Ontario Society (Coalition) of Senior Citizens
Organizations pointed out that demographics, and in
particular, the aging of the population, make this type of
planning especially urgent. The Ontario Federation of Labour emphasized the
importance of ensuring the active involvement of users in the planning and
implementation of accessible
transit services, both because they bring a unique
perspective to the issues, but also because their
involvement will ensure that quality of service for all
users remains a high priority.
The importance of inclusive design was reiterated as well.
Not only is inclusive design in keeping with the principle
of integration and full participation, it is also more cost-effective in the
Transit providers almost universally pointed out that, while increased
accessibility is an important goal for them,
public transit serves many stakeholders, and transit
providers face many serious constraints, including financial ones. Any policies
or programs aimed at improving transit
accessibility must, they urged, take these complex issues
A recurring theme in submissions was the important role of
senior levels of government in ensuring equitable access to transportation for
persons with disabilities, older
Ontarians, and families with young children.
In the past, the Province was actively involved in transit
issues. Historically, the Province allocated significant
funding to assist municipalities to provide services to
persons with mobility impairments. In 1993, the Ontario
government required municipalities to provide full
accessibility transit plans. As well, all new transit
vehicles leased or purchased had to be low-floor, or
equipped with Easier Access features.
Such initiatives were gradually abandoned until, at the time of the release of
the Discussion Paper in February 2001, the Province had completely withdrawn
from the field of
However, there are signs of a renewed interest in transit
issues on the part of the Province. As mentioned elsewhere, the new ODA
specifically addresses issues surrounding
accessible transit. As well, the Province has recently
committed new funding to public transit services in Ontario.
On the federal level, the most recent federal budget created a Strategic
Infrastructure Foundation, to which $2 billion
will be allocated from any budget surpluses that arise. The money would go to
roads, urban transit, and sewage works,
and the TTC has already indicated that it will request funds from this
It is clear that only limited progress can be made on
accessible transit without the involvement of senior levels of government.
Transit service providers, and
municipalities, are operating within extremely limited
budgets. Regardless of the willingness of transit providers to improve
accessibility, budget limitations indicate that
real improvements will become apparent only over a period of years, without
assistance from government. As well, without coordination from senior levels of
government, it is
difficult to see how transit service providers can, on their own, tackle the
issues of varying levels of accessibility
across the province, or develop appropriate service
It should be noted that the OHRC#s Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the
Duty to Accommodate recognize a positive duty on governments to ensure
equitable access to services
such as transit. The Policy states #Governments have a
positive duty to ensure that services generally available to the public are
also available to persons with disabilities. Governments should not be allowed
to evade their human
rights responsibilities by delegating implementation of
their policies and programs to private entities.#
Submissions focussed on two important roles for government
in the provision of accessible transit: funding and
standards. Both of these issues have been dealt with in
Government can have an important role in developing
standards for accessible transit (whether legislated or
otherwise), or in facilitating their creation, and in
ensuring that they are implemented. Many submissions
indicated that real progress in transit accessibility was
unlikely without consistent standards, and that for maximum effectiveness, such
standards should be legislated,
enforceable, and have clear timelines. Progress is unlikely so long as the
issue is left entirely to the discretion of
local councils. As one submission pointed out, the Municipal Act does not even
require that transit services be provided at all. Transit is a discretionary
service that could be
cancelled at the discretion of local councils.
The other area where submissions indicated an important role for government was
funding. Due to the financial limitations of most transit providers,
significant advances in
accessibility will not occur for many years unless
government provides some resources towards this. As was
pointed out in the Discussion Paper, there are many
innovative ways in which this can be done, beyond direct
3. Ontario Human Rights Commission
The OHRC, of course, has an important role to play in
advancing accessible transit services. Section 29 of the
Ontario Human Rights Code gives the OHRC a very broad role
in achieving the purposes of the Code.
29. It is the function of the Commission,
(a) to forward the policy that the dignity and
worth of every person be recognized and that
equal rights and opportunities be provided
without discrimination that is contrary to law;
(b) to promote an understanding and acceptance of
and compliance with this Act;
(d) to develop and conduct programs of public
information and education and undertake, direct and encourage research designed
discriminatory practices that infringe rights
under this Act;
(e) to examine and review any statute or
regulation, and any program or policy made by
or under a statute and make recommendations on any provision, program or policy
that in its
opinion is inconsistent with the intent of the Act;
(g) to initiate investigations into problems based upon identification by a
prohibited ground of
discrimination that may arise in a community,
and encourage and co-ordinate plans, programs
and activities to reduce or prevent such
(i) to enforce this Act and orders of the board of inquiry;
The OHRC commenced work in the area of accessible transit
with its 1999 transit survey and the 2001 Discussion Paper, and is continuing
its work with this Consultation Report.
The submissions contained a number of recommendations as to how in future the
OHRC could effectively continue its work
in this area:
1. Re-examine the way in which transit related complaints are being handled.
Some submissions indicated that, in their view, the OHRC has not always handled
complaints regarding transit as
effectively as possible. For example, ARCH states that the
OHRC has in the past decided not to deal with complaints
regarding eligibility criteria for paratransit services, on the basis that
complaints could be dealt with through the
appeals processes set up by the transit providers.
According to ARCH, however, so long as the transit providers are applying
discriminatory criteria to determine
eligibility, no appeal process will effectively deal with
this issue. Further, ARCH argued that the eligibility
determination process itself fails to comply with OHRC#s
Policy with respect to individualized assessment of
accommodation needs. The OHRC agrees with ARCH that it is
important to use caution when exercising its discretion
under section 34. A review of the OHRC#s decisions under
section 34(1) of the Code from 1997 forwards did not reveal any cases in which
the OHRC decided to exercise its
discretion not to deal with a complaint against a transit
commission, although several applications for a section 34
decision were made by respondents.
ARCH also urged the OHRC to ensure that, where transit
providers claim undue hardship as a defence for insufficient service, the
standards set out in the Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to
Accommodate with respect to
undue hardship be thoroughly applied, so that transit
providers are required to provide objective, quantifiable
evidence for their claim.
2. Take on a strong public education role on this issue
Both ARCH and the Canadian Red Cross highlighted the
important role that the OHRC can play in educating the
public on their rights in the Code to accommodation in
transit services, and that these rights are enforceable
through the OHRC.
3. Standard setting
Some submissions indicated that the OHRC could play an
important role in setting standards for accessible transit, particularly in the
absence of action from senior levels of government.
For example, the Canadian Red Cross suggested that the OHRC could work with
other stakeholders to create common,
province-wide benchmarks or minimum service requirements for conventional and
4. Monitoring and information sharing
It was also suggested that the OHRC could continue to
monitor progress in this area and share information with all parties.
Kingston Transit, for example, suggested in its submission
that the OHRC could track and evaluate successes and best
practices with accessible transit, and share this
information with all parties. One way of doing this would be for the OHRC to
continue carrying out regular transit
surveys and making the results public.
5. Work with transit providers to increase accessibility
ARCH suggested that the OHRC make broad use of its powers
under section 29 of the Code to work with transit providers to encourage
compliance with human rights law and
improvements in transit for older Ontarians and persons with disabilities.
XI. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS: MOVING TOWARD
ACCESSIBLE TRANSIT SERVICES
As indicated throughout this Report, improving the
accessibility of transit services is a complex endeavour,
requiring the combined efforts of a number of parties. Set
out below are the recommendations of the OHRC for moving
towards more accessible transit services.
1. Transit Service Providers
The OHRC recognizes the multiple roles and obligations of
transit providers, the complexity of the systems that they
operate, and the severity of the financial constraints that they are
experiencing. It is unrealistic to expect that
transit providers will, without some outside assistance, be able to rapidly
achieve maximally accessible, dignified
transit options for all.
However, there are steps that transit services providers can and should be
taking, even within current constraints, to
move towards accessible transit services. Transit service
1. Set as a goal full integration and accessibility
Full integration and accessibility, including both
accessible conventional services, and comparable,
dignified paratransit services, was endorsed as an
objective by the submissions of both transit service
providers and users.
2. Design inclusively when developing new policies,
procedures, or programs, when creating new services, or building, renovating or
purchasing new buildings or
For example, where new buses are being purchased,
transit service providers should avoid reinforcing
existing barriers by purchasing non-accessible buses,
especially given the very lengthy life-span of such
capital purchases. Issues of equality and access should be an important
consideration whenever new policies,
programs, services or facilities are being developed.
It is more difficult and costly to retrofit
inaccessible facilities and services than to design
inclusively at the outset.
3. Develop and maintain plans to achieve full
integration and accessibility.
Organizations are required to take positive and
progressive steps to achieve equality. The first step
towards equal access to transit services is for transit providers to develop
accessibility plans. Plans should set out the steps, short of undue hardship,
transit providers will take to achieve fully accessible transit services. Plans
should be built on the
principles of dignity, integration and participation,
and individualization. They should include timelines,
performance measures, and accountability. They should
also be regularly reviewed and updated.
As noted in the transit survey update, a number of
transit service providers have developed accessibility plans, or are in the
process of doing so.
4. Ensure that the process of planning for and
implementing accessibility is respectful of the dignity of persons with varying
types of disabilities, older
persons, and families with young children.
The process of accommodation, as well as the outcome,
should be respectful of the dignity of the persons
affected, and should take into account the importance
of integration and full participation. As a number of
submissions pointed out, persons with disabilities are well aware of
limitations in the current system, and of their own needs. Any planning process
should recognize that older persons, persons with disabilities, and
families with young children are important stakeholders in the process.
5. Take all steps short of undue hardship to achieve integration and maximum
It should be noted that, under the OHRC#s Policy and
Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate,
costs must be distributed as widely as possible within the organization so that
no single department is
burdened with the cost of an accommodation. The
appropriate basis for evaluating costs is the budget of the organization as a
whole, not the branch that is
providing the service in question.
It should also be noted here that collective
agreements, contracts, employee morale, and business
inconvenience should not act as bars to the achievement of equality. These are
not factors that can be
considered when undue hardship is assessed. For
example, if collective agreement provisions are found
to act as a barrier to improving paratransit services, this in itself would not
be a defence for the transit
service provider under the Code.
2. Senior Levels of Government
Significant advances in transit accessibility cannot be made without the
involvement of senior levels of government. The two key components for
advancing transit accessibility are
standard setting, and funding.
The OHRC therefore welcomes the recent initiatives of the
Ministry of Transportation, and the Ministry of Citizenship in the area of
transit. The announcement of new funding for transit services, as well as the
focus on transit in the
recently passed ODA, mark positive steps in this area, and a welcome
opportunity for change.
The OHRC would encourage the Ministry of Transportation to
consider accessibility issues, and in particular, the
urgency and impact of many of the issues raised in this
Report, when considering further transit funding
The ODA provides an opportunity to develop standards and
timelines for transit accessibility. The OHRC considers this a very important
step forward. The OHRC encourages the new
Accessibility Directorate to develop guidelines for transit service providers.
3. Ontario Human Rights Commission
The submissions received in the course of this consultation reaffirm the
importance of equal and accessible transit
services to ensuring equal rights and opportunities for
Ontarians who have disabilities, are older, or have young
children. The OHRC will continue to forward accessible
transit services, through its mandate under section 29 of
In particular, the OHRC will:
1. Ensure that relevant OHRC policies are applied in all transit-related
2. Develop a communications tool on human rights and transit for the general
public, e.g., a leaflet
outlining human rights in transit services.
3. Work with transit service providers to ensure that they have access to
appropriate tools for understanding their human rights obligations as transit
4. Communicate the results of this transit
consultation to government stakeholders, including the Ministry of
Transportation, the Ministry of
Citizenship, and the new Accessibility Directorate.
5. Update the transit survey results within the next five years, and share the
results, including progress
and best practices, with transit service providers,
stakeholders, and the public.
APPENDIX: ORGANIZATIONS THAT PROVIDED INPUT
Advocacy Resource Centre for the Handicapped
Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Ontario Division
Canadian Red Cross, Ontario Zone
Canadian Pensioners Concerned, Ontario Division
Canadian Urban Transit Association
Centre for Independent Living in Toronto
Cochrane District Community Care Access Centre
Community Care Peterborough
Environmental Illness Society of Canada
Kidney Foundation of Canada, Greater Toronto Area Renal
Social Workers# Group
Kingston Access Services
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, Ontario Division
Ontario Community Transportation Association
Ontario Federation of Labour (CLC)
Ontario Society (Coalition) of Senior Citizens#
Scarborough Community Care Access Centre
Thunder Bay Transit
Toronto Transit Commission
Transportation Action Now
As well, the OHRC would like to thank the numerous
individuals who provided submissions. To protect their
privacy, the OHRC has chosen not to list their names. ENDNOTES
1. Please see the Ontario Human Rights Commission's Policy
and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate
(March 2001) at section 3.1.1 available online at
www.ohrc.on.ca. The Policy defines what "dignity" means in
the human rights context: "Human dignity encompasses
individual self-respect and self-worth. It is concerned with physical and
psychological integrity and empowerment. It is harmed when individuals are
ignored or devalued. Privacy, confidentiality, comfort,
autonomy, individuality and self-esteem are important
factors as well as whether an accommodation maximizes
integration and promotes full participation in society."
(This definition draws from the Supreme Court of Canada's
decision in Law v. Canada (Minister of Employment and
Immigration),  1 S.C.R. 497, online: Supreme Court of Canada
(date accessed: 4 August 2000)).
2. Ontario Human Rights Commission, A Time for Action:
Advancing Human Rights for Older Ontarians (June 2001)
available online at www.ohrc.on.ca at 58-60.
3. According to information available on the Statistics
Canada Web Site (http://www.statscan.ca), 12.5 percent of
Ontario's population was age 65 or older in 1999. It is
estimated that the number of Ontarians aged 65 or older will double over the
next four decades.
4. Yves BussiMre, "Aging of the Populations and Paratransit Demand in Quebec"
(2001) Horizons, Vol. 4, No. 2, at 20.
5. Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001, S.O. 2001, c. 32, Royal Assent
December 14, 2001, ss. 1, 2, 3, subsections
8(1), (2), (5), (6), ss. 19, 20, 27, 33, 34 and Schedule
proclaimed in force February 7, 2002.
6. Some taxi livery services use accessible taxis; others
use standard taxis to transport persons who have ambulatory disabilities. Taxi
scrip services allow persons with
disabilities to use taxi services at a reduced rate.
7. Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the
Duty to Accommodate (March 2001), at
section 3.1.3, available online at www.ohrc.on.ca.
8. Transportation Research Board, Communicating with Persons with Disabilities
in a Multimodal Research Environment: A
Synthesis of Transit Practice, (2001) .
9. Canadian Urban Transit Association, Transaction 2001.
10. Canadian Urban Transit Association and Ontario Community Transportation
Association submission to the OHRC.
11. Section 14 of the Ontario Human Rights Code allows
special programs to be implemented that might otherwise be
considered to be discriminatory under the Code. Section 14
defines a special program as a program that is 1) designed
to relieve hardship or economic disadvantage; or 2) designed to assist
disadvantaged persons or groups to achieve equal
opportunity; or 3) likely to contribute to the elimination
of the infringement of rights protected under the Code.
12. This issue is currently before a Human Rights Board of
Inquiry in Neusch and Davey v. Disabled and Aged Regional
Transit System, Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth, and Ministry of
13. Transportation Research Board, ADA Paratransit
Eligibility Certification Practices: A Synthesis of Transit Practice, (1998).
14. Section 10(1) of the Code provides the following
definition of disability:
(a) any degree of physical disability, infirmity,
malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily
injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the
generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus,
epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis,
amputation, lack of physical co-ordination, blindness or
visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech
impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a
wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,
(b) a condition of mental impairment or a developmental
disability, (c) a learning disability, or a dysfunction in
one or more of the processes involved in understanding or
using symbols or spoken language, (d) a mental disorder, or (e) an injury or
disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan
established under the
Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997.
Section 10(3) states that "The right to equal treatment
without discrimination because of disability includes the
right to equal treatment without discrimination because a
person has or has had a disability or is believed to have or to have had a
15. Canadian Urban Transit Association, supra, note 8.
16. For example, the submissions of OCTA/CUTA, Multiple
Sclerosis Society of Canada, ARCH, Cochrane District CCAS,
and the Scarborough CCAS.
17. Submission of the Ontario Society (Coalition) of Senior Citizens
18. Submission, Transportation Action Now.
19. Section 34(1) of the Code states that, where it appears to the Commission
that the complaint is one that could or
should be more appropriately dealt with under another Act,
the Commission has the discretion not to deal with the
ODA Committee Update dd May 11, 2002:
Ontario Human Rights Commission Calls On Provincial Government To Set Standards
For Removing And Preventing Barriers Facing People With Disabilities In Public
Transit - ODA Committee Endorses These Recommendations
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