Regulator rejects Via Rail’s efforts to limit wheelchair access

Regulator rejects Via Rail’s efforts to limit wheelchair access

Rules said all trains coast to coast must double their capacity to accommodate mobility aids

The Canadian Transportation Agency is rejecting Via Rail’s efforts to limit access on its trains for passengers using wheelchairs and other mobility aids.

The national rail provider has been actively resisting a previous Agency ruling dictating that all trains coast to coast must double their capacity to accommodate mobility aids and create two tie-down spots for the devices.

The CTA’s ruling came about as the result of a complaint from a Toronto married couple, both of whom have cerebral palsy and use motorized scooters. They contend that Via’s long-standing approach prevents them from travelling together.

Via Rail had tried to push back against the CTA ruling, saying it only planned to create two tie-down spots on one of three classes of train travelling on one specific route.

In a decision dated Nov. 1, the CTA rejected Via’s approach and ordered the company to either add tiedowns for all trains across the country or present clear arguments as to why doing so would create undue hardship.

Via Rail says it is “analyzing” the CTA’s latest decision and “cannot comment further at this time.”

Martin Anderson and Marie Murphy, the Toronto couple at the heart of the complaint, said they feel validated by the CTA’s pushback.

Despite the agency’s fairly clearcut ruling, however, they fear more fighting lies ahead.

“We remain cautiously optimistic, but with each victory we feel we have, Via tends to drag it out again,” Murphy said in a telephone interview. “It feels like we have the weight of the CTA behind us and that they are now finally being called to be accountable. I hope they won’t be able to wiggle themselves out of this one.”

The couple’s long-standing battle with Via appeared to be at an end in February when the CTA first ruled on the formal complaint they filed protesting the company’s approach to wheelchair accessibility.

Murphy and Anderson decried Via Rail’s policy dictating that trains only required one tie-down area for someone travelling in a wheelchair or mobility scooter. Other passengers using such devices were forced to dismantle the aids and store them in the luggage compartment, risking damage to the expensive equipment.

Anderson and Murphy argued that the policy was discriminatory towards people with disabilities, while Via said any difficulties the couple encountered were the result of individual customer service failings rather than flawed policy.

The CTA sided with the couple in February, ordering Via to either provide two tie-down areas per train or allow two mobility aids to make use of the same tie-down by May 15. Alternatively, Via could offer evidence that it could not comply without undue hardship.

Via opted to change its policy, saying it would make it possible for two mobility aids to use the existing tie-down area on specific trains as long as the users had the capacity to transfer to a regular seat for the trip.

On June 23, the CTA sent Via a letter seeking “confirmation” of several points, including the fact that the new accessibility rules would be applied on every Via train across the country.

Via Rail’s July 12 response, filed after a deadline set by the CTA, made it clear that it planned only to apply the rules on one of three train types travelling within the Quebec-Windsor corridor.

The rail provider argued that Murphy and Anderson only travelled on that specific route and contended establishing more than one tie-down on the other two train types was either in the works or not feasible.

The CTA’s latest ruling rejected that approach.

“This … is inconsistent with the Agency’s order,” the CTA wrote. “While VIA refers to a ‘series of issues that make the application of this policy elsewhere not possible,’ it did not explain what those issues are, nor make a clear claim of undue hardship. Given the above, the Agency finds that the revised policy does not comply with the order.”

The decision also took Via to task for failing to thoroughly research ways in which additional mobility aids could be safely secured on board its trains, saying it “notes with concern how little work appears to have been done since 2015 on the question of scooter storage.” The CTA gave Via until Nov. 16 to “confirm that no consultations were conducted” on the issue.

Murphy and Anderson said full compliance cannot come too soon, saying train travel is still very challenging.

When the couple tried to book two tie-down spots for an upcoming trip to Windsor, Ont., they found their first four time options were not available because one of the spots had already been reserved.

Anderson said their situation proves that there’s a demand for broader accessibility for all Canadians.

“The tie-down spots were used,” he said. “That shows the need for more spots now.”

The CTA has ordered Via to either allow for two wheelchair tiedowns on all trains across the entire network or submit a claim of undue hardship “supported by clear and detailed evidence” by Jan. 3.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

teaser
Dynamic drives and pitiful putting helped even the score

Another Ladies’ Night has come and gone. This season is passing by… Continue reading

Tim Schewe
Drivesmart column: Traffic cop humour

He demands to know what sort of device had been used to measure his speed

(L-r) Cody Lee with six-year-old daughter Paisley, and Joshua Burleigh with his seven-year-old son Noah are extremely thankfull to Heffley Creek residents and First Responders for the help they received after their canoe capsized in rapids on the North Thompson River on Sunday, June 13. (Facebook photo)(L-r) Cody Lee with six-year-old daughter Paisley, and Joshua Burleigh with his seven-year-old son Noah are extremely thankfull to Heffley Creek residents and First Responders for the help they received after their canoe capsized in rapids on the North Thompson River on Sunday, June 13. (Facebook photo)
North Thompson River canoe trip almost ends in disaster

‘Only way I managed to get us to shore was the thought of not letting my boy drown’

A for sale sign is shown in by new homes in Beckwith, Ont., just outside Ottawa, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Thompson-Okanagan population grew despite COVID-19: report

The Chartered Professional Accountants of BC said there are 8,462 new residents in the region

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

Kelowna General Hospital. (File photo)
COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna General Hospital declared over

Three people tested positive for the virus — two patients and one staff — one of whom died

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers found that 56% of foundations and eye products contain high levels of fluorine

Most Read