Several months ago I attempted to board a bus and was informed that London bus drivers would no longer ask nondisabled riders to vacate accessible spots to allow a wheelchair user to board. I was then informed this is what “you people” wanted, to be treated “like everyone else”…which I guess means “badly.” After weeks of discussion I was finally invited to make a presentation at the Accessible Public Transit Advisory Committee (APTSAC) meeting in August, who will make a recommendation to the Commission at the end of August. This is the letter I have submitted to the committee in anticipation of my delegate status.
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing to you today in protest of the recent policy shift enacted by the London Transit Commission to no longer require bus drivers to remove nondisabled riders from the allocated mobility aid spaces on conventional city busses when needed to provide access for passengers who use wheelchairs. I am shocked that the LTC would allow passengers, not LTC employees, to determine whether or not a rider is allowed access to the bus. In my opinion, this policy of inaction is at best a contravention of the Integrated Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005) which legislates providing “mobility aid space”. At worse, it is tantamount to discrimination based on a physical disability. It is for this reason that I urge the LTC to rethink this policy.
In discussion with the LTC, I have been provided several explanations as to why this policy was enacted. The first explanation provided to me was that the LTC is under the impression that they are not legally allowed to require riders to disclose whether or not they are disabled and, as such, are not able to remove passengers from the courtesy seating in case they themselves have a non-apparent disability. Another explanation I have been given is that this policy was enacted to protect bus drivers from hostile riders that may become aggressive upon the request to give up their seat. Finally, I have been told that this policy is required under the AODA. This explanation was later modified to explain that the AODA does not specifically legislate who must police the accessible space and, therefore, it is not the responsibility of the bus driver or the LTC to ensure these spaces are available.
The first explanation is fundamentally flawed as there are numerous examples in our city, the province and across Canada where individuals are required to disclose whether or not they have a disability and what type of disability they have in order to access specialized services to accommodate their disability. Whether it be access to the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or access to the LTC’s own specialized transportation system, Paratransit, people with disabilities are required again and again to provide documentation of their “disablement” in order to access specialized services or support. In my interpretation of the legislation, specifically the Customer Service Standard, it is illegal to demand to know why someone is disabled, not if they are disabled.
The second justification for this policy is also inherently flawed because it presupposes that there is no means of managing a disruptive or aggressive rider and, as such, we should avoid any engagement that could trigger a violent episode. Whether a rider becomes aggressive because of being asked to leave their seat or because of a dispute with another passenger, the solution is clear—notify local law enforcement. While I fully sympathize with the plight of the drivers and the increase in abuse (both physical and verbal), this is a scarecrow argument that is premised on the bizarre belief that the transit system is some sort of lawless territory outside the rules and regulations of Canadian society.
The more complex explanation for this policy stems from the Integrated Accessibility Standards, passed in 2011, under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005). For starters, nowhere in the legislation does it state that it is illegal to remove nondisabled passengers from spaces designated for individuals with disabilities. In fact, under Section 4.49.3 of the Integrated Accessibility Standards it explains;
4.49.3 – The courtesy seating for persons with disabilities shall be signed to indicate that passengers, other than persons with disabilities, must vacate the courtesy seating if its use is required by a person with a disability.
The LTC is indeed correct that the Courtesy Seating section, or anywhere else in the Integrated Accessibility Standard, does not specifically identify who is responsible for vacating said space, simply that the space must be vacated and that conventional transit providers must “develop a communications strategy designed to inform the public about the purpose of courtesy seating.” However, further down in the standard, under the section entitled “Allocated mobility aid spaces,” the standard outlines that all vehicles built after January 1, 2013 must be accessible and provide at least 2 spaces of mobility aids. Section 4.55.2 goes on to state that “Spaces on transportation vehicles that are allocated as mobility aid spaces may be used for other passenger purposes, if not required for use by a person with a disability who uses a mobility aid”. The implication here is that if the space is not needed by the disabled, it may be used by nondisabled riders, however if the inverse is true, that a disabled rider requires the space, then the space must be vacated.
The “General responsibilities” section also makes reference that it is the responsibility of the driver to ensure access on the bus, whether it is deploying the ramp or strapping the wheelchair into the space. If the driver is responsible for providing access to the space in these ways, it does not take a huge leap of rationalization to assume it must also be the responsibility of the driver to ensure the space is vacant for use by disabled riders, as ensuring the availability of the space is foundational to providing “access.”
Legislative interpretations aside, though, we must remember here that the AODA was not designed as the high bar of accessibility, but rather, a minimum level of accessibility that must be provided but, whenever possible, should be exceeded. The goal of any organization in London, public or private, should be to not just meet but to exceed these expectations—to provide the best possible experience for their clientele, regardless of their level of ability. Before us lies the choice of following the letter of the law and providing a substandard service and run the risk of a Human Rights complaint or modifying our service to allow the most access for the most people possible. Ultimately, the LTC owns the busses and provides the service and, as such, have authority over what goes on within said busses. For this reason, the LTC is well within their mandate to enforce access for people with disabilities when the bus is not already full and nondisabled passengers can simply move back, as passengers are continually asked to do to allow room for more nondisabled passengers. By not ensuring that accessible spaces can be used by people who use mobility aids, you are severely limiting the service and I can promise you that myself and many others with disabilities will not feel comfortable sitting and waiting by the curb for a ride we may not get access to simply because two people refuse to move back and no one will intervene on our behalf to enforce the law.
Thank you for your consideration,
Jeffrey Preston, MA
Doctoral Candidate, Western University