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 us. -Canadian Urban Transit Association/Ontario Community Transit Association

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 responsibility.

In the Discussion Paper, the OHRC set out some suggestions on roles and responsibilities for transit providers and government. Specifically, the Discussion Paper suggested that:

  • 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 disabilities.
  • 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 financing options.
  • 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.

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 parallel system.[16]

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 long run.[17]

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 into account.


Senior levels of government must recognize their shared responsibility for ensuring equitable access to transit. Municipalities should not be left to accomplish this on their own.
-Ontario Community Transportation Association/Canadian Urban Transit Association

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 accessible transit.

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 Foundation.

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 standards.

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.”

A government that allows its public institutions to wither in the name of debt reduction does itself and its citizens great harm. In the end, this is false economy .... I do not believe that my government would rather see bright, talented and capable people on welfare than as productive taxpayers. When the political and moral will is in place, anything can be accomplished with organization.
- Centre for Independent Living in Toronto

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 depth elsewhere.

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.[18]

Legislating the inclusion of people with disabilities in society should be done not only because it is the right thing to do morally, but also because it makes good economic sense. We must use resources to help people participate rather than to exclude them.
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

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 funding.

If the TTC and other paratransit systems in Ontario do not have the money to run an effective service, it is the Province and the city councils who are finally responsible.
-Transportation Action Now

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;
  • (c) ...
  • (d) to develop and conduct programs of public information and education and undertake, direct and encourage research designed to eliminate 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;
  • (f) ...
  • (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 programs;
  • (h) ...
  • (i) to enforce this Act and orders of the board of inquiry;
  • (j) ...

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:

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.[19] 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.

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.

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 paratransit services.

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.

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.

[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 Organizations.
[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 complaint.

Organizational responsibility: