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Consultation report: Human rights and public transit services in Ontario

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Approved by the Commission: March 27, 2002

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.

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