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

Alberta is now below 3,000 active cases of COVID-19, as the province reported 2,639 Wednesday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer below 100 active COVID-19 cases for first time since March

69.7 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

Premier Jason Kenney says the provincial government is doing everything it can to encourage Albertans to get vaccinated. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Travel prizes added to Alberta’s vaccine lottery

More than 40 travel rewards available for those who are fully vaccinated

Three calves were recently shot dead in Lacombe County near Mirror. (Photo from Facebook)
Calves shot and left for dead in central Alberta

Bashaw RCMP investigating three shootings

(Advocate file photo)
Red Deer down to 102 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 332 cases with 26 in hospital and five in ICU

Photo Courtesy: Echo Lacombe Association logo.
Lacombe City Council supports Echo Lacombe with location for pilot program

Echo Lacombe Association will run a pilot propgram on food rescue until November, 1, 2021

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

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.’s Indigenous language, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

Fallout has continued, with two of the federal council’s members resigning

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S President Joe Biden shake hands during their meeting at the ‘Villa la Grange’ in Geneva, Switzerland in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
Biden says meeting with Putin not a ‘kumbaya moment’

But U.S. president asserted Russian leader is interested in improved relations, averting a Cold War

A nurse prepares a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Yukon Convention Centre in Whitehorse on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike Thomas
Vancouver couple pleads guilty to breaking Yukon COVID rules, travelling for vaccine

Chief Judge Michael Cozens agreed with a joint sentencing submission,

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

COVID-related trash is washing up on shorelines across the world, including Coldstream’s Kal Beach, as pictured in this May 2021 photograph. (Jennifer Smith - Black Press)
Shoreline cleanup finds COVID-related trash increased during height of the pandemic

Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup reports litter from single-use food packaging nearly doubled

Doctor David Vallejo and his fiancee Doctor Mavelin Bonilla hold photos of themselves working, as they kiss at their home in Quito, Ecuador, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Doctor Vallejo and Doctor Bonilla suspended their wedding in order to tend to COVID-19 patients and in the process Vallejo got sick himself with the disease, ending up in an ICU for several days. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Love, sacrifice and surviving COVID-19: one couple’s story

COVID hits Ecuadorian doctors who delayed wedding to treat sick

Most Read