Saturday, January 30, 2010

Accessible Via Rail

I'm a regular on the train. I started using Via Rail when I moved to Kingston in 1983 because there was no viable bus service between Kingston and Cobourg (or my former destination of Peterborough). There were buses, but it took 3 hours to get from Kingston to Cobourg vs 1 hr & 20 mins by train. The bus service has come and gone over the years so, the only realistic form of travel, is the train.

In 1995, when I started to use a wheelchair, it was the start of a whole bunch of new, exciting, and at times, eye opening, experiences on Via, but foor the most part, the service is great. The station masters are fantastic and, if you become a regular, you get to know some of the good personnel who work on the train. There are some regulars that I have a grand old time joking with, during the trip. They know my likes, and dislikes, and they love to see my educational "best practises" photo gallery for disability accommodation that has been compiled on my computer. They'll come and ask me to show them more pictures.

However, it can be really annoying when some of the non-regulars are downright rude, don't know how to do up the tie-down straps, fail to come by often enough to set me free when I need to go to the washroom, talk in a foreign language, about me and in front of me, when they are doing up the tie-down straps or trying to decide it they should serve me a meal, but thankfully these issues are the exception, rather than the rule.

Okay, now for the funny stories. One day I was on the train and suggested to the conductor that it would be nice to have an alert bell so I can get their attention if I gotta go.

His reply was, if we do that for you, we'd have to do that for everyone.

I said, huh?

He said, yeah, so they can ring for their beer. You want to be equal, don't you?

I said okay, if you want to talk equal, we'll talk equal. Please tie everyone to the seat of the train so they will have to ask your permission to be set free to go to the washroom.

He never spoke to me after that.

Here's another funny story.

One day they linked the train up wrong so it meant they had to load me in through the baggage car. The station master at Cobourg explained the situation and offered to load me through the baggage car or call another city to charter an accessible taxi. Cobourg didn't have their accessible cabs yet. Well, the idea of taking a cab to Kingston seemed ridiculous (to me) so I said load me into the baggage car. To me, it was a new, and exciting experience.

Well, I sat comfy and cozy in the Via Rail car to Kingston and never thought about what the reaction would be from the public when they were taking me out. The chins started to wave and the fingers started to point... and good old Louise was making some silly ass comment about being a bad girl... And then I realized, oh wow. I'm not out to make Via look bad. So, in an even louder voice, I thanked the guy who was cranking me out for the wonderful first class service. I then loudly said the experience of seeing the baggage car was way better than a boring old taxi ride to Kingston.

When the train left and the buzz died down, the station master thanked me profusely. It was the start of a good working, and friendly, relationship with the good employees of Via.

About two years ago, I saw one of those buttons I was recommending, but I haven't seen any since. Apparently the ones I saw were in the experimental stage, but I understand, after talking to a person who works at Via Customer Service, that a similar accommodation change is about to take place.

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1 comment:

Vivian, VIA Rail's virtual tour guide said...

Great to hear your feedback on VIA's accessibility and how the friendly "working relationship" is going!

Vivian is Virtual
VIA Rail's tour guide