Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Via Rail Once Again Discriminates Against People Using Wheelchairs

This is an updated version of the article that hit the news yesterday about the proposed new hours for the Kingston Via Rail Station. I've combined the article into one to give you a sense of the confusion caused by 2 news publications in our local paper, the Kingston Whig Standard.

Here is the news:

On August 10, 2011, a news article appeared in the Kingston Whig Standard informing citizens that the Kingston Train station would soon be unmanned at 5:30 am. This would leave those who couldn’t print their tickets in advance, or those who needed to use the wheelchair lift, unable to board the train that early in the day. (Source: http://www.thewhig.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3251744).

I couldn’t believe the news when I read it. There used to be a restriction on wheelchair users boarding the train at 5:30 am because an employee, who had been injured and couldn't crank the lift, and was working that shift. I discovered this barrier by accident when I went to book the 5:30 am train to get to a funeral for my cousin at 10:00 am in Toronto.

Derek, the station master for Kingston, found a way to accommodate me due to the exceptional circumstances, but after that he told me he could not accommodate me. I gather corporate headquarters had set the policy, and he was powerless to change it.

It didn't take long before I filed a complaint with the CTA (Canadian Transportation Agency) to ask for help to fix the problem. They took swift action by contacting Via Rail, and soon negotiated a satisfactory resolve. By December 21, 2010, I had 2 phone numbers; one for Derek at the Kingston Station, and one for Mr. Peters at the corporate headquarters for Via Rail. I was instructed to call either one of them a minimum of 48 hours before departure and they would make sure I was accommodated by bringing in an employee who could operate the wheelchair lift.

I've only used the service a few times since then because Kingston has no accessible public transportation to get to the train that early in the morning, but it’s good to know it will be there if I need it. A friend can drive me to the station early if need be.

When I read the article about the Kingston Station being closed in yesterday's paper, I was really upset about another barrier being erected, so I booked the Access Bus so I could go to the station today. I wanted to talk to Derek directly in person and ask questions. His was one of the contact numbers given to me by the CTA to book the early train.

When I asked him about the new hours, he told me that, to the best of his knowledge, the change would go through and I would no longer be able to take the early train. On the way out the door of the station, I saw a sign that was too high for me to read, so I snapped a picture of it so I could display it on my computer and read it when I got home. It listed the new station hours that would be in effect starting next week. The sign clearly indicated that the station would no longer be open at 5:30 am so I have no idea what the 2nd article in the newspaper was talking about today. Here is a typed version of the sign listing the new hours. The picture I took so I could read it, is included below that. It will give you a sense of how high up it was posted.

New hours for Via Rail Kingston Ticket Office

As of August 19, 2011

0030 - 0130

Except Sat, Sun, Mon

0700 - 2130

Mon/Fri

0800 - 2130

Sat

0930 - 2130

Sun


After visiting Derek and reading the sign, you can imagine my surprise when I discovered there was another article in today’s Whig Standard to refute the hour changes that were listed yesterday. (See: http://www.thewhig.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=3253034) The article today said a media spokesperson from Via Rail had contacted them to say there was a mistake in the information that was given to Hannah Kaufman. She was the passenger who had alerted the media to this change so the paper could print it and alert the public.

I’m now more confused than ever because the stories no longer match anymore. I decided to try one more thing before I took action to report the problem with Via Rail back to the Canadian Transportation Agency. I got out the letter that identified the negotiated settlement reached in December of 2010 and I called Mr. Peters, the 2nd number named as a contact person to get wheelchair access on the 5:30 am train. He wasn’t in so I left a message and asked that he call back tomorrow to give me a definitive answer on the new hours of operation for the Kingston Station.

If that train is no longer available, I will have to re-open the case with the CTA and, if necessary, I will file a Charter Challenge with the federal government. If I could, I wouldn’t fight. I’d buy a $70,000 modified van, and drive to Toronto myself.

To close I want to send my sincere thanks to Hannah Kaufman and the Whig Standard for caring enough, to expose this issue to the public, through the media. (Hint: Click on the image to see a full-sized, and more ledgable, view).


Please Read My Other Blogs:
Accessibility: http://www.wheelchairdemon.blogspot.com
Health: http://www.wheelchairdemon-health.blogspot.com

1 comment:

john said...

Nice post. very informative.

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