Saturday, August 3, 2013

Brief sit-in at Via Rail

I staged a sit-in on the train tonight (Aug. 2nd). I refused to get off because once again, Via Rail failed to accommodate my disability. Let me explain.

The train I was on from Toronto tonight went in on track 2 at the Kingston Station. That's the side where there's no washroom and no working lift to take a person who uses a powered mobility device down through the tunnel and back up to the other side, the main side.

Yesterday when I was leaving the Kingston station I reminded Derek, the station manager, to make sure that the accommodation he'd arranged for several months ago wasn't overlooked when I came back to Kingston tonight, because it has been as of late. He assured me that he would make sure they didn't forget; that he would in fact guarantee that Via would bring the train in on track 1, the main and accessible, side.

The stair lift break-down problem has been one that has been longstanding at the Kingston station. As far back as in 2008 when I was volunteering to write the Province's Transportation Accessibility Standard for the AODA by attending meetings in Toronto, the lift stopped working quite a few times. How ironic.

I can't tell you how often I've been stranded, suspended in mid-air, ever since. It used to be that when the lift broke down, the servicing company had to be called in and the on-call person would arrive, unlock the control box, and then use a ratchet to hand crank the lift back up the stairs. This process once took close to an hour.

Eventually another company was hired to maintain the lift. This company made a few better arrangements. For example, instead of requiring outside personnel to be sent in, the employees at the Kingston Station were given access the control box so they could crank the lift and get the person out faster. However it was still an agonizing slow process and it exhausted the station employee, to say nothing of taking them away from their regular job duties of serving other passengers. Consequently the station tried automating their backup plan. They bought a compressor of some sort that could crank the ratchet faster than doing it by hand. I thankfully never saw it in action because eventually an even better plan was created. However, it was at least it was a comfort to know that there was a more realistic backup plan put in place.

The new arrangement that was made about six months ago was that, every time a train had a passenger on it who used a powered mobility device, arrangements would be made with train traffic control personnel to bring the trains in on track 1, or the main side.  Finally, I thought.  That would end the hassles and the delays. Think again.

For several months this new arrangement worked well, and then for no understandable reason, the trains stopped always going in to the accessible side. It became sporadic so, once again, I started to proactively remind the train’s service manager and the staff at the Kingston station to remind headquarters to arrange for the train to arrive on the accessible track. Despite these reminders and promises to remember to properly accommodate this time, it didn’t happen.

I have no idea what happened after that. What I know is when I saw the train had pulled in on track 2, the side with no toilet, no amenities, and no reasonable way to get across the tracks and over to the main side, I made a snap decision and decided it was time to insist the problem be fixed.  After this many years of lift breakdowns, there was no longer a valid excuse for continuing to make the same mistake and then expecting me to bend and accommodate for their mistake.

I knew I had to wait approximately 1 hour for the Access Bus, which would have been directed to pick me up on track 2 when they arrived, and I knew I had to go to the washroom. I also knew I didn't want to wait over there alone or be forced to pee behind the building again. It's humiliating and unsanitary when the pee drifts into the swamp.

I want to sincerely thank the train personnel for their understanding and for making a quick decision to drive the train forward, switch tracks, and back up onto track 1.

I also want to apologize to the train employees, the passengers on the other train that were held up by my actions, and to all others who were inconvenienced by this event.

I just couldn’t stand the thought of any more indignities. I’m on the train a lot and I deserve to receive the same comfortable and dignified ride as all the passengers who ride on the train and use the stations.

It is my hope that this act will remind Via Rail headquarters to remember to properly accommodate the disabled the next time. It's not like I haven't been patient or tried to use more reasonable and more rational approaches, before this.  I’ve dealt with the station, with the Canadian Transportation Agency, and even the accessibility rep many times about this problem and so have the good folks who work at the Kingston Station.

Thanks for your understanding.

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wheelerjoy said...

I go to Toronto on Via and the long trip my manual is taken away into storage and I transfer to the last seat on the car as my chair will not fit down the isle I have no access to the bathroom and hate the lifts I was stuck on the lift before it is humiliating and I also feel that if the train was in trouble how I would get out in an emergency they need to update the lift and have a car for travel with my service dog ....

Celeste Crevier said...

Thank you for doing that! I do hope that you got someone's attention!