Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Customer Service Severely Lacking on Via Rail

This is sadly, another bad news Via Rail story. How can we stop these nightmares from happening?

A passenger got on the train wearing strong scent and sat in the seat facing me. She crossed her legs so they were in my way. I was not happy because my movement disorder caused my legs to keep bumping hers. I asked her to move her legs a bit and she wouldn't.

She then took her coat off and the strong scent wafted off her body. It triggered an asthma attack.

I got my medical letter out that explains that I have asthma and stated that, by moving me further away from the source of the scent, I'd be fine and gave it to an employee. The employee asked the passenger if she was wearing perfume and she said no. I actually believe that. It smelled more like she had used a strong smelling soap, shampoo, or deodorant.

The employee then told her I had asthma triggered by strong scents. She was indignant. She said no one reacts the way I was to strong scents, or has an asthma attack, because of it. She came across like she thought I was making things up. There was obviously no willingness on her part to respect me or to believe what was said in the doctor's medical.  The man with her then spoke up and said, if she's asthmatic, she'll have a puffer to use. He said I would be fine if I'd just use it.

Who is he to judge?

The puffer will only help me survive until I can get away from the irritant; the scent. The Via employee seemed to agree with his logic and, because the medical letter didn't spell it out about how useless the puffer would be if I didn't get away from the irritant as well, he decided to tell me to get off the train; the last one back to Kingston that night. He said the train can't leave the station if someone is at risk of having a potential medical emergency.

When I cried and tried to insist that the passengers just be asked to switch seats with other passengers so I could stay on the train, there was no willingness by the customers to move, and the employee didn't press the situation. I guess he found it easier to take me off the train instead.

Of course realizing I was being asked to move, knowing full well that no one was supposed to be sitting in those seats in the first place, only made matters worse. That seat was initially for my service dog. I went out of my way to cancel the ticket that morning when I decided not to bring him. Even knowing I didn't have my dog, the employee said those seats wouldn't be used. I told her to please feel free to use them. The last minute switch of rail car equipment had already shorted them by several seats. She thanked me and agreed to use them. I never, in my wildest dreams, would have expected that I'd be the one taken off the train if scent caused an asthma attack and took away my ability to breathe. It still makes no sense that the employee didn't bother to speak up to defend me.

Once off the train, other indignities included being told to "get control of myself" because I was crying and I was scared of once again, being stranded in Toronto. I've been stranded several times before due to incidences related to the train. Being told to calm down and then having the employees walk away without answering my questions, reassuring me, or at least trying to put my mind at ease, was downright nasty.  There was no sensitivity shown and there was certainly no consideration given to how I might be feeling knowing I might not make it back home to take care of my service dog, among other things.

Besides, I didn't have my CPAP Machine (for sleep apnea), no medical supplies for issues related to my disability, if they sent me home the next day by train, potentially no Access Bus to get home from the train station the next day because they too, require passengers to book their ride in advance.

Once off the train an employee admonished me for not having the scent reaction noted on my file each time I booked a train. I had no idea those facts were no longer there. Several years ago a letter from my doctor was obtained about my asthma and, when employees either didn't read it or it wasn't posted on the manifest, the letter was given to Derek at the Kingston station so it could be held on permanent record. The details describing the dimensions and weight of my wheelchair were supposed to be on record as well.

Despite believing the letter was permanently on file, I always carried it with me. It was that that I shared onboard the train. To later be told I should have told the reservations line about the scent reaction, so they knew about it, and wouldn't take me off the train only made me more upset.

I don't understand why the letter I had with me couldn't be used as leverage for the employee to legitimately insist the passenger switch seats with another passenger. As far as I was concerned, other passengers (if they weren’t wearing scent) could still sit there.

I also don’t understand why the employees chose to question the health condition and the treatment of it, rather than accept what I, and the doctor's letter, said would fix the problem.  Proper training would instruct the employees to prioritize the medical necessity over the opinions expressed by a passenger who is not a trained medical expert on the topic of a chemical sensitivity disability.

It's true the employees were right to move me away from those wearing the scent, but to remove me from the train because a person wearing an optional product (scent) hampered my ability to breathe; something that's not optional, is wrong.

If separation on the same train can't be done, why not remove the ones who are easier to accommodate with an offer of an extra night in Toronto courtesy of Via Rail or door-to-door service to their home in a vehicle that doesn't have to be booked a minimum of 24 hrs in advance?

The Union Station employees had quite a struggle finding a way for me to get home because accessible taxi and livery services require passengers to book their trips at least 24 hours in advance.

When no one spoke to me and I had no idea what was being planned for me to get home, I did some phoning around myself. The companies I spoke to, 4 of them, all said they can’t make a trip that was that long and on that short of notice. Obviously it was by sheer luck that the staff at Union Station found an accessible cab to take me home.

In future, if a person with a disability has to be removed from the train, it is vital to find out what the person needs (I have several disability accommodations that must exist at night). It's also important to let them know that all efforts are being made to find a satisfactory and workable, alternative solution to get the person home or into suitable accommodations.

Also, if a customer goes the extra mile to help Via out with the seat shortage situation, the last thing that should happen is to ungratefully take them off the train. Next time I should be selfish. But it's not in my blood. It it really hurt to be treated that way.

When all was said and done, I got home but I didn't get the meal I was supposed to get on the train, I got no opportunity to go elsewhere to buy one, and I didn't get my "homework" done on the way home (using the WiFi connection). I had to endure hardships, because a very bad decision was made.

I expect, when I ride the train, to be treated fairly, equally, and with dignity; the same way as anyone else would expect to be treated. I also expect a firm apology and compensation for pain and suffering. The stares and indignities I got, because I got upset at how badly I was treated, is very embarrassing and it causes others, not in the know, to assume it was a case of another disabled person trying to be unreasonable.

Sadly, I'm not alone. This article, Derailed on Accessibility, was printed in the Whig Standard a few weeks ago about another passenger who was severely affected by the lack of customer service. She, unfortunately, had to cancel her trip.  With any luck mediation with Via Rail, something I'll soon be doing, will help.

As for myself, I have no choice but to continue taking the train. I have medical appointments in Toronto every week. Thank heaven's I've learned how to become very resilient and I can bounce back from the horrors of being treated like this.

If you have experienced problems on Via Rail or any other form of Inter-city transit, contact the Canadian Transportation Agency. It is their job to help people with problems of this nature.

Please read my other Blogs
Accessibility: http://wheelchairdemon.blogspot.com
Barrier Removal: http://wheelchairdemon-fixit.blogspot.com

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