Achieving Equivalent, Comparable, and Accessible Public Transportation in the City of Regina:
A Report to Stakeholders
- View this report in Portable Document Format – (PDF )
In the fall of 2012, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) received intake inquiries articulating perceived systemic discrimination relating to transportation services provided to persons with disabilities in the City of Regina. In order to determine the scope of these concerns, the Commission consulted with individuals and stakeholder groups in the community. These consultations included:
- Several “coffee house” consultations were held for people with disabilities who use public/pay transportation services. Concerns with public transit (e.g., bus), accessible-for-hire transportation (e.g., taxi), and shared-ride/door-to-door bus transportation (e.g., Paratransit) were captured in writing.
- The Chief Commissioner met with the Mayor of Regina in late November 2012 to discuss the need for improvement to transportation for people with disabilities. Mayor Fougere expressed a willingness to explore these transportation issues.
- On December 3, 2012, SHRC staff attended the International Day of Persons with Disabilities event in Regina. The SHRC affirmed its willingness to assist all involved parties as per its mandate.
Human rights commissions across Canada regularly address inequity through systemic advocacy. With recent changes to Saskatchewan provincial legislation, the SHRC now also pursues complaint resolution that facilitates broad-based changes to discriminatory systems which affect many people without the need of case-by-case litigation. Defined as “taking action to create change in the greater community that addresses systemic discrimination,” systemic advocacy enables outcomes that are not always possible using traditional complaint and prosecution mechanisms. The mandate for this initiative is section 25(h) of The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code (Code). Section 25(h), states, “The commission shall promote and pursue measures to prevent and address systemic patterns of discrimination.” This report was prepared as a stakeholder engagement tool to help address the concerns people with disabilities have with the public transportation system in the City of Regina.
Accessibility And Transportation
Within our communities, individuals of all ages rely on transportation to attain education, find and maintain employment, volunteer, use basic public services, visit medical professionals, buy groceries and goods, and participate in community activities. Transportation connects individuals to all other aspects of community life. Citizens who rely exclusively on publicly available transit services are particularly vulnerable to service disruption and access limitations. Restrictions and inequity further compound the vulnerability of people with disabilities who, unintentionally or not, may find themselves excluded from social participation and isolated within their own community. As Chief Commissioner Arnot recently stated:
“[T]ransportation inaccessibility, capacity and timeliness issues create real and significant barriers for people with disabilities. To go to work, to be social and to engage in all of the opportunities in our community requires ready access to public transportation.”
Equal access for persons with disabilities to public services is a human right protected under the Code (see Appendix A). The Code and Canadian case law support the right for people with disabilities to have similar or comparable public transit opportunities. Services do not have to be provided in the same manner as regular transit, but the services must be equivalent. Failure to provide an equivalent or comparable transportation system for people with disabilities would constitute discrimination, based on disability with respect to services customarily offered to the public, contrary to Section 12 of the Code. Under the Code, transit service providers have a duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship. There are a number of factors that are taken into account when assessing undue hardship. These factors include, but are not restricted to: health, safety, and cost (see Appendix B). The SHRC weighs the accommodation of protected groups against the possibility of undue hardship.
Accessible “Paratransit” In Context
In 2006, the Ontario Human Rights Commission made an order that Paratransit services are not a “special program.” These services form part of the legal duty of transit providers, under the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC), to accommodate riders with disabilities who cannot access conventional public transit and/or when publicly available transit is not fully accessible. The Ontario Commission rejected the position that Paratransit is a voluntary “special program” and not a required form of accommodation for riders with disabilities. Following consultations with transit providers and other stakeholder groups, the commission found that, “a service provider cannot abandon its duty to accommodate customers with disabilities through the guise of a special program.”
From an international perspective, Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, adopted by Canada in March 2010, requires countries to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers for persons with disabilities. The Convention approaches the issue of access for persons with disabilities from a rights-based approach. As such, ensuring access within the environment, transportation, public facilities and e-services, and information and communications technologies are priorities. Article 9 asserts that enabling persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life will not be possible in communities where accessibility is not fully ensured.
This need was articulated during the stakeholder (passenger) consultation process in Regina by an individual who stated:
“Every day I cannot get out. Every day I cannot go to community meetings that I wish to attend. Every day I may not be able to get groceries or go to medical appointments. Every day I cannot get services available to everyone else in this City. Every day my quality of life is diminished because the basics of mobility are refused to me and others in this city.”
Accessible Transportation In The City Of Regina
Transportation enables community participation, a sense of belonging, and access to all the benefits of citizenship. These outcomes are also consistent with The Saskatchewan Plan for Growth which has, as one objective, “making Saskatchewan the best place in Canada for persons with disabilitiesî (page 30). The SHRC understands that the City of Regina aspires to these values. Brad Bells, Director of Transit for the City of Regina, wrote, “[t]he City of Regina’s vision is to become the most vibrant, inclusive, attractive, sustainable community, where people live in harmony and thrive in opportunity.” He announced that as of March 6, 2013 all current transit bus operators received specific accessibility training. At the 2012 International Day of Persons with Disabilities event in Regina, held on December 3 at the Core Ritchie Centre, City officials expressed an interest in improving access to transit. Those officials observed that the increased use of “kneeling” buses might improve access to transportation for people with disabilities.
The SHRC is also aware of, and commends the City for, its strong commitment to public transportation. A similar commitment to making transit more relevant, convenient and accessible to persons with disabilities would highlight the important contributions that people with disabilities make. It is also clear that an effective transit plan must address the needs of all citizens. Inclusivity, utilizing universal design principles, and focusing on accessibility for all, enables all residents to benefit equally from their citizenship. Equivalent, comparable, and accessible public transportation is, clearly, a necessity.
The SHRC is committed to working with stakeholders to resolve systemic barriers associated with accessible transportation. Ensuring equivalent and comparable public transportation is a complex and necessary activity that should involve many players: transit providers, municipal representatives, senior levels of government, non-governmental organizations, individuals with disabilities, and the SHRC. In order to eliminate inequality these stakeholders must work together to develop and maintain plans to achieve full integration and accessibility. The SHRC strongly supports the implementation of a systemic advocacy process that includes the establishment of a stakeholder committee charged with preparing action plans that meet the needs of users and the requirements of the Code. The SHRC is willing to assist with, and will monitor the implementation of, an equivalent and comparable transportation system for people with disabilities in Regina.
Based on the user consultations (see Appendix C), three areas of transportation were identified during the October consultation process with stakeholders (users). These were:
- private for hire transportation services (cabs and shuttles),
- public transit (low floor/kneeling buses), and
- door-to-door shared accessible transit (Paratransit).
It is important to note that, from a systemic perspective, the above three areas might not encompass all the transportation related issues that could, or should, be addressed. More to the point, the stakeholder committee might identify emergent issues that are deemed to be of greater priority and/or more action worthy.
Issues To Be Addressed
Notwithstanding the possible future efforts of a stakeholder committee, it is likely that the following issues, aggregated from the consultations, will need to be addressed in a timely manner:
- Review the transit/Paratransit transportation system to improve equity, efficiency and effectiveness in order to achieve an equivalent and comparable public transit service for people with disabilities.
- Ensure that equivalent and comparable complementary transit services (e.g., taxi) are available to people with disabilities. As a part of this strategy, fare equity should be assured for these patrons. As well, private licensed operators should be fully cognizant of their responsibilities under the Code.
- Develop, implement, and revise strategies to ensure that transit hot spots frequented by people with disabilities are identified and placed on high priority for barrier free access throughout the year. This will ensure that public transit remains a viable option for citizens with disabilities.
- Ensure ongoing safety and sensitivity training for all transit staff, including operators and administrators, with regard to the accommodations people with disabilities may require while using public transit.
- The long term goal of the City should be to take steps to maximize integration and accessibility of the transportation system to comply with The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.