Hamilton Council Decision Highlights the Need for Clearer Standards Language

Posted under:Articles,TransportationbyKaren McCallon December 6, 2012

For those of you who have been following the misadventures of specialized transportation in the County of Brant, it may be surprising to hear me come to the aid of Hamilton Council in light of their decision to charge people with disabilities to ride the conventional bus system. Although I may not agree with the decision, it is easy to see how Hamilton Council  could have come to it.

I’ve talked with people at the Hamilton DARTS program about what is going on in the County because the County of Brant transportation scheme was originally supposed to be based very loosely on the Hamilton taxi-script program.

In my conversations with the Hamilton DARTS staff, it was clear that they are embracing the Integrated Accessibility Standards, Part IV – Transportation and were trying to figure out how to implement them. The sense I got is that Hamilton, as a whole, wants to “figure it out.”

After becoming more familiar with the transportation standards than I ever thought I would be, I was waiting for this type of misinterpretation of provision 66 to reach the public forum.

What I see in the decision by Hamilton Council is an honest “oops.” What has happened in the county of Brant is a deliberate attempt to avoid the transportation standards all together (as well as the AODA and other standards).

How does provision 66 help those of us with disabilities? In the City of Brantford (separate from the County of Brant) the Operation Lift program was charging people with disabilities more than the conventional bus service. Earlier this year, the city notified clients on its web site that the fares for Operation Lift/para transit were going to be reduced to comply with the transportation standards.

In part 3 of provision 66, there is text that states that “Where a transportation service provider provides both conventional transportation services and specialized transportation services, the transportation service provider shall ensure that there is fare parity between conventional transportation services and specialized transportation services.”

Here is where a situation similar to that in the City of Brantford would have to ensure that Para transit didn’t cost more than conventional transit. This would also affect the situation in Aurora Ontario where people with disabilities are told that an accessible vehicle is a limousine and are charged limousine rates instead of regular taxi rates for transportation. (In Aurora, taxis are part of the specialized transportation service.)

The issue of fare parity has been raised in the County of Brant by taxi companies who did not get the contract for specialized transportation. The claim is that the subsidization/funding of specialized transportation services violates fare parity.  Staff and elected officials in the County of Brant have also used the standard of fare parity in an attempt to rationalize the elimination of funding for specialized transportation service altogether.

If you read part 6 of provision 66, you’ll find text stating:  Where a transportation service provider provides both conventional transportation services and specialized transportation services, the transportation service provider shall ensure that the same fare payment options are available for all transportation services, but alternative options shall be made available to persons with disabilities who cannot because of their disability use a fare payment option.”

OK, a bit confusing but there does seem to be a way to accommodate people with disabilities who can’t afford to pay even a conventional fare for transportation. Municipalities and transportation services can make that decision. They can retain the voluntary fare for conventional transportation if they want. They can also choose to do it for specialized transportation if they want.

If you read the “In this Section” the text states: “fare structure” means the fare price determined by fare media, such as cash, tickets, passes and bulk quantity discounts and by fare category, such as adults, seniors and students, but does not include promotional fares that a transportation service provider may employ from time to time.”

The overwhelming text in the transportation standards is centred around equality and not charging people with disabilities more than people without disabilities or exploiting them.

This theme is repeated when you come to the section on responsibilities of municipalities, section 80 where a municipality must ensure that people with disabilities are not charged for storing their mobility aid among other items.

It appears that the intent of the transportation standards is to harmonize fare structures between conventional and specialized transportation services so that people with disabilities are not charged more for transit, but it does allow that they can be charged less. It is this last part that seems to be hidden in the language of the standards.

Perhaps there should have been a section in plain language identifying the “it’s OK if you want to charge people with disabilities less, you just can’t charge them more.”

This reminds me of when I tried to find out how to get a GST number for my business. Every page on the government of Canada website, including the one that was supposed to take me to the fillable form, warned you of not paying the GST but trying to find the silly form to fill out was impossible. I ended up having to call the government and asking them to e-mail it to me.

The articles on the decision by Hamilton Council are important ones because, once again it identifies the need for conferences and networking among those of us who can assist with interpretation and those who are trying to figure out interpretation  of the AODA standards. It also emphasizes the need for provincial educational ads that provide insightful and explanatory information to guide the implementation of the AODA standards.

It will be interesting to see what Hamilton Council will do moving forward. For the moment I see this as an “oops.”