Hamilton Turns an “Oops” into a HUGE Mess!
I wrote an article in assistance of the Hamilton Council decision to stop letting those of us who are blind or visually disabled ride the conventional transportation service free as a misinterpretation of the Integrated Accessibility Standards. I thought that this was an “honest” mistake and would be corrected at the next Council meeting. Turns out it was a good thing I also reserved further comment until I saw what they would do!
It seems that, like in the County of Brant, the whole issue of taxi-based para transit service has gone, well, “amuck.”
Now it appears that staff in Hamilton are thinking of removing people who are blind or visually disabled from accessing the taxi-based part of the Para transit service.
Again I go back to my conversations with staff earlier this year about the intent of the taxi-script program in Hamilton and they had, at that time, an innovative and inclusive service that really did seem to understand the needs of people with disabilities.
The rationale for the taxi-script program in Hamilton was that sometimes people with disabilities need spontaneous travel and sometimes you have more shopping or larger items than you can carry on a bus so the taxi-script program fills that need. People who are blind or visually disabled were included in the taxi-script program (not the DARTS) for that very reason. Although we can use the conventional transit, there are times when we have many bags to carry or larger items that simply won’t go on a bus. Having access to a taxi-based Para transit service meets our needs at that time.
I’m confused by the reaction of Hamilton staff to this entire issue: “In a response to Action Line on Monday, city staff state: “Those passengers that once qualified for the Taxi Scrip program now should qualify for DARTS, as both programs are based on one’s ability to use the HSR. If a Taxi Scrip passenger applies for DARTS and is deemed not eligible, they probably did not qualify for Taxi Scrip in the first place.”" (The Hamilton Spectator, http://www.thespec.com/news/business/article/851568–blind-hamiltonians-fight-for-the-right-to-keep-their-bus-passes)
Given that we can use the conventional transit for most of our activities, why would you change this system that is working well, cutting costs and scheduling for Para transit? Shouldn’t the qualification for using a transit service or any component of it be based on the needs of the people with disabilities rather than the needs of the bureaucracy to fit them into a rigid category? Why can’t we look at transit as a whole and try to adapt the language around the purpose of the service to be inclusive rather than restrictive?
The entire sub-sector of transit known as Para transit is blurring as we have accessible conventional transit service. HOWEVER, there will always be a need for a separate para transit service and the need for a taxi-script component of that service to meet the needs of those of us with disabilities. This is supported in all the research I’ve done related to the ongoing discrimination in the County of Brant.
Why isn’t Hamilton looking at its transportation in an inclusive manner? When I talked with them earlier this year they appeared to be doing just that. There wasn’t an “us and them” attitude, there were several options of transportation and everything seemed to work well. Although staff were unsure of some of the changes due to the Integrated Accessibility Plan, they seemed thoughtful and progressive. From the recent activities and articles on their struggles, it appears that there has been a shift to thoughtlessness and regression.
If the Hamilton taxi-script program was really set up to provide spontaneous travel for people with disabilities then people who are blind or visually disabled should be eligible for that program as they are now.
Wait….have y’all been talking with the County of Brant where we are losing Para transit altogether because staff and elected officials believe we’ve been abusing para transit by going shopping, to work, participating in religious and recreational activities? Is there something in the atmosphere in this part of the province that has affected rational thinking?
The changes to the Hamilton service are similar to the discriminatory changes happening in the County of Brant.
The County of Brant, on the United Nations International Day for People with Disabilities approved the following:
- Once the budget of $100,00 for Para transit is reached in 2013, the service will stop.
- Participants will be funded 50% up to a maximum of $20 per trip. Many activities are in Brantford, or many of us live in accessible residences scattered throughout the County where a one way trip may cost anywhere from $30 and up.
- Participants will have to pay the full taxi fare up front.
- Participants will have to spend money on yet another taxi trip to take their receipts to the County office where the trips will be verified and a cheque will eventually be issued. (Yes, we’ve told them that people with cognitive and developmental disabilities as well as many others may not be able to keep track of the receipt’s.)
- Staff are going to administer the scheme but there is no budget item for this. I mention this because part of the “reason” for THIS mess is that costs were out of control. The entire expenditure for 2012 for those of us participating in the program was $175,000. We have approximately 100 new participants per year but the budget hasn’t changed for the past five or six years.
- If we file an Ontario Human Rights complaint about the new scheme, Para transit will stop altogether.
The County has also called this new scheme a “subsidized” transportation scheme in order to avoid implementing the Integrated Accessibility Standards and having to obtain the service through an RFP or Purchase Order.
The issues raised in the County of Brant and in Hamilton demonstrate a disturbing trend of using the Integrated Accessibility Standards for transportation as a tool to create an exclusive rather than inclusive society and the removal of independence and freedom that we’ve had in favour of attempting to imprison us in our homes and deny us services.
And where is the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario in all of this? Perhaps those who are blind or visually disabled in Hamilton got the same letter I did: stop updating us on the problems, leave us alone.”