To Lift…Or Not To Lift?

Intercity buses: Should they be equipped with lifts to accommodate passengers who use wheelchairs? Or should terminals be equipped with station-based lifts? What body — the National Transportation Agency, or provincial Highway Transport Boards — should enforce access requirements for the motor coach industry? These have become truly momentous questions within the last few months.

On September 1993, the Ministers Responsible for Transportation and Highway Safety met in Ottawa, where they agreed “to work towards finalizing a minimum national standard for accessible inter-city bus transportation and that the standard could be implemented through the Motor Vehicle Transport Act.” Further bilateral discussions on the proposed regulation are expected.

Shock waves rippled through the transportation caucus of the disability community when it learned that the draft standard proposed station-based lifts and that Canada’s transportation ministers had agreed to provincial enforcement of the standard. These developments are especially disturbing since they contradict the recommendations made in The Road to Accessibility, the National Transportation Agency’s 1993 report describing the findings of its inquiry into the motor coach system in Canada.

Station Based Lifts or Lift Equipped Buses?
The current proposed draft standard would permit bus operators to have the option of using either portable station-based lifts or lift-equipped buses. The former are devices that would be permanently located at inter-city coach terminals. They enable level boarding and de-boarding of passengers without the use of stairs. That the U.S. has chosen the station-based lift route might explain the weight that option is receiving in terms of current discussions here.

VIA travellers will already be familiar with the station-based lift, although some important differences must be recognized between bus and rail modes. Trains stop only at train stations; bus transportation regularly includes stops at a variety of points between terminals.

On the topic of lifts, the National Transportation Agency’s Road to Accessibility report recommended that “the standard should require that all new coaches purchased after January 1, 1995 be lift-equipped…As well, all motor coaches operated in scheduled service should be required to be accessible by the year 2007.”

The topic of lifts was thoroughly explored by the Road to Accessibility Inquiry. R. Pike of Greyhound Lines of Canada told the Commissioners, “It has been suggested that it’s not necessary to equip every single bus for this capacity [accessibility]. And superficially, this would appear to be a sensible suggestion. One would think it is relatively straightforward, if a day or two’s notice was given, to ensure that the right kind of equipment was on the right trip. At Greyhound, we already have a controlled panic trying to ensure that the right equipment is on the trips…In the end, it comes down to the requirement to have all the fleet configured with a hoist; otherwise, it won’t be practical to operate.”

For years, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) has advocated that motor coaches be equipped with lifts. For one thing, mobility-impaired travellers can leave and re-enter the bus whenever it stops. This ability to exit whenever necessary provides travellers with disabilities with the same peace of mind and sense of security that other bus travellers have. Then, too, the lift-equipped bus guarantees a dignified method of boarding and exiting at all times and places; there are no such guarantees when a station-based lift has not been transferred to the appropriate place. Also, lift-equipped buses require less advance planning by both the passenger and the operator. The consumer can thus travel with greater spontaneity.

The Road to Accessibility Inquiry summed up its findings on lifts by stating, “The Agency learned that lift-equipped coaches best meet the needs of persons with disabilities. Station-based lifts are not a practical solution in Canadian operating circumstances where coaches make many stops between major city centres. In order to provide full accessibility, a station-based lift would have to be provided at every place where the coach stops.”

Who Enforces Access Requirements?
Motor coach transportation is unique because, in spite of the Constitution Act’s (1967) establishment of extra-provincial transportation under federal jurisdiction, much of this responsibility has since been sloughed off onto the provinces. In consequence, disability advocates on behalf of the consumer movement have been fighting since the early ’70s to have extra-provincial busing restored to where they feel it belongs.

In their September 1993 meeting, the provincial and federal Ministers of Transport agreed to implement the national standard on motor coach accessibility through the Motor Vehicle Transport Act. Presumably, this will have the effect of re-entrenching much of the current piecemeal approach to extra-provincial busing — but is this an effective approach? Some legal analysis suggests that the effect of placing the standard under the Motor Vehicle Transportation Act will make enforcement the responsibility of provincial Highway Transport Boards, not the National Transportation Agency. The decision to implement the standard through the Motor Vehicle Transportation Act is a departure from the recommendation of the Road to Accessibility Inquiry report. It recommended that “the accessibility of extra-provincial motor coach services should fall under the accessibility requirements of the National Transportation Act, 1987.” This recommendation strikes a chord with consumers, who have found the complaint process as operated by the National Transportation Agency to be both user-friendly and effective.

The CCD’s long-standing position, that the federal government should reassert jurisdiction over the motor coach industry for the purpose of regulating accessibility, is shared by a number of other disability organizations with an interest in the area. “There is a demonstrated need for national standards to ensure accessibility across the country in bus transportation and to eliminate repetitious and needless lobbying of each provincial government,” stated Sandra Goundry of the Canadian Disability Rights Council. And Greg Pyc of the Canadian Paraplegic Association told the Road to Accessibility Inquiry, “The bus industry is really master to nobody. There is not one regulator. They perceive themselves as being regulated by 10 provinces, so without a uniform, consistent approach to accessibility, inter-city bus transportation will never be accessible in Canada.” Many perceived that the regulatory quagmire surrounding bus transportation in Canada enabled the bus industry to ignore accessibility issues for many years.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities would like to hear your views on motor coach transportation in Canada. Do you favour lift-equipped buses or station-based lifts, and why? How do you feel about a system with a mix of station-based lifts and lift-equipped buses, and why? Who should enforce the access standard for the motor coach industry — the National Transportation Agency, or provincial Highway Transport Boards? Please forward your comments to the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, CCD Transportation Committee, 926-294 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, MB, R3C OB9. Or to reach us by DISC, use our present username –COPOH.


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