Groups implore council to reconsider fare parity plan for people with disabilities

The Hamilton public works committee met Monday with local groups to discuss the issue of fare parity on public transit in the city.
Several dozen people came to Hamilton City Hall to hear a discussion about fare parity on public transit on Monday morning. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Hamilton city council heard from several delegations Monday about its plan to charge blind and disabled people to ride public transit .

"I'm disappointed this meeting had to happen," said Lawrence Shapiro, who presented at council. "I don't understand why we're being put in a position where we have to defend who we are and defend our needs – I don't think it speaks well of the political leadership of our community."

Currently, Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) has a voluntary pay program, where people who are legally blind as well as those with canes, walkers and wheelchairs can ride free of charge. Those who choose to pay can do so, but they are not obligated to pay the standard $2.55 fare.

The proposed fare parity policy would mean everyone pays the standard fare.

Council originally voted in favour because it heard from staff that the fare parity policy was necessary under new transportation standards regulations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). But Sandi Mangat, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, told CBC Hamilton back in December that the city's interpretation of the act is inaccurate.

Section 46 of the act states: "No conventional transportation service provider shall charge a higher fare to a person with a disability than the fare that is charged to a person without a disability where the person with a disability uses conventional transportation services, but a conventional transportation service provider may charge a lesser fare for a person with a disability."

On Monday, Coun. Sam Merulla moved that the fare parity issue be reopened at the General Issues Committee meeting on April 3, so that councillors can receive a staff report on fare parity.

"We need to look at the human side of this rather than the dollar and cents side," said Cathie Mason of the Canadian National Institute of the blind. "This city is made up of people."

Getting trapped

Councillors also heard an expansive presentation from Terri Wallis from the Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities (ACPD).

Wallis uses a wheelchair – and says while it's great Hamilton has accessible, low-floor buses, the city has a long way to go when it comes to accessible bus stops.

In her presentation, Wallis pointed to dozens of instances throughout the city where bus stops are inaccessible at best or dangerous at worst for people with disabilities or seniors.

"You're trapped," Wallis said, describing one bus stop. "You get off the bus and there's nowhere to go."  Some stops have hills next to them, some are blocked by newspaper stands or trash cans, and many become impossible to navigate in snow, she said.

"Snow is a real problem," Wallis said. "After a snowstorm, I'm trapped inside for a few days." Some days, she carries a little folding shovel with her in her wheelchair so she can dig a path for herself. "A lot of people don't take into consideration that people in mobility devices can't go through snow," she said.

Wallis implored councillors to use the ACPD's expertise to make changes around the city, and most seemed receptive to the idea. "It's called common sense," said Coun. Scott Duvall. "And clearly, we didn't have any of that."

Don Hull, the city's director of transit, says the city could do a full audit of bus stops in 2013. He added that the city has budget to make "small fixes" on bus stops, while bigger ones would have to come back to committee for discussion.

CBC Hamilton reporter Adam Carter was at city hall for the meeting, here is a recap of his coverage on Twitter:

With files from Samantha Craggs