Chantal Huinink

Chantal Huinink complained to Greyhound what should have been a routine bus trip from Toronto to Waterloo turned into a 4-hour ordeal. The company has changed its accessibility practices as a result. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

A routine bus trip in and out of Toronto turned sour for a Waterloo woman in a wheelchair, and her experience is prompting Greyhound to improve accessibility on its buses and offer annual driver training.

Chantal Huinink, a student at Wilfrid Laurier University, had gone to Toronto to see a show with a friend on January 22. Huinink has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair. 

"We were on our way back to Waterloo and the first bus that I was meant to get on, the straps weren't functional for the wheelchair so they needed to provide another bus," said Huinink. 

"The tie-downs on that bus were not secure either. So a few minutes after leaving the station my chair jerked forward and the driver needed to stop and adjust my chair, but unfortunately he wasn't able to do that because the door wouldn't open."

The driver then returned the bus to the Bay Street bus terminal in Toronto to get reinforcements to secure Huinink's chair, which she says were "unconventional", and then continued on to Waterloo. When the bus arrived in Waterloo, the lift did not work to lower Huinink out of the bus, and the fire department was called to help her out of the bus.

"By that point I was becoming a little bit unravelled because it had been a number of hours with a number of various incidents," said Huinink, who said the fire department was very helpful and kept her calm. 

Huinink estimates the whole journey took her about four hours. Usually it takes about an hour and 40 minutes to travel on the bus between Toronto and Kitchener's Charles St. Terminal.

Greyhound makes changes

Huinink wrote a letter to Greyhound about her experiences and she heard back. 

The bus company told Huinink it would make annual accessibility training for bus drivers mandatory, inspect all of its wheelchair lifts and straps, and replace non-functioning equipment. 

The company also offered to compensate Huinink for the value of several bus trips.

"Although I believe the steps that Greyhound has taken are substantial steps in the right direction, I question the difference that they will make in the long run," said Huinink.

"With the lack of manufacturing standardization, and a number of different accessibility models that Greyhound  has currently, I'm not sure that individual drivers will be able to remember which models do which things correctly," she said.

"It's possible that if you are trained in January and you don't drive someone with a disability until November that's a huge lag of time to remember such finicky details."

Huinink takes both Greyhound and GO buses and says she has to explain to bus drivers what do 50 to 70 per cent of the time.

"My concern was not only to make travelling more accessible for me, but for all Ontarians."