CNIB is accusing the City of Saint John of denying visually impaired citizens equal access to public transportation.

Saint John Transit has offered free bus rides for blind and partially sighted passengers for decades, but as of today, those passengers are being charged full fare.


Saint John Transit is no longer offering free fares to visually impaired passengers due to discrimination concerns. (CBC)

"CNIB is extremely disappointed in this decision, and has requested that Saint John Transit delay the discontinuation of free fare for riders who are legally blind until the transit system better meets the accessibility requirements of individuals living with vision loss," the organization said in a statement.

"To date, this request has not been addressed by Saint John Transit or Saint John Common Council," it said.

The Saint John Transit Commission announced its decision to start charging fares to blind people back in March. Spokesperson Donna Reardon said the policy was changed because of concerns about discrimination.

'It is the right of every Saint John citizen to have equal access to public transportation.' - CNIB

Thirty-eight CNIB clients use Saint John Transit on a regular basis.

"It is the right of every Saint John citizen to have equal access to public transportation. Without announced stops, large print/braille signage, driver training and enforced accessibility policies, Saint John Transit is denying riders who are blind or partially sighted full access to public buses," said CNIB.

"Asking the same riders to pay full fare to use an inaccessible transit system shows a lack of commitment to inclusion of persons with vision loss and further limits their ability to travel safely and independently in their community."

Rose Meisner, spokesperson for the consumer group We Are Passengers, which represents the 38 CNIB client ID cardholders in the city, contends Saint John Transit was not clear about the transition from free to paid service.

She's also concerned about what drivers are telling passengers about the change. She says she has already heard a report of a man who was told to rip up his CNIB card since it would no longer be needed.

"Well no, you can't tell a client to do that because this card is used for other concessions besides travel on municipal transit," Meisner told CBC News.

"You know, I hope the drivers don't start telling people to throw their CNIB cards away because it's used for more than that."

Gerry Harris, who is legally blind, has argued the change is unfair because blind people can't drive, so they are forced to take the bus, and many of them have low incomes.

CNIB and We are Passengers say they are committed to working with passengers and Saint John Transit to determine priority areas and develop an implementation plan that takes into account budgetary constraints.