Via Rail has announced that it will double the number of dedicated spaces on its trains for passengers who use three-wheeled scooters.
The change in policy ends a months-long dispute that began when a Toronto-based couple filed a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency saying the rail provider's policy of providing only one space on each train discriminated against people with physical disabilities.
Martin Anderson, 47, and Marie Murphy, 54, of Toronto, said Via's policy of providing only one tie-down on each train made it difficult for them to travel together. Though a second scooter could be dismantled and stored in the train's luggage compartment, the couple saw their scooters damaged because of the storage policy.
Anderson and Murphy have cerebral palsy and told CBC News in May they depend on Via Rail for most of their leisure travel.
"Here we have a Crown corporation with a $600 million budget saying, 'Mr. Anderson, why don't you accommodate us, because we don't want to accommodate you,"' Anderson said in an interview at the time.
In a ruling in February, 2016, the CTA, an independent government tribunal, ordered Via Rail to create more spaces for wheelchairs on all of its trains coast-to-coast, giving the company a deadline of May 15 to comply with the order or or make a case for why doing so would cause the company "undue hardship."
The national rail provider agreed in May to provide two tie-downs on specific trains, provided the wheelchair or scooter users were able to transfer to another seat for the duration of the trip. But the CTA sought to enforce the change on trains across the country.
In response, Via applied for leave to appeal the decision at the Federal Court of Appeal, but their application was rejected.
More than 10 months after the dispute began, Via announced the change on Wednesday, and said the new policy will take effect on Jan. 3, 2018.
In a telephone interview with The Canadian Press on Wednesday, Murphy said she is reserving full judgment until the policy is implemented. But for now she is optimistic.
"I'm ecstatic," she said. "This is years in the making, or longer."
Via spokesperson Mariam Diaby said Wednesday all trains are equipped with tie-downs that can accommodate one occupied scooter. When two scooters are travelling on the same train, the users of the scooters must be able to move to a different seat for the duration of the trip.
Diaby said it is possible for multiple passengers in wheelchairs to travel together, but after the first wheelchair is secured by the tie-down, the other travellers must be transferred to a different seat so the wheelchairs can be folded and stored during travel.
"Thanks to our revised policy, more people with mobility restrictions will be able to travel together," Via Rail's President Yves Desjardins-Siciliano said in a statement. "As the Canadian population ages and the needs of our clientele evolve, we will continue improving the accessibility of our trains, stations and services."
Via also committed to training staff on the new procedures for transporting people with disabilities.
Murphy said she has a trip planned for Jan. 3, the day the new rules go into effect, and looks forward to seeing them in action.