Hamilton delays making blind and disabled people pay for transit

The city is delaying its plan to charge the blind and disabled to ride public transit to give councillors time to reconsider.

The city is delaying its plan to charge blind and disabled people to ride public transit in order to give councillors time to reconsider.

Hamilton was going to charge that population full fare as of Jan. 1. That'll be pushed back to April 1 now, during which time the city's general issues committee will revisit the decision.

Council voted during its meeting Wednesday to bump back the date. Coun. Sam Merulla said during those 90 days, councillors will hear from the province, the human rights commission and members of the community about the impact of the change.

"It'll be a very inclusive process that will incorporate all the questions we need answered," said Merulla, who introduced the motion. "I'm confident this council will not kick the blind and disabled to the curb."

Currently, Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) has a voluntary pay program, where blind people 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 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), Merulla said.

But Sandi Mangat, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services, told CBC Hamilton last week 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."

Merulla would like to see the voluntary pay program extended for those with disabilities that are not visually evident, and eligibility criteria established.

"We could just be inclusive rather than totally exclusive," he said.

While it's not guaranteed councillors will reverse the transit decision during the 90-day stay, Merulla said he is "confident that they will.

"From my discussions with my colleagues, and the sentiments this evening, I don't think they're prepared to kick these people to the curb."

Don Hull, Hamilton's director of transit, said the decision means the city will be in non-compliance with the AODA as of Jan. 1.

But "I don't see that as a major risk at this point as long as we're working toward a decision," he told council.