Blind man and his dog frequently left waiting at stops as Winnipeg Transit buses drive by
Drivers fail to stop several times a month for visually impaired Winnipeg man and his guide dog
Every relationship has its ups and downs — especially when it spans 45 years — but Vic Pereira's long-term relationship with Winnipeg Transit has hit an all-time low that frequently leaves him stranded.
"I've been looking at the records that I've been submitting since 2010, when my complaints were once or twice a year," said Pereira, who is blind. "Now, in 2018, it's almost two to four times a month that I'm registering a complaint to 311 about being left behind at the bus stop."
Winnipeg Transit is required to provide barrier-free service by law, and while many changes have been made to improve the service for people with disabilities, there doesn't seem to be any way to deal with the shortcomings of individual drivers who aren't meeting the standards, Pereira said.
Pereira, who started using Winnipeg Transit in the 1970s, says the service has improved over the years, with the addition of things such as bus stop poles that are a different shape from those for street signs, and automated next-stop announcements that relieve the stress of relying on a driver to remember to tell him his stop.
These accommodations, as well as many positive interactions with transit operators, have made their way into Pereira's submissions to the city's 311 call centre, but starting in 2015, those submissions were overshadowed by his experiences of being passed by.
"Some routes have 25-35 minute service, so I have to wait. In some instances, where I've had the same bus number that goes to different destinations, I've had to wait up to 50 minutes for the next one to come. I've also had to walk 30-45 minutes in bad weather because it may have been the last bus for that time of day," Pereira said.
Winnipeg Transit is required by the Accessibility for Manitobans Act to provide barrier-free service to all passengers.
The act, which became law in 2013, includes a Customer Service Standard Regulation with various timelines for public and private organizations to meet the requirements. The public sector had until Nov. 1, 2017, to comply; small municipalities, private and non-profit organizations had until Nov. 1, 2018.
The City of Winnipeg's accessibility plan includes clear guidelines for how operators can better serve passengers with disabilities, such as providing external stop announcements.
"You have to open the door, tell me who you are, tell me what route you are and tell me if the bus is full or not. I understand if it's full I can't get on, but I need to know that," Pereira said about his own expectations.
A Winnipeg Transit spokesperson apologized for the problems Pereira has encountered and thanked him for bringing the incidents to their attention.
"We take reports of this nature very seriously and we thoroughly investigate every complaint we receive, taking appropriate action as needed," said the statement emailed to the CBC.
Pereira has received several over the years.
After he submits a complaint, he receives a generic response from 311, followed by a personal message stating that his complaint has been forwarded to Winnipeg Transit.
Occasionally, he gets a personal call from management explaining the situation, but that has only happened once or twice in the last three years, he said.
"[Management] apologize and they confirm that the policies are clear. Operators have to stop at the stop and they are here to provide a service," Pereira said.
"So the rules and policies and regulations are all in place, it's just an issue of compliance with a number of individual operators."
Disability rights advocates say government legislation is key to compliance, but it needs to be followed up with effective enforcement.
"If we had a seatbelt law but we knew that the police would never stop anyone and ticket them for not wearing their seatbelt, we know for a fact that people will be far less likely to wear seatbelts," said David Lepofsky, a lawyer and disability rights advocate known for his work with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Ontario's accessibility laws came into effect in 2005, eight years before the Accessibility for Manitobans Act became law in Manitoba. Lepofsky says that while the standards under the Ontario law are clear, a lack of effective enforcement is preventing systemic change.
Without effective enforcement, the only recourse for those encountering barriers is to head to the courts.
"These barriers are all illegal — they all violate the Human Rights Code — but people with disabilities don't want to have to fight barriers one at a time, and obligated organizations don't want to have to face human rights complaints one barrier at a time," said Lepofsky.
After dozens of complaints through 311 and in writing to his city counsellor, Pereira said he doesn't know what else to do other than turn to media.
"I've even spoken to management at Transit and they understand my frustrations and they're doing what they can. I feel like this has to come from the Amalgamated Transit Union itself to encourage its members to make that cultural shift to start providing the service," Pereira said.
The Accessibility for Manitobans Act's Customer Service Standard Regulation does not include information about what to do if an organization is non-compliant.
CBC Manitoba wants to hear from you as the first standard of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act comes into full effect. Are you living with a disability? Do you face barriers when accessing goods and services in Manitoba? Connect with us by emailing email@example.com.