VIA Rail appealing ruling that would allow couples with mobility scooters to travel together
VIA says current fleet being phased out and new models will have more accessibility spots
VIA Rail is appealing a decision by the Canadian Transportation Agency that would make it possible for a Toronto couple who rely on scooters and wheelchairs to travel together on a single train.
The decision called on the railway to revise its policies to either allow for the storage of two scooters in a single tie-down area or provide two tie-down areas on each train by May 15, 2017 — or provide evidence that neither option would be possible without "undue hardship."
At the moment, all VIA Rail trains are equipped to tie down just one scooter. The railway argues that in cases where a person can transfer to a car seat, there is no limit to the number of passengers travelling with a mobility device. In both cases, it says it provides free passage for a travel companion.
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But Martin Anderson and Marie Murphy, who both need scooters to get around, say the lack of accommodation for scooters puts a strain on riders like themselves. They say they have been fighting for more accessibility spaces on VIA Rail since 2005.
'We should expect more'
Anderson and Murphy say they approached VIA Rail last July with the idea of tying down two scooters in one space and were given the chance to test it out in the presence of a consultant.
They thought it went well. But despite repeated requests for copies of the consultant's report, they say they've heard virtually nothing since.
"I think they take accessibility seriously as long as it doesn't cost them any money," Murphy said.
"This is 2017. They're a Crown corporation which receives an over $280-million a year subsidy from the government of Canada. We should expect more than just one seat per train," Anderson added.
VIA Rail wouldn't provide specifics on their appeal but spokesperson Mariam Diaby said the company is phasing out older trains and replacing them with newer ones with more accessibility spaces.
New fleet to feature multiple accessibility spots, VIA says
"The current QC-Windsor fleet is coming to the end of its useful life. Accordingly, VIA Rail was provided funding in budget 2016 to conduct pre-procurement analysis for a new fleet," the statement said.
"Accessibility to each train for multiple travellers with wheelchairs is one of the key requirements of the new fleet. It reflects VIA Rail's commitment to remain the most accessible national and inter-city mode of transportation in Canada."
That's little comfort for Murphy.
"I don't know when that new train is going to come. And I still want to be able to travel with my husband."
The decision on the railway's appeal against the Canadian Transportation Agency's ruling is expected in July.
But disability advocate David Lepofsky says the company has a duty to make changes sooner than later.
"They should spend less money on fighting against accessibility — by hiring lawyers and dragging out lawsuits — and instead they should take that money and spend it on providing accessibility," Lepofsky said.