Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, every citizen of Ontario has a right to equal treatment in receiving public services, which include public transit services.
Transit providers have a legal responsibility to ensure that transit systems are accessible to all Ontarians. For many, access to public transit is a necessity - in order to obtain an education, find and keep a job, or use basic public services like health care.
In June 1999, the OHRC surveyed transit providers to establish accessibility of Ontario's public transportation systems. The initial information revealed that while significant efforts have been made, there remains much more to be done. The survey also identified a lack of awareness among transit providers of their obligations in adhering to the Code.With an aim to raising awareness about accessibility and human rights issues, the OHRC released a discussion paper in February 2001.
The paper went out to more than 400 stakeholders and solicited written contributions by June 30, 2001. Submissions were received from 30 groups including transit providers; seniors' organizations; disability consumer groups; labour organizations; advocacy groups; and individuals. In the summer 2001, transit providers were contacted to update the results attained in 1999. The report brings together the information collected throughout the two-year process. It identifies key finding and recommendations for all parties involved in addressing the issues of human rights and public transit services.
Across the province, there are gaps in accessible conventional transit systems and paratransit services experience even greater discrepancies in services.
Paratransit services have inconsistencies in eligibility criteria, fees and geographic limitations.
Services that do not compare to those offered by conventional transit systems often perpetuate isolation among disabled and older persons, as well as families with young children.
In some cases, persons with mental or ambulatory disabilities cannot access either conventional or paratransit services.
Public transit providers need to set a goal of integration and accessible services and develop inclusive policy, procedures and programs that ensures the dignity of those affected.
The provincial government has a role to play in setting standards and timelines across Ontario for accessible public transit and consider the urgency of the issues when determining transit funding in the future.
The report also recommends that the OHRC develop communication tools on human rights and public transit and to ensure providers know their obligations in adhering to the Code. In addition, it recommends an update in five years to evaluate the progress in making transit systems fully accessible.
Another recent report by the OHRC, TIME FOR ACTION: Advancing Human Rights For Older Ontarians, also supports the latest findings and recommendations regarding transit. Under-equipped transit systems make it difficult for older persons to access medical care, family members, community and other activities of daily living.