Equal access by persons with disabilities, older Ontarians, and families with young children to adequate, dignified public transit services is a right protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code. For many, it is also a necessity – in order to obtain an education, find and keep a job, or use basic public services like health care. Lack of access to transit may also lead to isolation, as visiting friends or participating in the life of the community becomes difficult or impossible.
Unfortunately, equal access to transit services is far from reality for many Ontarians. While many improvements have been made in recent years to improve the accessibility of conventional transit services, such as increased use of low-floor or lift-equipped buses, and modifications to bus and subway stations, progress remains slow, and many of Ontario’s transit systems anticipate that it will take 15 years or more to achieve maximum accessibility. At the same time, there are troubling limitations in many of Ontario’s specialized or paratransit systems. Patrons too often face restrictive eligibility criteria, long waits for rides, punitive cancellation policies, and unequal fare structures.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission has been involved in a number of initiatives to help improve transit accessibility for riders with disabilities. Early on, it called for a strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act to address accessible transit in the province. In 2002, the Commission held a public consultation on improving transit accessibility and reported back its findings and recommendations. It has investigated a number of transit complaints and litigated cases at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario as well as reached positive settlements with transit providers. The Commission has also worked with the Ontario Community Transit Association and the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (now Accessibility Ontario) to address concerns rising from complaints and promote rights and responsibilities under the Code.