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This Paper was developed to promote public discussion on the accessibility of local mass passenger transportation in Ontario ("transit services").[2] This initiative is part of the mandate of the Ontario Human Rights Commission ("OHRC") as set out at section 29 of the Code. Specifically, the OHRC is mandated to engage in programs of public information and education, to promote awareness of human rights issues, to conduct research and to encourage public and municipal organizations to engage in programs that may alleviate tensions based on prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Transportation is fundamental to the capacity of most persons to function in society, and transit services are a cost effective and feasible way for people to get to work and to obtain access to basic goods, services and facilities. Transit services facilitate a level of integration into public and social life in our communities, and contribute to urban or regional planning through environmentally sound and efficient alternatives to private motor vehicles.

This Paper was initiated to address issues facing persons with disabilities. However, an OHRC survey of several transit service providers reveals that accessibility is also a fundamental issue for older persons, students and families with small children, and especially for those living in poverty. The Code grounds of disability, age and family status are therefore raised in this Paper.[3]

Several factors have converged to make this Paper important to the OHRC at this time. First, there have been major changes in the way that transit services are managed. These changes have created new or enhanced fiscal and operational pressures to develop, expand or rationalize services, including accessible services.  As new plans and management are put into place, there are pressing needs to ensure that accessibility is built into the planning of new or reorganized services.

Second, the OHRC conducted a survey of twenty-five Ontario transit service providers in 1999 to assess the status of accessibility in the major regions of the Province of Ontario. During the same year, the OHRC conducted a consultation on disability and accommodation issues, and several of the issues raised in this Paper also emerged as issues in that consultation.

Third, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered several critical decisions between 1997 and 2000 that create a new legal framework for the development and provision of accessible services by the public service. At the same time, the OHRC has received complaints against transit service providers from persons with disabilities, many of whom are concerned about accessibility and particularly about narrowing eligibility criteria for certain paratransit services.

Fourth, demographic trends are pointing to an aging society, which is increasingly reliant on accessible public services.[4] Many transit service providers noted that they serve an aging population and that their accessibility plans are influenced by this trend.  

It is the view of the OHRC, having regard to the survey results and applicable legal standards, that there are pressing and real needs to improve transit services to make them more accessible. Most transit services surveyed are inaccessible to varying degrees, and not all transit service providers have plans to achieve full accessibility. Moreover, levels of access for persons with disabilities vary significantly between several transit services in Ontario, resulting in inconsistent services across the province.  

The first part of the Paper provides general background on human rights issues surrounding transit services. Legal standards governing accommodation in this area are outlined, as well as trends in Canadian case law and the U.S. experience with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The second part of the Paper summarizes various methods that have been used to achieve accessibility in transit services, including community buses and service routes, low floor buses, accessible subway systems, and paratransit systems.

In the third part of the Paper, the development in Ontario of accessible transit services is reviewed, with a discussion of the relationship between various levels of government and their historical responsibility for funding, and the impact of the recent transfer of funding to municipalities. This part also summarizes the key results of a 1999 survey conducted by the OHRC of twenty-five transit service providers about the accessibility of their transit services, their plans for integrated services, and for enhancing accessibility.

Finally, Part IV of the Paper presents conclusions and recommendations for future action based on Parts I and III.

[2] Readers should note that this paper complements concurrent policy initiatives at the Ontario Human Rights Commission (“OHRC”), including discussion papers and guidelines on social and economic rights, disability and the rights of older persons.
[3] Sections 1, 10 of the Code. Although the term "handicap" is used in the Code, "disability" is the current and preferable term.
[4] OHRC, "Discrimination and Age: Human Rights Issues Facing Older Persons in Ontario" (Approved by the Commission on May 31, 2000), online: OHRC Homepage <>.


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