Transit spies note progress in service for blind

By Greg Dunlop

Reports from undercover “spies” riding OC Transpo say that despite improvements only one in about every three drivers are calling out compulsory stop announcements following orders earlier this year.

OC Transpo’s “silent shoppers” are riding Ottawa buses to find out which drivers are failing to call stops in an effort to improve standards.

Critics have cautiously welcomed the progress but say there is still a long way to go before reaching the target of having 90 per cent of stops called by December.

The move comes in the wake of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario which determined the failure to ensure the announcement of all stops on buses violated the human rights of passengers with disabilities.

Louise Beauvif, a visually impaired nurse, uses the transit system to commute to and from work and to get around town.

Beauvif says she noticed the improvement about a month ago and now almost all the buses are announcing stops.

“Before they didn’t – not a one,” she says, adding she now feels less nervous catching the bus. “Since they started announcing it’s a lot better.”

When the debate began in April, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) ruled in favour of Terrance Green, a legally blind lawyer who complained that OC Transpo drivers failed to announce his stop, as requested, on several occasions.

Following Green’s complaint, the CTA ordered drivers to call out stops.

In the same month, Ottawa councillors rejected a $7 to $8 million proposal from OC Transpo officials to install automated announcement systems, linked to GPS, on all buses.

Instead, councillors told officials to take the necessary steps to ensure drivers announce stops.

Despite council’s rejection, transit services have drafted a proposal for next year’s budget to install an automated announcement system.

In September, Green reached an undisclosed cash settlement with OC Transpo but he expresses mixed feelings about current standards and is critical of transport management.

“There has been more drivers calling out stops more frequently,” he says. “Some of them are very good. However, there are some drivers who aren’t complying with OC Transpo’s requirements.”

Until an automated system comes in, Green would like to see all drivers fulfil their requirement to call out stops.

Last month, the Ontario Human Rights chief commissioner Barbara Hall strongly advocated stop announcements as a necessity for the visually impaired and of benefit to all transit users including visitors and regular commuters who often cannot see stops due to weather or crowds.

Richard Marsolais, a living skills specialist for the Canadian Institute for the Blind, says the national capital’s public transport accessibility standards are lagging behind Montreal and Toronto.

Along with stronger announcement standards, Marsolais is calling for bus stops to be considerately placed and brailled with their location and bus routes.

Helen Gault, the city’s manager of transit services, planning and development says transit drivers who are caught not calling stops face incremental consequences on a sliding scale.

No driver has been terminated as yet for failing to announce stops.

“We’re all very serious about providing this service,” she says.

“At the end of the day, the goal is to consistently have every stop called.”

Bay Ward Coun. Alex Cullen says meeting the requirement of the human rights tribunal to call out every stop is a humane thing to do.

“This decision did seem to come upon us quickly but I think reflects the growing awareness of making our world more accessible to the disabled,” he says.

Cullen remains loyal to the proposed multi-million dollar automated announcement system citing safety, efficiency and accessibility requirements adding, “There is always room for improvement.”