Discussion of Canadian Passenger Rail Services such as AMT (Montreal), Go Transit (Toronto), VIA Rail, and other Canadian Railways and Transit

Moderator: Ken V

  by downbeat
Original link...
The Globe and Mail
The Globe and Mail wrote:Blindness has never stopped John Benjamin from travelling.

He has visited many parts of Canada and taken several trips abroad. But when he took a train trip to Quebec City last October from his home in Ottawa, he was so mistreated by Via Rail staff that a federal tribunal has ordered the railway to issue a written apology and change the way it deals with disabled passengers.

"It was horrible," Mr. Benjamin recalled this week. "All I wanted was at least a 'sorry' from Via Rail and I could not even get that."

Throughout much of his trip, Mr. Benjamin was left to fend for himself as Via staff ignored his requests for help or gave visual directions oblivious to the fact that he was blind and holding a white cane, according to documents filed with the Canadian Transportation Agency. Via once even suggested Mr. Benjamin was at fault for not making his disability known to staff.

This week, the agency issued a sharp criticism of the railway and ordered changes, including training for staff and new coding on Via tickets to assist disabled customers.

"The Agency is concerned with situations such as the one experienced by Mr. Benjamin where employees fail to comply with important procedures," the CTA said.

The trip began on Oct. 6, 2003. Mr. Benjamin, 39, had booked his ticket a few days earlier and had told the reservation agent that he was blind and needed some assistance. He had been looking forward to the excursion for weeks and decided to go to Quebec City because he was familiar with the downtown and could manage on his own.

The reservation agent gave him a ticket marked with several "special service codes" that were supposed to indicate he was blind and needed help.

Everything went well at first. Mr. Benjamin arrived at the train station in Ottawa with his white cane and identification card from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. He got onto the train and a Via official helped him with his bags.

Things changed when he got to Montreal, where he had to switch trains. When he asked Via officials where to catch the train for Quebec City, they either ignored him or pointed out directions. He ended up following other passengers but got lost and worried about falling down the stairs. When he finally found the right train on his own, the conductor showed him to the wrong seat.

Once in Quebec City, he repeatedly asked Via officials for help with his bags and even showed them the coding on his ticket. But the only assistance they offered was more pointing.

His return trip was much the same, with Via staff leaving him on his own and ignoring his requests for help.

"I asked one [Via official] to accommodate me and she came around, handed me over to another person and said, 'Oh, he's just got a small disability, it's no big thing,' " Mr. Benjamin said.

He managed to make his way around with the help of some fellow travellers.Once home, Mr. Benjamin complained to Via and when he did not get much of a response, he took his case to the CTA.

Via told the agency it was "extremely sorry about any difficulties Mr. Benjamin may have encountered," but it defended the employees' actions, saying they were "confused" about his needs. The railway added that in future it hopes "Mr. Benjamin will make his disability known to the person to whom he is speaking so that there will be no confusion as to the assistance that he needs."

The CTA rejected that suggestion. The agency said it "finds that the notion implied in Via's statement that Mr. Benjamin is somehow responsible for Via's failure to provide appropriate assistance is totally unacceptable."

Along with ordering Via to give Mr. Benjamin an apology, the CTA told the railway to change the coding on its tickets to make it clear what services have been requested.

The agency also told Via to issue a bulletin to all staff outlining what happened to Mr. Benjamin and emphasizing the importance of providing requested services. And it ordered Via to change its training programs to incorporate the incident and provide "refresher training" for train and station personnel in how to assist disabled people. Finally, the CTA gave the railway a month to outline in detail what other steps it will take to ensure that the needs of disabled people will be met.

Mr. Benjamin was overjoyed at the ruling and said he hopes it helps all Via customers.

Malcolm Andrews, a spokesman for Via, said the railway is studying the ruling, adding, "We will be making the appropriate reply."