By Ian MacAlpine, Kingston Whig-Standard
Monday, November 18, 2013 7:16:25 EST PM
A local accessibility advocate who took Kingston Transit and The City of Kingston to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario is due to receive a $4,000 settlement on her complaint.
Louise Bark, who uses a power chair to get around, launched the complaint in 2006 after Kingston bus stops were not built properly to allow safe entering and exiting of the buses for people with disabilities.
The city’s legal department is recommending approval of the payment by Kingston city council Tuesday evening.
Bark, a former member of the city’s accessibility committee and member of the Provincial Transportation Standards Writing Committee, was supposed to be involved in the implementation of Kingston’s fully accessible bus system back in 2006. But in the end, she wasn’t.
Bark’s issue seven years ago was with many of the designs of Kingston Transit bus stops. Curbs were cut to allow wheelchair access to the bus stop from the street but many were constructed right where the bus driver stops. Even though the bus was lowered and the wheelchair ramp was activated the ramp was too steep to safely allow a wheelchair on it.
Bark said if there was no curb cut in front of the bus stop and the curb would be its normal height of about 10 cm the ramp would be at a safe angle to board the bus.
To combat this Bark would wait on the grassy area beside the bus stop but sometimes she wasn’t picked up because the driver didn’t want to venture out of the official pick-up area.
Bark said there are ramps built into most sidewalks at intersections now so curb cuts aren’t needed in front of bus stops.
In her original agreement with the city in 2006 she was told the bus stops would be made safer but weren’t.
“That created a problem. There were stops where I couldn’t get in or out, but getting in was the bigger problem,” said Bark at the Seniors Centre on Monday.
Bus drivers wouldn’t let her on the bus with the ramp at a sharp angle fearing the chair would flip back injuring her.
She said she ran into numerous problems with this when she couldn’t transfer from one bus route to another or would get to her destination only to have the bus driver refuse to put the ramp out for her or move the bus to an area adjacent to the bus stop where the curb was higher when she wanted to go home.
In one instance she couldn’t get back on the bus at the Via train station after a transfer because of the issue.
“I couldn’t physically get up the ramp because the hydraulic lift was put down on the pavement of the roadway.”
“When I couldn’t get into that next bus the bus driver said I’d have to find another way home.”
After the incident she wrote to Kingston Transit and was told the bus driver was right.
Bark, who earlier was assisting Kingston Transit with accessibility issues and was invited to Kingston Transit’s official launch of their fully-accessible service and included Bark as a resource in Kingston Transit driver training, was trying to write more letters about the problem but wasn’t getting anywhere. So she decided to go to the Human Rights Tribunal in 2009.
“The stops that I had been using were no longer acceptable and it didn’t seem to matter how much I tried to talk to them I couldn’t find a compromise that was working,” she said.
“It was just defying logic to me that a driver could let me out of one bus and put me in a condition that was unsafe where I couldn’t get on the next bus.”
Another time she was going to be left at 11 p.m. in front of Ben’s Pub on Clergy Street because the ramp was too steep. However, she was able to talk the bus driver into moving to a better place where the ramp wasn’t as steep.
If the bus driver didn’t accomodate her she would have had to drive her power wheelchair about 10 blocks in inclement weather to reach her apartment.
Bark says many stops have been fixed with the with the curbs built back up again.
But Bark exclusively uses the Kingston Access Bus for her travels because some of the Kingston Transit routes have changed as some stops are more accessible than others. This means Bark has to call ahead to make sure she can get where she wants to go and get back to her apartment.
“To me it got to be too much of a hassle. I can’t deal with that anymore,” she said. “To me it’s too stressful, you can’t just go out and get on a bus and go home.”
But factoring in the costs she would rather take Kingston Transit.
“The Access Bus cost me more than my (annual) rent,” she said.
Last year, Bark paid $2,012.50 for the Access Bus where an annual pass at Kingston Transit would cost her only $565 with a subsidized bus pass.
She’s had to cut other costs in order to take the Access Bus.
“I’ve cut off my cable, I’ve cut off a lot of things to take the Access Bus because that’s how much I believe I’m affected by this issue.”
The City of Kingston couldn’t answer how many bus stops are now fully accessible.
Director of transportation Sheila Kidd was unavailable for comment on Monday. Instead she sent an email to the Whig-Standard through communications officer Cindie Ashton.
“The city continues to work towards making transit stops more accessible,” the email reads. “The city has adopted design guidelines for transit stops that were developed in consultation with the Municipal Accessible Advisory Committee. These guidelines assist the city when installing new transit stops or replacing stops in conjunction with road construction projects.”
The email also says “Kingston Transit is committed to providing accessible service for persons with disabilities.”
All Kingston Transit buses are fully accessible according to the email.
It also states that the city has come up with the Accessible Transit Services Handbook which will help to communicate all aspects of Kingston Transit’s accessibility service.
“The handbook includes details on equipment and features of transit vehicles, routes and services, progress to date and future plans and also outlines our compliance with the requirements outlined in the Accessibly of Ontarian with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) Transportation Standards.”
Bark said she’ll use what’s left of the $4,000 to pay off some debts.
“I’m not in it for the money I want the logic to kick in, it shouldn’t be that difficult.”