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Ailing Senior Says Greyhound Gave Her a Rough Ride

Company vows to step up training on accessibility after repeated complaints that drivers refused to lower bus Laurie Monsebraaten
The Toronto Star , Sept. 12, 2016

A retired Toronto teacher who has severe arthritis in her knees and leans heavily on two canes to get around says she has been given a rough ride by surly Greyhound drivers who “embarrassed” and “humiliated” her when she asked for help to board the bus.

Company officials say they don’t know why drivers didn’t activate a mechanism to lower the bus for Helena Burnstein, but vowed to ensure all drivers receive extra training on the equipment as part of annual refresher classes this fall. During five of eight round trips Burnstein has taken between Toronto and Guelph since January 2015, she says, drivers have questioned her mobility limitations and refused to lower the bus or offer a stepstool so she could get on and off safely.

Some told her they didn’t want to use the bus-lowering equipment because it might get stuck and strand all the passengers, she adds.

As a result, the 70-year-old woman says she was forced to drag herself up the steps or hobble down backward.

An injured wrist was bad enough, but her wounded pride was the biggest blow, she says.

On at least two of these trips, Burnstein claims, she alerted Greyhound’s accessibility office in advance to say she needed pre-boarding and asking that the driver lower the bus or provide a portable platform so the bottom step wasn’t so far from the ground.

“Frankly, if a bus has steps that lower, there shouldn’t even be a need to deal with the disability office. The driver should lower it upon request,” she says.

After making several verbal complaints, Burnstein filed a claim against the company over a particularly upsetting experience in November. A settlement, which she signed last week, is confidential.

“It seems to be a culture at Greyhound that it’s OK not to use accessibility equipment,” Burnstein said. “That’s got to change.”

David Butler, Greyhound’s regional vice-president for Eastern Canada, said drivers are supposed to use the bus-lowering mechanism at every stop that doesn’t have a curb, “whether it’s requested or not. It makes it easier for everyone.”

Drivers are also instructed to use portable platforms if the equipment isn’t working, he said, adding that the company has just purchased 50 more platforms for stations across the country.

Butler said he would contact Burnstein to ensure that her accessibility concerns are addressed.

“I want to reach out to her and make sure she is satisfied and chooses Greyhound the next time she wants to travel between Toronto and Guelph,” he told the Star last week.

Although Burnstein has accepted the settlement, her lawyer, Richard Parker, says it was never about the money.

“It was about her embarrassment and the inconvenience – and to make sure that it never happens again to her or anyone else,” he said.

Burnstein’s troubles occurred on the same route where a Wilfrid Laurier University student in a motorized wheelchair was stranded on a lift for three hours in sub-zero temperatures in January 2014 because of faulty equipment and untrained staff.

After that incident, Greyhound promised to fix equipment and beef up driver accessibility training. But the problems persisted, Burnstein says.

During her most recent trip from Guelph to Toronto in June, she said the driver didn’t lower the bus or offer a platform to help her get down the stairs, despite repeated requests. A fellow traveller who boarded the bus in Kitchener said she was so appalled by the driver’s behaviour toward Burnstein that she also complained to Greyhound.

“Not only was (Burnstein) denied a step stool … but she was asked questions by the bus driver such as: ‘Why do you take the bus if you can’t get on and off?'” Claire Theriault said in her complaint, filed June 23.

“She was embarrassed and uncomfortable … This event was not only an absolutely outrageous example of very poor customer service, but it was also an example of a human rights and dignity violation,” wrote Theriault, 23.

“People with disabilities, no matter what they are, should feel safe and accommodated in all aspects of their voyage and should most definitely not be subject to public shame and humiliation,” she added.

In a June 30 email response to Theriault’s complaint, a company official said “the behaviour you described will not be tolerated” and that “appropriate action would be taken to prevent a recurrence.”

Possible action could include a reprimand, additional training, suspension or termination, the official wrote.

In the meantime, Burnstein’s repeated problems with Greyhound drivers and the Toronto bus terminal’s lack of benches at the bus bays for people with disabilities – despite room for at least two seats – have made her wary of making any more trips with the company.

“It’s traumatic,” she said. “I can’t face it any more – not only the drivers, but being embarrassed and humiliated in front of other travellers.”

With the large number of seniors taking buses – many with bad hips and knees – buses should be lowered automatically at stops, she said. And they should be equipped with a portable platform to help all passengers navigate the last step.

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