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Tribunal Hears Transit Issues

By Ian MacAlpine, Kingston Whig-Standard
Wednesday, June 10, 2015 8:33:24 EDT PM

Louise Bark, a former Kingston resident, is involved in an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal case against the City of Kingston over public transit accessibility issues. Bark was in Kingston with her service dog Bruce on Wednesday.

A former Kingston resident and disability rights activist has taken Kingston Transit and Kingston Access Bus to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

Louise Bark, who moved to Toronto last year partly because of Kingston’s lack of transportation accessibility, filed her complaint three years ago.

According to Bark, who uses a power chair to get around, her four main points in her complaint are: disabled passengers pay more for public transportation in Kingston than people who don’t rely on the Kingston Access Bus; passengers who use the access bus are unable to purchase monthly passes the same way Kingston Transit users can; a two-tier system requires a second full fare for same-trip transfers to Kingston Transit buses; and Kingston Transit offers more hours of service than the access bus system.

“I just hope the city does the right thing,” she said. “This is not about money, this is trying to get some equality for people with disabilities.”

Bark and her service dog Bruce were in Kingston Wednesday for a medical appointment.

It’s not the first time Bark has taken Kingston Transit to the Human Rights Tribunal.

In 2006, Bark filed a complaint with the tribunal over curbs at Kingston Transit bus stops that were not built properly to allow safe entering and exiting of the buses for people with disabilities. In 2103, she was awarded a settlement of $4,000. Bark said her current claim wasn’t heard until her previous one was settled.

Bark said she didn’t initially want to make a human rights case out of the latest issue but couldn’t get anywhere with the city.

She was initially impressed with then-mayor Mark Gerretsen’s concern with the problems with the system.

“He understood the challenge and he put it in the hands of the CEO Gerrard Hunt,” Bark said.

But she was told later nothing could be done to address her concerns.

“Basically, their decision was they don’t have any control over the access bus, it’s not their issue.

“There are some people who can never ride Kingston Transit,” she said. “I’m not in for this benefitting me, I’m trying to benefit the common good. That’s what my hope is.

“There are many people in Kingston who would benefit on getting a subsidized pass.”

Part of her transportation issues in Kingston were the costs she had taking Kingston Transit and access buses.

She couldn’t buy a monthly pass for the access bus. As well, that service doesn’t sell books of tickets at a discounted rate. Both of those items are offered by Kingston Transit to able-bodied passengers.

Before moving to Toronto, she said she paid more per month for transportation than her monthly rent.

“My bus fares have been astronomical amounts.”

Another issue was having to pay a second full fare for a same-trip transfer between a Kingston Transit bus and the access bus. Transfers for able-bodied passengers are free.

In Toronto, it’s one fare to go from the TTC to its Wheel Trans system.

The issue of Kingston Transit and access bus hours has improved, Bark said.

She said she moved to Toronto mainly because of her accessibility issues in Kingston and having frequent medical appointments in Toronto.

With the challenges of the Kingston system, she said she couldn’t make her appointments in one day. She had to stay overnight in Toronto.

She also found she couldn’t get to her volunteer activities and had issues finding full- or part-time employment in Kingston.

“I was getting bored.”

Now in Toronto, she volunteers at the Royal Ontario Museum and will help out at the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games and has joined the Shout Sister choir in Toronto.

“I’m really, really busy,” she said. “There’s a lot of pluses being in Toronto.”

Bark is being represented by Chantal Tie of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

“The facts basically speak for themselves,” Tie said in a telephone interview from her Ottawa office. “If she weren’t disabled and was not using the access bus, she would be entitled to monthly passes.

“Over the last four years, that’s cost her a lot of money, not being able to get monthly passes.”

Tie said non-disabled people are able to use the entire Kingston Transit system, but disabled people are not.

Mediation is now over, Tie said, and the parties are waiting for a hearing date, which could be in the new year.

“It’s clearly a discriminatory practice, I don’t think there’s any doubt about that, and it’s been going on for a long time.

“Our interest is in ensuring that disabled travellers in Kingston at least have as good an access as non-disabled travellers.”

Cindie Ashton, a communications officer with the City of Kingston, said the issue is part of an administrative tribunal process.

“However, we can advise that the city is in compliance with our obligations as set out by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) legislation and that we dispute the allegations made in this matter,” Ashton wrote in an email to the Whig-Standard.

Bark believes there are health and wellness benefits in a good transit system for disabled people.

“People need to be able to get out,” she said. “If you don’t get out, you lose hope, you lose energy.

“When you have proper transit, you can go volunteer, join a choir and not have to worry about being nickeled and dimed taking the bus. You end up with a lot more freedom.

“Since I’ve moved to Toronto, where I have a lot more access to transit, my health has improved immensely, both emotionally and physically.” @IanMacAlpine

Reproduced from