By Mary Katherine Keown, The Sudbury Star
Monday, January 19, 2015 11:56:54 EST PM
Handi-Transit was on the agenda briefly at last night’s meeting of the operations committee — the first for this council.
During an orientation session, city staff introduced the new politicians to the nuts and bolts of the city’s infrastructure services.
Roger Sauve, director of transit and fleet services, told councillors Handi-Transit aims to serve those with physical disabilities who are unable to use conventional public buses. He conceded that supply often exceeds demand and noted staff members are occasionally forced to ask riders to alter their plans.
“We are certainly at capacity — there are days when we have turn-downs,” Sauve told the committee. “We try to ask the individual if they could go at a different time or a different day, but at this point, with the continued growth of Handi-Transit, there are times we cannot accommodate everyone.” Ridership has ballooned from about 40,000 in 2000 to more than 120,000 last year, due in large part to amalgamation and the city’s aging population.
Last December, Tony Cecutti, the city’s general manager of infrastructure services, told councillors that due to budget constraints, staff was reviewing the qualifications for those accessing the service. The system, which currently serves individuals with cognitive, intellectual and mental health impairments, could be revised to prioritize Sudburians with physical disabilities, while excluding or marginalizing others.
Rosemary Bennett, a senior communications officer with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, says barring individuals from accessing Handi-Transit based on their type of disability constitutes a violation of the provincial human rights code.
“The human rights code doesn’t deal any differently with (different) disabilities, whether you’re talking about the code or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA),” Bennett told The Star on Monday. “A disability is a disability.”
Bennett said the human rights commission does not recognize a hierarchy of disability. Both the provincial human rights code and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act identify developmental, mental and learning impairments.
“It sounds like what they’re wanting to do is put one kind of disability on top of another, which isn’t exactly the best, in my opinion, way to proceed,” she said. “I’m thinking that it’s almost differential treatment, and the goal of the (act) and the code is to get equitable treatment — it’s leveling the playing field.”
The point, Bennett said, is equal access to services that exist. The commission understands operational costs play a role in service provision, but she contends the onus rests with organizations or corporations to disburse those costs “so that no one area becomes destitute.”
Simply put, transportation is a vital service that needs to be maintained.
“As a service, they have a duty to accommodate, based on disability and all the other grounds of the human rights code,” Bennett added.
She understands the financial constraints facing municipalities, but argues staffers must make provisions to serve their constituents.
“We totally understand that cities don’t have a bottomless pit of money, but I would caution against pitting one group of disabilities against another group, for any occasion, whether or not it’s a money issue,” Bennett told The Star.
There are about 4,000 people in Greater Sudbury registered to use Handi-Transit. Close to 3,000 have applied to use the service and 12 are waiting to have their appeals heard by the hearing committee. All 12 continue to access Handi-Transit in the interim.
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