How may we help you? Rail carriers target disabled passengers

For most travellers, the biggest barrier faced on a trip may be the price of the ticket. For a person with a disability, however, the path is strewn with obstacles — from heavy doors and wheelchair-blocking steps to inaccessible washrooms.

But a new attitude concerning travellers with disabilities is about to make rail travel a whole lot more enjoyable. A new Code of Practice, announced in February in Toronto’s historic Union Station, aims at offering practical, functional solutions to the problems those passengers have encountered.

As VIA Rail Canada CEO Terry Ivany noted, “growing numbers of persons with disabilities want to travel and we want them as customers.”

The Code was prepared by the Canadian Transportation Agency, through consultation with the rail industry, government bodies, the general public — and people with disabilities. By April 1, 2001, passenger rail cars are expected to have appropriate signage, lighting, stairs, handrails and grab bars, floors, alarms, and means to communicate announcements; cars should have tactile seat markers, accessible washrooms and emergency window exits; new cars will have moveable armrests on at least 10 pecent of the aisle seats for easier transfer from a wheelchair. Trains with sleeping car facilities will include an accessible bedroom with washroom. Passengers with disabilities will be allowed to use their own mobility aids if space permits, but by this April, trains will provide an on-board wheelchair. Each passenger train will have a wheelchair tie-down in a coach car and storage space for one other wheelchair. If mobility aids should be lost or damaged, passengers will quickly be given temporary replacements while their own aids are restored or until they receive full compensation for the loss.

Passengers travelling with a service animal will not be charged extra fees and will be allotted space at passenger seats for the animal.

By July, 1998, rail carriers expect to be ready to meet the requests of people with disabilities on 48 hours notice but will make a reasonable effort to accommodate them with less notification.

Passengers with disabilities can receive help checking in at the ticket counter, through to getting into their seats, or to and from washrooms. They can also be served at their seats if dining car facilities aren’t accessible.

Far from being rigidly structured, the Code aims to deliver service to passengers with disabilities when they need it, and to respect their wishes if they don’t want assistance.