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Recently In the News "Montreal Gazette"

Below is a recent article that was posted in the "Montreal Gazette" and also recently posted to our local Chapter Facebook Page by one of our members

'I made too many complaints'; Frequent user of STM'S adapted transit service says staff can be rude and service leaves much to be desired

Graphic: DAVE SIDAWAY, THE GAZETTE / Omar, a quadriplegic, is wheeled into a taxi in downtown Montreal. Omar, who was temporarily barred from the Société de transport de Montréal's adapted transit service, is taking his case to the Quebec Human Rights Commission.;

In response to a surge in demand from the disabled and the elderly for public transit - as is their right under the law - the Société de transport de Montréal has a policy of "zero refusals" for adapted transit pickups.

The policy means none of the estimated 22,000 registered users of the STM's adapted transit service can be refused if their pickups are booked the day before. The service, available only to Montreal Island residents, provides door-to-door transport for the price of a regular transit fare to those deemed eligible and with a significant and chronic handicap and major mobility limitations. Users book their pickups by phone or online.

But critics say the problem lies in how some pickups are handled. They cite such problems as rudeness from some STM employees and taxi drivers who work for the service, a lack of flexibility for unavoidable delays by users and a lack of clear guidelines for handling complaints. Some adapted transit users say that they've missed important medical appointments, been left to wait an hour on street corners and have had seriously hurt feelings, as a result.

Omar, a 34-year-old financial adviser for a major bank, and a quadriplegic since the age of 16 after a swimming accident, was barred from the service Saturday, Sunday and part of Monday, because, he says, the STM said "I made too many complaints."

The Moroccan-born permanent resident of Canada since 2009 plans to take his case to the Quebec Human Rights Commission next week, claiming that the STM made unjustified and arbitrary decisions to ban him from the service and that he was the victim of racial prejudice from one taxi driver.
In the seven years since he started using the adapted transit service, he has made three complaints - all in the past year - against STM employees for what he claims is unfair or rude treatment. He has cancelled pickups a number of times, either because of last-minute scheduling changes or medical reasons - not unusual among users of the adapted transit service.

"People cancelling is not a problem," said Omar, who spoke on condition his last name not be used. "It's when you start to complain that the STM gets upset.

"Then they start to cancel you."

The STM's ban caused him to miss a doctor's appointment on Sunday and work Monday morning. Since he was also barred from the online booking system for one month, he must book pickups by phone, a process that he says is less reliable.

The STM declined to comment specifically on Omar's case. But a spokeswoman, Marianne Rouette, said the STM does not impose limits on cancellations per customer, and that customers are not usually penalized for complaining.

User comments are a good source of information about the quality of service, she said.

"However, when a client has behaviour that affects the delivery or the quality of service offered to other clients, it is possible that measures up to and including suspension may be taken," Rouette said. "But these are very rare, even extreme cases and never without informing the client before to allow him to correct the situation."

Omar denies having done anything that could affect another customer's service.

The service's online booking system gave him few problems, he noted. It was certain STM agents on the phone who stymied him, he said, cancelling his trips out of what he believes is spite.

"Maybe it was my accent or just my name," Omar said.  Omar said one STM agent told him this year: "I'm cancelling all your transports tomorrow; have fun with that."

In another case, a taxi driver was impatient and did not want to wait after Omar soiled his pants. "This is a reality of being in a wheelchair," Omar said. "You get constipated and sometimes you have to go and you cannot wait. But some of the drivers refuse to wait."

Rouette said the system cannot allow for unplanned delays "like going to the toilet." Users should allow for such possibilities when booking their trips, she said.

Marie Turcotte, a representative for adapted transit users on the STM's board, said, "There is a certain rigidity in the scheduling, but it's necessary. You can't have people making the driver wait for five minutes. It would add up and bog down the system."

Turcotte uses a wheelchair and books trips about 15 trips a week with the adapted transit service.

Omar alleges a taxi driver swore at him for being an Arab and reminded Omar that he was in the taxi driver's country.

"I wanted to improve (relations between the STM and disabled users), but I feel like a victim," said Omar, who is studying law in a correspondence course. "It's an injustice and it's insulting. I can't fight against a large agency like this. They punish me each time I try to improve things."

Linda Gauthier, president of the Regroupement activists pour l'inclusion Québec, which advocates for the disabled, said Omar's case is not surprising. The group is representing 11 other disabled people with complaints about the STM.

"One man who can barely see was dropped off two blocks from his destination," she said. "He waited for one hour until another adapted transit vehicle came for him."

The Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, a civil-rights group, plans to represent Omar when it presents his case to Human Rights Commission next week.

CRARR executive director Fo Niemi said this is not the first report he has received of unreasonable treatment of adapted transit users.
Niemi said hopes the STM will agree to mediation and to bring in clearly defined policies on cancellations and complaints, and a little more flexibility.  "With people with disabilities, you have to use common sense and human understanding," Niemi said. "You cannot say: 'We can't do this and we can't do that' for what are basically small favours that any human being can do for any other."

BY THE NUMBERS: STM ADAPTED TRANSIT
- - 2.8 million trips provided last year on the STM's adapted transit vehicles or with the 14 taxi companies that provide adapted transit services for the STM.
- - 8.5 per cent more trips this year as of July 31 compared to Jan. 1 to July 31, 2011
--$68 million for adapted transit in 2012; $8 million more than in 2011
- - 1.37 per cent fewer com-plaints
- - 92-to 94-per-cent satisfaction rate in survey of 1,000 adapted transit users.

SOURCE: Société de transport de Montréal
mharrold@ montrealgazette.com
MAX HARROLD

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Comments

Omar's situation is quite unfortunate, and unusual ! As a user of the adapted transport, for just about over nine-years I have come across many rude telephone agents and drivers. However it has been my experience that when one makes a complaint, the complaint is often not solved. A customer service Rep takes the complaint, and one receives a call-back regarding the complaint but nothing concrete is ever offered in the way of customer satisfaction. Several weeks ago, after a return trip back to my house, I was rudely handled by a driver, whom sterotyped, and discrimimated me. I made the complaint and received a call the next day stating that the driver would be spoken to. I in-turn requested not to have the driver transport me again, and it was agreed by a supervisor. However a month later I received the same driver, which I detected by his bad body-odor. I also detected him by the size of his arm and jacket texture. Prior to getting in his car, since I was going to be late for my appointment had I asked for another driver, are you the same driver who brought me to this location? He answered why, I said I just like to know whom I'm driving with. He replied and said yes. We know that this is a public service but it is suppose to be specialized and professional. It would seem that most of the employees are not particularily trained on how to handle customers and more training is required in this area.