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Each Bus Stop Must Be Announced

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Winnipeg Free Press, August 6, 2007.

Toronto--A blind Toronto lawyer's successful battle to have the city's transit system announce each and every stop has set a precedent that will reverberate through public transportation systems across the country, legal experts say.

Two years after the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ordered the Toronto Transit Commission to announce every station along its subway lines, the tribunal ruled it must do the same on buses and streetcars by the end of this month.

The case was championed by blind lawyer David Lepofsky, who said the July 26 ruling applies, at least in principle, to every province across the country.

"Blind people have the same need to know where they're getting off, whether it's a bus in Toronto, or Montreal, or Calgary, or Regina," he said.

"Tell me there's a city in Canada that has more traffic, or bus routes, or diversity than Toronto. If you can do it here, then you can do it in London, or wherever."

In April, the Canadian Transportation Agency ruled in favour of Terrance Green, a blind lawyer from Ottawa, who said a bus driver forgot to call out his requested stop not just once, but twice.

"We've been caught out. Not just us, but Toronto and every other place," said Alex Cullen, an Ottawa city councillor and chair of the transportation council.

In Ottawa's case, he said they are only obligated to announce major intersections and requested stops, but that the tribunal's decision underlines the urgency of the issue.

"It's forcing us to move and I don't think that's a bad thing at all, but now it's about how we get there."

Last month, Ottawa city council rejected an $8-million proposal to install an automated announcement system. It's planning on announcing every major and requested stop, starting in September.

However, it's only a matter of time and money before the city buys an automated announcement system, said Cullen, particularly in the light of the recent ruling.

"It'll spread like wildfire, because if they can do it in Toronto, then they should be doing it everywhere."

The Toronto Transit Commission would have been compliant with the order by the end of 2007 in any event, said chair Adam Giambrone. They are currently implementing a $6.6-million project on all Toronto surface routes, he said.

If the Ontario ruling is applied properly across the country, just announcing major intersections and requested stops won't be acceptable, said human rights lawyer David Baker.

Baker, who has worked on some of Canada's most high-profile disability rights cases, said that although individuals could sue their own cities to get equivalent rulings, he would be surprised and disappointed if it were necessary.

"I would think it would be as simple as people raising the issue with their transportation providers," he said. "They would very likely comply quite quickly in light of this decision, because it's hard to see how there could be a defence in their case if there wasn't one in this case."

Vancouver's Coast Mountain Bus Company recently upgraded their vehicles and they lobbied hard to have an automatic announcement system, said communications director Doug MacDonald.

"There are a lot of distractions for operators and they can forget. It's something we've always been trying to come to grips with," he said. "We pushed pretty hard to have that feature simply because its difficult to ensure that all stops are being called. Clearly it's worthwhile."

Working with people like Rob Sleath, founder of Vancouver's Advocates For Sight Impaired Consumers, the city was able to institute driver sensitivity training and equipment designed to facilitate public transit for everyone.

Lepofsky said what disturbs him the most is that instead of doing the same and replacing an outdated system, Toronto spent taxpayer dollars fighting his case. He said he's worried other cities may do the same.

"If they force blind people to go and sue them, then that's not a good sign," he said, adding that an archaic policy on disability rights hurts Canada's image abroad.

"The United States is significantly ahead of us in making public transit accessible to people with disabilities," he said. "It's hurting our public and it's hurting our tourism."

C 2007 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

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