Universal Accessibility in Montreal

Imagine beinI Smith photo newg discriminated not because of the colour of your skin, but because of the mobility aid that you utilize.
Imagine, if you will, a feeling of uncertainty at your nearby bus stop knowing that you may not be able to embark the bus, not because it is packed to capacity, or that you do not have exact change for the fare, but because you use a mobility aid to go about your daily business.
You would think that Montreal, a major metropolis with a diverse cultural makeup, would not have a problem accommodating its citizens who use walkers or wheelchairs on the city’s public transit system. The reality is that the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), the transit department, has an ongoing problem with its current universal accessibility strategy, glaring flaws that are a source of frustration for many clientele with mobility issues.
Using a motorized wheelchair, which affords me a semblance of independence, I have experienced many situations where the STM has failed to provide an acceptable level of service due to defective ramps on some city buses.
I used to believe that the problems with the ramps were strictly mechanical; however, the difficulties lie with the attitude of management at the transit agency. Here is what I know:
•    The agency has invested millions of dollars on a new fleet of buses. On several occasions, STM executives have stated that these buses are equipped with reliable ramps, but in the past year I have noticed that this certainty is not the case; the transit agency does not want to acknowledge that there are defective ramps on the new buses.
•    The agency chooses not to perform pre-trip inspection of bus ramps, a common practice in cities across North America; without them individuals with physical impairments can be waiting for several minutes, in some cases up to an hour for a bus equipped with a ramp that actually functions.
•    On many occasions, I have impressed on  public transit officials the need to take immediate action to remedy the situation, but whose responses have left me with the impression that no concrete solutions will be forthcoming in the foreseeable future.
Individuals with reduced mobility cannot rely solely on adapted taxis and mini-buses because there are various obstacles as well as costs connected to these alternatives. Using the adapted transit system means surrendering a degree of flexibility and independence in terms of planning an outing, or when one wishes to depart somewhere or arrive at a destination. Furthermore, the specific service is heavily subsidized by taxpayers. As a result, a person who is forced to use the service because the STM uses buses with defective ramps costs taxpayers a lot of money.
You may be asking yourself, “I am an able-bodied person? Why should Montreal’s universal “accessible problems be an issue for me?”
Consider the following:
•    What if you are late for work or an appointment and there’s an individual in a wheelchair who wants to get on the bus, but there’s a problem with the ramp? After several minutes trying to deploy it, it is noticed that the ramp does not work, resulting in delays. Blame should not be placed on the individual in the wheelchair, but on the STM for not knowing about the defect.
•    It is a fact of life that we’re all going to get old and probably need to use a mobility aid to get around.  Imagine being discriminated against, not because of the colour of your skin but because you use a walker?
Recently, a bus driver refused to deploy a ramp for a disabled woman because she was not in a wheelchair, but was using a walker. Only after a good Samaritan helped her onto the bus it was discovered that the ramp was inoperative.
It is shocking to know that in a socially-progressive province such as Quebec there’re no policies to ensure that there are no policies in place which private enterprises and public service providers must respect in relation to the disabled. A provincial act such as Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), while not perfect, would be a start to keep all entities in check by ensuring that inspections are done and access is made possible after exhausting all options.
Not only is universal accessibility a pressing social issue, it is also an economic issue. Can a city looking for an economic boost afford to leave barriers in place which hinder individuals with financial means from being able to spend their money?
Retired individuals and those approaching retirement will have some sort of mobility challenge that will certainly impact the way in which goods are consumed. This group of individuals will be dependent on other able-bodied individuals to do their shopping, or they and their money will remain at home knowing that the transit system is unreliable.
Recent history suggests that the city and STM do not see this as an urgent problem that requires immediate attention and action.
All future transportation-related plans and apologizes by both entities do nothing to alleviate my feelings of uncertainty whenever I am at my nearby bus stop.
Ian Smith has cerebral palsy and works in the fields of online marketing and strategic intelligence.