People with disabilities living in rural areas of Canada, such as Northern B.C., face much greater barriers to accessibility and accessible transportation, Taylor Bachrach, MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley and NDP Transportation Critic, said on March 29.
Hot off the heels of an Auditor General’s report, issued on March 27, about accessibility in transportation, Bachrach told The Northern View there are issues in the report that “really stand out” to him.
He said the beginning of the report indicates that nearly two-thirds of people with disabilities have faced challenges with train and airplane travel which is simply a huge number to start off with.
“When I look at reports like this, I always look at it through the lens of rural Canada and my belief is that people living with disabilities in the North face much greater barriers than those in larger urban areas.”
This stems from different avenues, he said, citing airplane sizes flying into Northern communities are much smaller, train stations are less modern and more inclement weather all make barriers more acute.
“As alarming as the findings in this report are, they’re likely even worse for people living in northern communities.”
“My expectations are that in federally regulated transportation sectors, the performance of operators should be consistent all across Canada, no matter whether it’s urban or rural, east or west. People using those services should be able to expect consistent standards. Obviously, the reality on the ground is often different. That’s what we should be holding the government accountable for.”
Bachrach couldn’t compare the legislation in B.C. to other provinces at the time of speaking with The Northern View. However, he said from his time as mayor of Smithers, he knows there is a lot of work to be done in northern communities to make them universally accessible.
“There’s a ton of work to be done, to be frank,” he said.
“Because the infrastructure budgets in smaller rural communities are very constrained, a lot of that work is not moving at the pace that it needs to move to ensure that people living with disabilities can benefit from universal accessibility.”
He said the focus of the Auditor General’s report was on accessibility in transportation.
“Ensuring that a passenger’s entire journey is accessible means addressing gaps in municipal infrastructure, addressing gaps in the equipment that operators use and ensuring that the people running the systems are fully aware of the needs of their passengers.”
Another area of concern in the report for Bachrach was training and who was actually completing it at Via Rail and the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CASTA).
“[The report indicated] while the frontline staff were completing the accessibility training at a fairly high completion rate … fewer of the managers were doing that training,” Bachrach said.
The transportation critic said this is extremely concerning because the managers are the ones charged with resolving issues when they arise and ensuring the frontline staff are fulfilling the requirements of the legislation.
“That stands out as one of the pieces that needs to be urgently addressed.”
The MP said the Auditor General’s report listed two recommendations, one being about website content and the other about increasing the capacity of the Canadian Transportation Industry to understand and identify accessibility barriers in transportation.
“This is challenging because agencies like Via Rail and CASTA hold a lot of their complaint data as proprietary information. CTA isn’t able to go in and really look at the trends in the complaint data.”
The recommendation was made so there will be additional oversight, including direct observations of services and inspections, Bachrach explained, so the CTA can understand traveller’s experiences firsthand. Often the inspections look at how services are designed but not at the “on the ground” experience of travellers.
“That’s what’s important because sometimes that gets lost in the current analysis.”
There is also insufficient staff to conduct enforcement activities, he said. As well, people in the North often face greater barriers using train and plane transportation because of rudimentary infrastructure but, also a contributing factor may be in locations with a lower number of passengers because staff exposure dealing with unique situations and their experience is less than in a large centre.
“It’s challenging to address the gaps and to ensure compliance with the regulations if you don’t have enough people and the agency’s approach is fundamentally flawed — and that’s really the finding of the Auditor General.”
K-J Millar | Editor and Multimedia Journalist
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