Via Said Their Train Would be Accessible. It Wasn’t. So Ontario Woman, Grandparents Cancelled the Trip

Hazel and Ken Luce had hoped to take the train from Ingersoll, Ont., to Miramichi, N.B., this week Rebecca Zandbergen, CBC News
Posted: Jul 08, 2022

For a year, Brittany Prudhomme had been planning to travel this summer by train with her grandparents, Hazel and Ken Luce, from Ingersoll, Ont., to Miramichi, N.B., to visit family.

The couple use walkers, so Prudhomme had called Via in advance to ensure the train was accessible. Despite assurances from the railway, it wasn’t.

“I had called and made sure everything was accessible, talked about accessible bathrooms, made sure we had wheelchairs when we got to some of the bigger locations,” said Prudhomme, 27, of Thamesford, Ont.

“We got there, we were waiting and the train arrived and there were about five steep steps.”

Hazel, 85, and Ken, 88, of Hanover, Ont., can’t climb any number of steps.

“I asked, ‘How do we get on?'” said Prudhomme. “They said, ‘We don’t have anything for you guys to get on the train.'”

The Via Rail website page for Ingersoll is also somewhat unclear, especially for people who don’t regularly take the train. It says the platform is accessible by wheelchair, but goes on to say there isn’t a wheelchair lift.

When Prudhomme realized her grandparents wouldn’t be boarding the train, Via Rail agreed to call the trio a taxi in hopes of getting them to Union Station in Toronto in time for the next leg of their trip.

They said the cab would be accessible.

“The taxi that arrived was a little Toyota car and there was no way they could get into it.”

That’s when Prudhomme said they decided to pull the plug on a trip they’d been planning for more than a year.

“They were extremely upset,” said Prudhomme of her grandparents.

“To know that we still aren’t an accessible country is extremely disturbing to me. And to basically just say that they can’t travel places because it’s not accessible. It’s super disappointing and upsetting.”

VIA Rail response

Via Rail fully reimbursed the family and, in an emailed statement to CBC News, the corporation said it regretted hearing about the situation.

“Via Rail Canada (Via Rail) is proud to be the first Crown corporation to table its 2022-2025 accessibility plan with the government of Canada,” reads the statement. “The corporation is determined to be Canada’s most accessible national and intercity mode of transportation and driven by the mindset that it’s time to create a barrier-free travel experience from reservation to destination.”

Via said it has also assembled a universal accessibility advisory committee, made up of “various groups who defend the rights of people with disabilities and it will be instrumental to planning Via Rail’s future accessibility projects.”

That should be encouraging news to Jeff Preston, a disability advocate in London, Ont., who also teaches disabilities studies at Western University.

“In my experience, the train is most accessible when travelling between major cities.”

“However, there are quite a few stops along the path from Windsor to Montreal that are inaccessible, either because the platform itself is not wheelchair accessible or because the station does not have the platform lift needed to go from train car to platform,” he said.

“Like many services, it feels at times that Via approaches disabled passengers reactively, as though it is a service for non-disabled people that has been retrofitted rather than seeing accessibility as being an intrinsic or core part of their service model.”

As for the family trip to Miramichi, Prudhomme isn’t sure they’ll rebook.

“It really depends on how my grandparents’ health is,” she said.

“They were at a point that this might have been their last trip to New Brunswick, and that got taken away from them.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Zandbergen
Host, London Morning

Rebecca Zandbergen is from Ottawa and has worked for CBC Radio across the country for more than 20 years, including stops in Iqaluit, Halifax, Windsor and Kelowna. Contact Rebecca at rebecca.zandbergen@cbc.ca

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/via-said-their-train-would-be-accessible-it-wasn-t-so-ont-woman-grandparents-cancelled-the-trip-1.6513214?cmp=rss