Canada’s Auditor General Issues Accessible Transportation Report

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
(Photograph Courtesy of VIA Rail Canada)

(Photograph Courtesy of VIA Rail Canada)

While VIA Rail Canada, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority and the Canadian Transportation Agency have “taken steps to identify and remove some of the barriers faced by travelers with disabilities, many remain,” concludes a report released March 27 by Canada’s Office of the Auditor General. Transport Canada responds.

In 2019 and 2020, nearly two-thirds of the 2.2 million persons with disabilities who traveled on trains, planes and other federally regulated modes of transportation in Canada faced a barrier, the Office reported.

According to its Accessible Transportation for Persons With Disabilities report, VIA Rail, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority and the Canadian Transportation Agency have made progress “in engaging with persons with disabilities.” For example, VIA Rail consulted with persons with disabilities to gather feedback on projects such as accessibility plans and the design of VIA Rail’s new fleet. (In September 2021, VIA Rail took delivery of the first of 32 new Siemens trainsets; and in third-quarter 2022, received the second.)

However, the Office said, some ongoing issues that persons with disabilities regularly face remain. Websites for planning and booking trips were not fully accessible “despite this being one of the most frequently experienced barriers in transportation for persons with disabilities,” it reported. “We also found that staff and management did not always complete their accessibility training on time, which can affect the service persons with disabilities receive.”

The Office concluded that VIA Rail’s, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority’s, and the Canadian Transportation Agency’s “efforts to improve accessibility would be enhanced if the organizations went beyond resolving individual complaints and more deeply analyzed complaint data to better understand the day-to-day experiences of travelers with disabilities.”

Transport Canada Speaks Out

Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra

Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra on March 27 issued the following statement about the report:

“Transportation is essential to everyone’s daily lives, including for persons with disabilities. They must be able to get to their destination without barriers and obstacles. As the Minister responsible for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, VIA Rail Canada, and the Canadian Transportation Agency, I agree that even more work must be done to make sure that persons with disabilities do not face barriers in Canada’s transportation system.

“In particular, I acknowledge recommendations to increase consultation with persons with disabilities on how to best improve their travel experience. The lived experience of persons with disabilities needs to be considered more, for example, when designing websites for planning and booking trips, selling tickets, and building new infrastructure.

“The Report found that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, VIA Rail Canada, and the Canadian Transportation Agency took action to improve the accessibility of the transportation sector. In some cases, organizations already identified, removed, and prevented some barriers and offer:

  • “Web-alternate formats,
  • “Assistance with luggage, and
  • “Training for providing physical assistance.

“All three organizations agree that some barriers remain and that more can be done to address them.

“This acknowledgement and the plans established to address the audit findings demonstrate our government’s commitment to achieving a barrier-free transportation system. I will continue to support these organizations as they implement the recommendations in the report.

“While these are independent, arm’s-length organizations, Transport Canada helps each organization acquire the resources and authorities necessary to deliver on its mandate. Transport Canada will continue to work with the various organizations to support an accessible and barrier-free Canada by 2040.

“I will also bring the Auditor General’s recommendations to the attention of the other Crown corporations in the Transport Portfolio and encourage them to review their compliance with the Accessible Canada Act and implement the relevant recommendations.”

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