Speaking Notes for Geoffrey C. Hare, Chair and CEO, Canadian Transportation Agency to the Accessibility Advisory Committee
MONDAY, MARCH 30, 2009
Welcome to the thirteenth meeting of the Canadian Transportation Agency's Accessibility Advisory Committee.
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to meet you today, and I look forward to learning from your experiences.
Your opinions and direction on these important transportation issues are an invaluable resource for us.
More specifically, this committee plays a key role in making concrete gains in the accessibility of the federal transportation network. It provides the Agency with guidance and a forum for consultation as it develops new standards.
For example, consultations are currently underway on the topics of tactile row markers and floor space requirements in aircraft for guide dogs.
Evolving demographics mean that more and more Canadians require some form of accommodation when they travel.
The knowledge and expertise found in this room are vital to making transportation without undue obstacles a reality for them.
It is my hope that many more transportation service providers, including airlines, will follow our example.
Establishing their own advisory committees involving various users can put them on the path towards a service environment that is usable by all.
Since this group last physically met in 2005, the Agency has been busy with many activities, as I am sure all you have been as well.
In quite a few instances, the Agency has actually been working hand-in-hand with many of the organizations represented here today.
A good example of this cooperation is the continuing consultation during 2006 on the Terminal Code and Guide, which were released in 2007.
Since this is my first official meeting with you, I would like to tell you a little bit about myself.
I joined the organization as Chair and CEO just a little over two years ago in early 2007.
I came to the Agency from the Ontario public service, where I spent over 25 years working in the fields of transportation economics, policy, and planning and development.
I now think it would be timely to summarize some of the major initiatives that have taken place since the last consultations with the Advisory Committee in 2006 on the Terminal Accessibility Code.
As some of you may be aware, last year the Agency undertook an extensive internal review process.
Numerous workload, resource, retirement and legislative challenges are facing the organization.
So it is critical for us to have the right people in the right place doing the right work at the right time.
The most visible outcome of this review process was the reorganization of the Agency's structure to reflect the two main business lines, which are:
- Dispute Resolution; and
- Industry Regulation and Determinations.
The new structure, which was fully operational on April 1, 2008, represents the first major change to the overall organization in more than a decade.
The feedback that we received from our stakeholders has been that this significant change has been accomplished seamlessly.
This is particularly true for the unit that houses the Agency's accessible transportation expertise across all modes, which has remained intact and is now part of the Dispute Resolution Branch.
The new structure adds more flexibility, and allows us to allocate resources where they are most needed as our workload changes.
The Agency also launched its first-ever three-year strategic plan.
A distinct part of the plan, and one of our priorities, is "a more accessible transportation network without undue obstacles to the mobility of persons with disabilities."
Within this strategic priority, our objectives are to:
- Improve the effectiveness of dispute resolution processes involving persons with disabilities and transportation service providers;
- Monitor compliance with codes of practice and regulations concerning accessibility; and
- Enhance communications with stakeholders.
The Agency will continue to anticipate accessibility-related issues and identify ways transportation service providers can eliminate them, ideally, before travellers encounter obstacles.
We will also continue to foster productive dialogue with representatives of the community and industry such as yourselves, and also with other interested parties who have a stake in accessibility issues.
For example, at the moment we are updating our memoranda of understanding and agreements with other government departments to coordinate our activities towards the achievement of barrier-free mobility for everyone.
On the dispute resolution front, the Agency is particularly proud of the success of its informal processes such as mediation and facilitation.
Recent legislative amendments entrenched our mediation services in the Canada Transportation Act.
As well, facilitation by Agency staff has proven to be a successful option for many accessibility-related disputes, with some 30 resolved this way in 2008.
Experience has shown that informal dispute resolution is faster and allows parties to arrive at mutually beneficial solutions.
Later today, the Agency's Director of Alternative Dispute Resolution Services, Mariko Nagata, will be providing you with more detailed information on our mediation services.
The last 24 months has been a period of significant accomplishments in addressing accessibility issues.
At the outset, I must say how pleased I am to be able to report the Agency has eliminated its backlog of formal accessibility-related dispute cases.
These cases covered a number of issues, including some systemic ones which I will speak to momentarily, but also issues which ranged from timely wheelchair assistance to accessible seating.
Much of this backlog was related to having the country's largest airline, Air Canada, under creditor protection status in 2003-2004.
The backlog was particularly challenging due to several complex files that required public hearings.
I would be remiss if I didn't express my sincere gratitude to our staff and to the Agency's Members for their dedication and hard work in resolving this issue.
Now, if one looks more closely at the decisions issued by the Agency, one of the more significant ones was our January 2008 order to Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz and WestJet.
Most of you will recall that the airlines were directed to adopt a one-person-one-fare policy for persons with disabilities on flights within Canada.
The carriers had one year to implement the policy, and on January 10th of this year the Agency reported on its Web site that they had done so.
This landmark decision came after extensive written pleadings and evidence and two oral hearings.
It is expected to impact tens of thousands of persons with disabilities.
What this decision means is that these carriers may no longer charge more than one fare on domestic flights for persons with disabilities who:
- are accompanied by an attendant for their personal care or safety in flight, as required by the carriers' domestic tariffs; or
- require additional seating for themselves, including those determined to be functionally disabled by obesity.
After a highly successful consultation process, proposed accessibility-related modifications to VIA Rail's Renaissance cars have now been approved by the Agency on a preliminary basis.
Final engineering details will be submitted late this summer by VIA for Agency approval, after which work can begin on modifying the first cars.
You will recall that in March of 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld an Agency decision concerning the accessibility of VIA Rail's Renaissance cars.
In its ruling, the country's highest court provided important insight into the Agency's mandate by establishing a parallel with the Canadian Human Rights Act.
It confirmed that Part V of the Canada Transportation Act is human rights legislation, and that the Agency is to apply the same principles and undue hardship test as contained in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
This case marked the first time the Supreme Court had considered the part of the Act that mandates the Agency to remove undue obstacles to the mobility of persons with disabilities from the federal transportation network.
In June 2008, the Agency issued a final ruling affecting persons who need medical oxygen in order to travel by air.
The Agency found that passenger-supplied oxygen, in whatever form is permitted by safety and security regulations, is the most appropriate accommodation for persons with disabilities who require oxygen on board Air Canada and WestJet flights.
As part of this case, the Agency considered 25 complaints against Air Canada and one against WestJet. This followed a 2005 ruling that found that carriers' oxygen policies were obstacles.
Hearings were held in the fall of 2007 as part of our determination as to whether these obstacles were undue.
The Agency found that passenger-supplied oxygen, in whatever form is permitted by safety and security regulations, is the most appropriate accommodation.
In the case of WestJet, the required accommodation is provided domestically by allowing passengers to use their own gaseous oxygen supply and portable oxygen systems.
WestJet changed its policy to also permit portable oxygen systems on its international flights.
As such, no further action was required by WestJet.
The Agency also accepted Air Canada's own gaseous oxygen service as a reasonable alternative to passenger-supplied gaseous oxygen on domestic flights, subject to certain corrective measures set out in the decision, including that it be free of charge.
Air Canada also now permits portable oxygen systems on both its domestic and international flights.
Air Canada has until this June to implement all of the corrective measures in the Agency's decision.
In 2007, the Agency launched its fifth Code of Practice – this time on Passenger Terminal Accessibility.
You might remember that the code was the focus of the last advisory committee meeting and further consultations in 2006.
It will come into effect officially in June of this year.
In addition to providing the technical specifications for the physical aspects of terminals, the Code covers other issues such as ground transportation, boarding devices, escort passes, passenger assistance and facility and service awareness programs.
The standards are meant to ensure that persons with disabilities can expect a consistent level of accessibility at transportation terminals across Canada when they travel.
The accompanying Terminal Guide provides operators with resources and tips for implementing the accessibility criteria in the Code, as well as contacts with organizations of and for persons with disabilities, manufacturers, and government departments that can provide expertise on accessibility.
The Terminal Code is but one of a number of Agency Codes, guidelines and regulations that contribute to making this country's transportation network accessible to all.
With this newest code of practice, the Agency has now covered the full breadth of federally-regulated transportation with standards covering: equipment, facilities, services, training and communications in respect of air, rail and extra-provincial ferry travel.
A major goal of the Agency is to improve our monitoring activities and strengthen compliance by transportation service operators.
With this in mind, the Agency is developing and implementing a comprehensive monitoring and compliance publication/methodology to build on its existing activities in this area.
The new approach will provide direction and consistency in monitoring, compliance and reporting activities and help identify gaps to further assist in achieving the Agency's strategic outcome of a more accessible federal transportation network.
It will also make better use of our resources and focus our efforts where they are needed most.
The new publication/methodology is supported by an extensive outreach program, which is consistent with the emphasis on ongoing dialogue I alluded to earlier.
This proactive program is designed to focus on code requirements where service providers will need to comply with standards set out in the codes of practice.
The Agency will take action through advisories, other types of communications, outreach and educational initiatives designed to help parties know their rights and responsibilities regarding accessibility.
Among the subjects that will be the focus of soon-to-be released monitoring reports are airport car rentals, and the availability of multiple formats in communications.
In the case of multiple formats, the aim was to increase the number of transportation service providers that had policies in this area.
None of the providers had such a policy when the Communication Code was released.
You'll be hearing more about this tomorrow.
Our new approach builds on ongoing monitoring activities such as the work of enforcement officers regarding the Personnel Training Regulations.
As we become more proactive, and target specific compliance gaps and provide assistance, compliance with the various accessibility standards is expected to increase.
Results to date confirm that this approach is working.
While there will still be some self-reporting on the part of industry for certain monitoring activities, overall requirements for reporting by industry will be lessened since reporting will focus on targeted areas.
You will hear more about the new monitoring and compliance publication/methodology tomorrow when Agency staff update you on the work they've done since we last met.
Understanding one's rights and obligations as a traveller are critical to having the best possible travel experience.
"Take Charge of Your Travel", which the Agency is launching today, is a free guide to help travellers with disabilities anticipate and address the challenges that travel can present.
It provides travel planning information and a handy pull-out checklist that will make it easier to get from point A to point B.
The new guide describes accessible services and features for travellers with disabilities who use airplanes and trains, as well as passenger ferries that cross a Canadian or provincial border.
Take Charge replaces the Agency's guide to accessible air travel, and now addresses the needs of all travellers for all modes.
The content of the guide was developed in consultation with representatives from associations of persons with disabilities and the transportation industry.
I would like to thank you for your invaluable input to its development, as I know several people here today were involved.
The Agency will actively distribute Take Charge to individuals through the transportation industry, travel agencies, and associations of persons with disabilities.
Copies of Take Charge are of course available in both official languages, online through the Agency's Web site, in hard copy and in multiple formats upon request.
Therefore, it is now my pleasure, as part of the Agency's outreach efforts to persons with disabilities, to officially launch "Take Charge of Your Travel".
The PowerPoint slide features the cover of the hard copy version of the Agency's new Take Charge guide.
The main images include a person in a wheelchair, a person with a cane, and a hearing-impaired sign.
At the top of the cover is the coat of arms with the Agency's name, while at the bottom is the federal government's Canada "word mark" symbol.
The cover also has the Agency's tagline "Making transportation accessible and efficient for all".
Issues raised by this advisory committee represent for the Agency valuable insight on barriers to accessing transportation services and first-hand, knowledgeable advice on standards to address them.
Your input, coupled with the various inquiries we receive and the disputes handled via our formal and informal complaint processes, informs the Agency's priorities as we follow through on our accessibility mandate.
As a transportation regulator, it is our role to balance the interests of the public and those of the transportation industry.
Tribunals such as ours are faced with the challenge of weighing those interests, but we are also guided by our commitment to make decisions and orders in a fair and transparent manner.
We at the Agency are privileged to have the benefit of your support and assistance, and we look forward to working with you to ensure inclusive transportation services for the benefit of all Canadians.