Decision No. 544-AT-R-1998

November 10, 1998

Follow-up Decision No. 145-AT-R-2000

November 10, 1998

APPLICATIONS by Elliott Richman pursuant to subsection 172(1) of the Canada Transportation Act, S.C., 1996, c. 10., regarding the difficulties he experienced with VIA Rail Canada Inc.'s toll free TTY reservation number and the absence of TTY pay phones (telephone-teletype devices used by persons with hearing impairments) at the Halifax, Nova Scotia train station.

File Nos. U 3570/98-12
U 3570/98-13


APPLICATIONS

Elliott Richman filed two applications with the Canadian Transportation Agency (hereinafter the Agency) with respect to the matter set out in the title. The applications were received on July 13, 1998.

ISSUES

The issues to be addressed are whether the operation of VIA Rail Canada Inc.'s (hereinafter VIA) toll free TTY reservation line and the absence of TTY pay phones at the Halifax train station constituted undue obstacles to the mobility of Mr. Richman and, if so, what corrective measures should be taken.

FACTS

Mr. Richman is deaf and requires the use of a TTY to communicate by telephone.

Mr. Richman tried to reach VIA's toll free TTY number on July 13, 1998. After ten rings, his call remained unanswered. At that time, a call was placed to VIA's regular toll free number to report the problem. Subsequently, an official of the Deafness Advocacy Association Nova Scotia called VIA's regular 1-800 reservation line on Mr. Richman's behalf to enquire if VIA did have a toll free TTY reservation line. This call was answered by VIA's call centre in Moncton, New Brunswick. Both the sales agent and her supervisor were unaware of VIA's toll free TTY number.

VIA tested its TTY reservation line and found that the ring setting was not functioning and that it was impossible to leave a message on the line due to a separate computer problem. VIA has since implemented a solution to the computer system malfunction and has issued a system bulletin for its sales agents reminding them of the TTY reservation line and its hours of operation.

Furthermore, the VIA train station in Halifax has six public pay phones in two groupings of three, none of which were equipped with TTYs on July 13, 1998.

On August 7, 1998, VIA authorized MaritimeTel & Tel (hereinafter MTT) to install a TTY telephone in the Halifax train station. The installation was completed on August 27, 1998.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

Mr. Richman is of the opinion that the inability to contact VIA directly through its toll free TTY reservation line was a serious impediment to his travel but advises that he is pleased with the corrective measures taken by VIA to correct the problems with its TTY toll free reservation number and with the bulletin issued to its sales agents. However, he remains concerned as to whether VIA's internal training for new agents will include familiarization with this TTY reservation number.

VIA advises that its "regular hearing" lines are channelled by computer based on the geographic location to one of the three telephones sales offices in Toronto, Montréal or Moncton. Its toll free TTY reservation line, on the other hand, is automatically channelled to its Toronto sales office regardless of the geographic point of origin. VIA recognizes that, at the time of the incident, some telephone sales agents responsible for the Atlantic region were not fully aware of the TTY line and the way it operates. As a result of this incident, VIA has issued a bulletin reminding all telephone sales agents of VIA's toll free TTY number and the procedures for its operation. It also advises that the bulletin will remain in the computer system for future reference and that a reminder bulletin will be issued every six months. VIA submits that its learning package for new telephone agents will include training material on the TTY service to address Mr. Richman's concern regarding ongoing familiarization of this TTY service.

On the issue of the TTY phones in the Halifax station, Mr. Richman is pleased that VIA has authorized the installation of a TTY; however, Mr. Richman questions what contingency plan will be implemented in the case of a malfunction of this one TTY equipped phone. VIA submits that although it is not responsible for telephone installation or maintenance, it is confident that the normal telephone maintenance by MTT should ensure that the telephone will be operational at all times.

Mr. Richman considers the efforts made by VIA to improve its services and physical facilities as well as and to increase its accessibility for those who are deaf or hard of hearing commendable and is looking forward to further collaboration with VIA.

ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS

In making its findings, the Agency has considered all of the evidence submitted by the parties during the pleadings.

With respect to the difficulties experienced by Mr. Richman with VIA's toll free TTY reservation line, the Agency notes that the inability to reach VIA was caused by a technical problem with the computer system. This malfunctioning equipment resulted in an obstacle to Mr. Richman as he could not contact VIA independently and had to seek the assistance of a hearing person to make the call for him. The obstacle is found to be undue because it could have been easily prevented had VIA had procedures in place to regularly check and maintain the operation of its TTY reservation line. While VIA has corrected the technical problem, the Agency finds that this is not sufficient. As persons who are deaf or hard of hearing have access to only one TTY reservation line as compared to multiple hearing lines, it is even more important to ensure that the TTY line is functional as there are no other alternatives. The Agency finds that VIA should implement procedures whereby the TTY line would be periodically tested to ensure that it is functioning properly.

The undue obstacle experienced by Mr. Richman was further compounded by the fact that the telephones sales agents contacted at the Moncton office were not aware of VIA's toll free TTY number and how it operates. While the Moncton office is not assigned TTY calls, and its employees do not receive the training on how to use a TTY, the Agency is concerned that three years after the Agency's Personnel Training for the Assistance of Persons with Disabilities Regulations came into force, there are still some front line employees at VIA who are unaware of all services and facilities put in place by VIA for persons with disabilities. The Agency notes that as a result of this complaint, and in addition to the bulletin issued by VIA reminding all telephone sales agents of its toll free TTY number, VIA will include training material on the TTY service in its learning package for new telephone sales agents. The Agency therefore contemplates no action on this issue.

As for the lack of a TTY pay phone at the Halifax train station, the Agency finds that the absence of this service constitutes an undue obstacle to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. The Agency is of the opinion that the ability to communicate by phone while in a transportation terminal is essential for all travellers including persons who are deaf or hard of hearing. As such, access to TTY's and volume controlled phones is required. Moreover, TTY phones are now commonly available and easily installed, and the Agency is of the view that they should be provided in transportation terminals. The Agency notes that as a result of Mr. Richman's complaint, VIA took appropriate measures and a TTY telephone was installed on August 27, 1998. Therefore, the Agency finds that no action is necessary with respect to this matter.

This finding is consistent with the Agency's position as expressed in its report entitled Communications Barrier: A look at Barriers to Communication Facing Persons with Disabilities who Travel by Air, released on November 20, 1997 wherein the Agency established that, as a minimum, airport operators should ensure that an adequate number of public TTYs and volume-controlled phones are available 24 hours a day.

CONCLUSION

Based on the above findings, the Agency requires VIA to provide, within thirty (30) days from the date of this Decision, a report on the specific corrective measures taken by VIA to ensure regular verification of its TTY reservation line.

Following its review of the requested information, the Agency will determine whether further action is required.

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