The Federal Court has dismissed an appeal by VIA Rail of a decision that would make it possible for a Toronto couple who rely on wheelchairs and scooters to travel together on a single train.
In March, CBC Toronto reported that VIA Rail was appealing a decision by the Canadian Transport Agency calling on it to revise its policies to either allow for the storage of two mobility devices in a single tie-down area or provide two tie-down areas on each train by May 15, 2017. The alternative involves providing evidence that neither option would be possible without "undue hardship."
The decision wasn't expected in July, but as a result of the April 25th order, the transport agency's decision will stand.
"We acknowledge the court's decision and we are working on the next steps," VIA Rail spokesperson Mariam Diaby said Sunday.
That comes as good news to Toronto couple Martin Anderson and Marie Murphy, who both rely on scooters to get around.
"This was much earlier than we expected," the couple wrote in an email to CBC Toronto. "This means that the CTA's order stands. VIA either has to allow Martin and I to travel together with both our scooters more easily or satisfy the CTA that having to do so causes VIA undue hardship."
'This is 2017,' frustrated mobility user said
At the moment, all VIA Rail trains are equipped to tie down just one scooter. The railway previously told CBC Toronto that in cases where a person can transfer to a car seat, there is no limit to the number of passengers travelling with a mobility device. In both cases, it said it provides free passage for a travel companion.
Anderson and Murphy argued the railway lacked accommodation for scooters and put a strain on riders like themselves. They say they have been fighting for more accessibility spaces on VIA Rail since 2005.
The couple approached VIA Rail last July with the idea of tying down two scooters in one space and said they were given the chance to test it out in the presence of a consultant.
They thought it went well. But despite repeated requests for copies of the consultant's report, they say they heard virtually nothing back.
"This is 2017," Anderson said in March. "We should expect more than just one seat per train."
New fleet to feature multiple accessibility spots, railway argued
In March, Diaby said the company was phasing out older trains and replacing them with newer ones with more accessibility spaces.
"The current QC-Windsor fleet is coming to the end of its useful life. Accordingly, VIA Rail was provided funding in budget 2016 to conduct pre-procurement analysis for a new fleet," the statement from Diaby said.
"Accessibility to each train for multiple travellers with wheelchairs is one of the key requirements of the new fleet. It reflects VIA Rail's commitment to remain the most accessible national and inter-city mode of transportation in Canada."
This week's dismissal is also welcome news to disability advocate David Lepofsky, a visiting professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School who is also chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.
"The Federal Court of Appeal's decision ruling against VIA Rail is a much-needed step forward for Canadians with disabilities," Lepofsky wrote in an email Sunday.
"ViaRail needs to stop spending money on lawyers to fight against accessibility, and instead get on with providing true accessibility to passengers with disability," he said adding that Murphy and Anderson's underscores why Canada needs to enact a strong Canadians with Disabilities Act.
"That law should ensure that these kinds of accessibility barriers are torn down, without passengers with disabilities having to fight them one at a time."