Citizens With Disabilities - Ontario


Bus Stop Decision Defended; Drivers Calling Bus Stops 'A Simple Thing To Do,' Said Champion Of The Issue


Sarnia city council is not above the law and must tell its bus drivers to call out each stop, said the Toronto man who successfully fought to have the ruling incorporated into the Ontario Human Rights Code.

"I'm not asking any transit system to buy a single piece of hardware," David Lepofsky told The Observer. "It's a simple thing to do. Call out the stops. It costs nothing."

Lepofsky, a 50-year-old criminal lawyer, is blind. He spent 13 years fighting to have subway and bus stops consistently announced.

When a tribunal with the Ontario Human Rights Commission agreed with him last year, transit systems across the province were told that all stops must be announced by June 30, 2008.

City staff are recommending an automated system that could cost as much as $200,000. They say it's not reasonable to expect bus drivers to call out every stop, that their voices won't carry to the back of the bus, and that it would distract drivers from the road. Staff also said some operators would need to call out bus stops 600 times in an eight-hour shift.

"If they can do it in Toronto, why not everywhere?" Lepofsky asked. "If it's not a safety risk on busy Toronto streets, why would it be in Sarnia?"

At Monday's city council meeting, several councillors were frustrated by the the Human Rights Commission ruling.

Coun. Dave Boushy suggested council "defy" the ruling. "Refuse and see what happens," he said.

After the meeting, Coun. Jon McEachran said the commission "acts like Nazis, which is complete hypocrisy to me. They're supposed to be looking out for human rights, but they rule with an iron fist. There's no due process. It's their way or you get screwed," McEachran said.

Lepofsky called McEachran's comments appalling and offensive.

"Enforcing the law (in Ontario) cannot be compared with a regime whose record is one of vicious war crimes and grotesque atrocities." Lepofsky said the Sarnia's current "ask-the-driver" policy for disabled people needing to get out at a specific stop is not good enough.

"Drivers can forget to call your stop, but they'll remember if they routinely call all the stops. In Toronto, we blind people know drivers can forget. If you miss your stop and you're blind, you're in a mess."

Lepofsky argued at the six-day tribunal hearing that some Toronto bus drivers voluntarily called all stops.

"They were commended for it. It wasn't a burden. I have to assume in Sarnia you have fewer stops to learn."

Since the Toronto Transit Commission began announcing all stops last August, many people, including the sighted, have said it's a benefit, Lepofsky said

The president of Sarnia's White Cane Club has told The Observer that blind members of the community have no complaint with the status quo on local buses. And city councillors said there have been no complaints.

McEachran said he stands by his position and made no apologies for his comments.

"Calling all stops may make sense for Toronto but not for Sarnia or other small municipalities," he said. "It's too much of a burden for our drivers to call all stops because they stop every couple of blocks.

"Mr. Lepofsky asks some good questions and I want our staff to look at it again, but this isn't the first time people have had problems with Human Rights Commission rulings. They are not always fair or equal," McEachran said.

Mayor Mike Bradley did not attend Monday's meeting but said Thursday that he respects the commission decision. An automated system can be purchased using gas tax monies from the province, Bradley said.

"In the long term, we need an automated system."

A delegation has requested time to speak at council's April 7 meeting about language used at city hall on Monday, the mayor added. Article ID# 954084

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