If transit agencies had followed the law, most métro and train stations would be accessible by now, say the lawyers representing people who rely on wheelchairs to get around.
“The Quebec charter (of Human Rights and Freedoms) went into effect in 1975, so all the stations built after that point should be accessible to everyone,” said Gilles Gareau, the lawyer representing the Regroupement des activistes pour l’inclusion au Québec (RAPLIQ). The group was in Quebec Superior Court Wednesday and Thursday requesting permission to launch a class-action suit against the Société de transport de Montréal, the Agence métropolitaine de transport and the city of Montreal.
The group claims the charter guarantees their right to equality, and to build a transit system without elevators excludes them and is discriminatory.
The first 26 stations of the métro were built in 1966 , and the first extension was built in 1976. That means the majority of the 68 stations should have been accessible from the get-go, Gareau said.
“They are a public agency; they can’t just ignore the charter,” he said. “If you offer a public service, it should be accessible to everyone.”
Gareau argued the transit network is inaccessible because of bus ramps that routinely break down, only 11 out of 68 métro stations have elevators, and only one of six commuter train lines in the region has stations that are accessible.
However, the transit agencies countered they can’t be held accountable for those problems, because they are not the ones deciding whether to make the network accessible — that is the role of the elected officials who oversee the agencies.
He added that the decisions of the STM’s board can’t be dictated by a court.
“You can’t sue the STM for decisions on how it allocates its budget, saying it should have dedicated more resources to public transit,” said Jean-Philippe Desmarais, the lawyer for the STM.
The STM already provides service for people with reduced mobility, he said. The adapted transit service — which uses minibuses and vans adapted to transport people in wheelchairs — may not be perfect, he said, but it does allow people in wheelchairs to get around the city.
“Yes there are inconveniences with the service, but there are also benefits — for example, a door-to-door service that people in the regular network don’t have access to,” Desmarais said.
RAPLIQ argued that adapted transport does not give people an efficient means of transportation because lifts must be arranged 24 hours in advance and can arrive within a half-hour window, which can make it difficult to be at appointments on time, or force passengers to leave appointments early.
Lawyers for the AMT argued the definition of the group of people seeking a class-action is too vague, and too large. The city argued it has limited funds, and has to make decisions about where to best allocate its financial resources.
“The city can’t add more money to the budget of the STM without dramatically increasing property tax rates,” said Chantal Bruyère, who is representing the city.
Judge Marie-Anne Paquette will decide, likely in the coming months, whether there is cause to warrant a class-action lawsuit. If authorized, it will likely take several years before the case is heard in court.