Rail Cuts May Affect People in Wheelchairs

Wheelchairs on TrainsThe looming sequester cuts that have Americans in a panic is not limited to the United States. As the global economy continues to lag, other countries are facing tough decisions involving layoffs and discontinued services. In Canada, Via Rail, the national rail service for the Canadian government, has announced it will lay off more than 50 workers, including “red cap” porters who assist the elderly and mobility challenged with boarding trains and storing baggage.

Via Rail barely averted a strike several weeks ago and today made it official that 56 people would be laid off, most of them on the Montreal-Toronto corridor. The majority of the layoffs are ticket salespeople and the porters with Via Rail saying they need more flexible station attendants who can perform more than just one service request. Prior to this decision Via Rail used porters to help people using walkers, wheelchairs and other mobility devices access the train and help with luggage and mobility accessories. Though Via Rail says new station attendants will continue to help the elderly and the disabled several passengers have expressed concern with how well the new system will work.

Leonard Marsh, a man who uses a wheelchair and travels from Brantford to Toronto on a regular basis told the Hamilton Spectator, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, the guys who work at the stations, it’s almost like they don’t want to do it”. Before porters would help Marsh get to the train on time, get his wheelchair onto the train’s lift and assist with any luggage. Marsh is concerned that this level of service will be compromised with the elimination of the porters. Porters receive special training on how to assist people in wheelchairs, training the general attendants don’t have.

Time will tell how Via Rail scores when it comes to providing services for mobility challenged passengers but it is clear that the cutbacks many companies are making are having a greater impact on people with special needs. While the rail company certainly has the right to make financial decisions to remain profitable it also needs to be aware that customer service is a major part of being successful and if they can’t provide for certain people those affected may choose alternative methods of travel.

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