Class-action request misguided, say city and transit agencies

Class-action request misguided, say city and transit agencies
Class-action request misguided, say city and transit agencies

Activists attend hearing at the Montreal courthouse on Wednesday. Christinne Muschi / MONTREAL GAZETTE

Transit agencies can’t be held accountable for a shortage of elevators and ramps in the network, because they are not the ones deciding whether to make the network accessible, lawyers argued in court on Thursday.

It was the second day of hearings for a petition to launch a class-action suit against the Société de transport de Montréal, the Agence métropolitaine de transport and the city of Montreal by people using wheelchairs or with limited mobility.

They say the transit agencies are discriminating against them because the network is not accessible to those with physical disabilities, because of bus ramps that often don’t work and the scarcity of elevators in métro and train stations.

Transit agencies and the city argued the class-action suit is invalid because they can’t be sued for decisions of a political nature.

“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 transport service 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.

The Regroupement des activistes pour l’inclusion au Québec (RAPLIQ), the group representing people with reduced mobility, argue that adapted transport does not give them an efficient means of transportation because lifts must be arranged 24 hours in advance and arrive within a half-hour window, which can make it difficult to be at appointments on time, or force passengers to leave appointments early.

Desmarais said the group cites the slow pace for integrating elevators into the STM and AMT networks, but he said recent federal funding has allowed the STM to double the that pace.

“There is now a plan for 47 (métro stations out of 68) to be accessible by the year 2025,” Desmarais said.

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.

Arguments are expected to wrap up on Thursday afternoon.

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