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Wheel-Trans to stop video program to catch fake disabled passengers

City of Toronto ombudsman Fiona Crean responds to a question at a council meeting on Oct. 4, 2012.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's transit service will stop using video surveillance to determine whether disabled passengers are faking it after a highly critical report from the city's ombudsman.

On Wednesday, ombudsman Fiona Crean said that the TTC had suspended the program, which she described as "just plain unfair."

In a report dubbed "Wheel-Trans is Watching," Ms. Crean noted that surveillance cameras were added to the vehicles between 2006 and 2008 on the premise that they would increase safety. But in 2010 they began being used as well as a way to assess whether passengers were truly disabled, a change she said came with no public consultation.

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"The 'Questionable Rider' program at Wheel-Trans lacked any elements of due process or fairness," says ombudsman Fiona Crean. "Riders whose eligibility was being questioned were never told about the video surveillance that was being used against them."

On the vehicles are stickers warning passengers about the use of the surveillance images, but the ombudsman said these were so small they wouldn't be seen by many riders.

In a statement, the TTC said that the transit service "accepts" the recommendations in the report. They will discuss the situation at the city council meeting next Tuesday and answer media questions there. The TTC said they would make no further comments until that time.

The issue has been a hot topic since a passenger took a complaint to the city watchdog, arguing that it was offensive to use cameras on board Wheel-Trans vehicles as a way to guard against malingerers. At a recent meeting of transit commissioners, a deputant argued that makingan acceptance of surveillance a condition of using the service was discriminatory.

Under the policy, the TTC could use video as part of investigations based on the suspicion that a Wheel-Trans rider was not truly disabled. In 2011 and 2012, a total of 223 such investigations were launched, according to Ms. Crean's report. Of those, 150 people were asked to attend assessment interviews after video of them was reviewed. In 99 of these cases the TTC deemed the person to be ineligible to use the Wheel-Trans service.

Ms. Crean, who noted that in none of these cases was the matter referred to the police, questioned multiple aspects of the process. She slammed the amount of information given to passengers whose disability was in question, the validity of the assessment process and the transparency of TTC decisions.

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More


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