Metrolinx, Uber Canada apologize after woman with disability faces obstacles to attend Toronto concert
Whitby resident Hannah Walker, who lives with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around, takes in the June 9 Charlie Puth concert at Budweiser Stage in this supplied photo. Walker says she faced a number of upsetting obstacles with GO Transit and Uber Canada prior to attending the show. (Supplied photo)
Published Friday, July 7, 2023 9:53PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, July 9, 2023 8:06AM EDT
Metrolinx and Uber Canada have both apologized to a Whitby woman living with cerebral palsy who says she experienced ableism, discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities, on a recent trip to attend a Toronto concert.
On June 9, 21-year-old Hannah Walker and her friend Sara Stone, 24, boarded the 5:09 p.m. GO train in Oshawa to see the 7:30 p.m. Charlie Puth show at Budweiser Stage, which is located on the grounds of Ontario Place.
However, not long after they got on the train an attendant advised them that the elevator they needed to take on the south side of the Exhibition GO Station was out of service and the only other way to access the venue was to take the stairs.
The elevator on the south side of Exhibition Station, in fact, was off limits for months due to construction on the premises, but recently reopened.
Recalling the June incident, Stone told CP24.com that she immediately called GO to inquire further and was advised that she should have contacted them 48 hours earlier if her friend required a shuttle to get her to Budweiser Stage.
Walker, meanwhile, said it never crossed her mind to check GO Transit’s website before booking her trip, adding timely accommodations should have been in place regardless for people with mobility challenges.
“We had no idea to look online and it’s also unfair to require disabled individuals to give a two-day notice for accessibility,” she said, adding it’s not always possible to predict one’s movements so far in advance.
“I know I wasn’t the first person in a wheelchair to use that station.”
Stone said they were told that they could walk over to Budweiser Stage, which the GO employee on the other end of the line told them would take “four or five minutes.”
That walk was actually roughly 40 minutes away, according to the map application on Stone’s phone.
Discouraged, but undeterred, the women then decided to try booking an Uber ride to the venue.
Initially, Stone reserved a trip on a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, but it never arrived. The driver ended up cancelling and she wasn’t charged.
Walker then booked an Uber XL, or a ride with a van or SUV. She said she’d used that feature in the past without issue. That driver ended up cancelling the trip after she told them that she needed them to transport her non-foldable wheelchair.
Walker then booked a second Uber XL trip and also advised the driver of her mobility needs.
In this case, the driver showed up at the designated pick-up point, but allegedly told Walker and Stone that it was not possible to transport the wheelchair.
“He didn’t even want to try,” Walker said.
That driver, whom she described as “somewhat aggressive,” waited for a few minutes, then drove away.
Walker was charged for that third Uber trip she and Stone didn’t take.
They both contacted Uber Canada to report their negative experiences.
By now, the concert was almost set to begin.
Two kind concertgoers who had seen what the two women were dealing with ended up offering to help carry Walker and her wheelchair up two flights stairs to the venue and in the end, they said that they had a fun time.
A spokesperson for Uber Canada told CP24.com that there is “no excuse for this upsetting experience.”
“We have zero tolerance for discrimination on the Uber platform, and all drivers who use the app agree to accommodate riders with assistive devices, including wheelchairs,” the company said in a written statement.
“We have a dedicated team investigating the riders’ reports and we will take appropriate action.”
Uber Canada went on to note that could mean removing a driver’s access to the app.
The company also noted that when signing up to work for Uber, all drivers must agree to transport assistive devices like wheelchairs and operate in compliance with accessibility laws.
Uber Canada has since refunded Walker for the Uber XL ride she never took, but was charged for. The company also gave her a $20 credit on her account.
Metrolinx, in a statement provided to CP24.com, apologized for what it described as an “unfortunate customer service experience.”
The provincial transportation agency said it uses a service called Dignity to “provide support at Exhibition GO and other stations during longer-term elevator rehabilitation projects,” noting shuttle services are arranged for large events at Exhibition GO to bring people from platform to platform “typically beginning ahead of an event.”
“We also have staff on site to provide direct support to customers at both the north and south sides of the station,” it said.
Metrolinx went on to note that disabled customers can reach out to their contact centre agents to request shuttle services outside of large volume events.
They said Dignity typically requires 48 hours' notice for service; however, their agents do their best to accommodate requests wherever possible.
The agency also said that customers can sign up for On the GO alerts to “learn more about any disruptions and plan their trip accordingly.”
The day after the concert, Stone urged her friend to speak out in the hope that others with disabilities won’t have to go through the same ordeal they experienced.
“We’re not looking for anything other than a promise to do better,” she said, adding it “breaks her heart” that her friend goes through upsetting situations like that on a regular basis.
Walker said she decided to go public with her ordeal because she felt she could give voice to others who may not be able to.
“This is really about customer service. It’s not about money or apologies. … I want actual change,” she said.
“I shouldn’t have to feel bad for having to ask for access. … It’s not my fault. It’s their fault.”