Often I attend overcrowded Provincial Offences Courts in the Region, where individuals and companies are charged with various offences. If you can get past the line-ups to the front to speak to the Prosecutor and wait your turn, quite often the Justice of the Peace explodes into a tirade about how driving a motor vehicle is a privilege and not a right. Reviewing the dockets on these days is an amazing test of stoicism, whereby one sees one person after the other charged with "driving while under suspension", "driving without a policy of insurance", or various other charges, whereby a failure to deal with as such can result in an automatic suspension of your license. If people plead guilty to driving while under suspension, the Ministry of Transportation assesses a further six months of license suspension on the convicted defendant. Defences for this charge are rare, as this offence is considered a "strict liability" offence, which means in essence you should have known better. In theory, all of this makes sense, but in reality this whole concept needs a rethink.
On the other hand, I come across dozens of individuals in my practice who have been diagnosed with medical conditions that have led to an administrative suspension of their licenses on a temporary or permanent basis. If people think this only happens to older people, they are mistaken. Virtually all of those I have dealt with were significantly under sixty five, one being a mere twenty-three years old. Once again, the Ministry is enforcing this whole theory about driving a vehicle being a privilege, again never questioning what happens to the person or their family once that "privilege" is revoked even on a short term basis. A few of them come to my office and do get a greater than average chance of being placed on the Ontario Disability Support Program, simply because one is now unemployable because they lost their privilege to drive. One adjudicator here looked me in the eye and asked me to convince her of this, citing there was "plenty of" transit service in the area. I then readily produced a large package of advertisements copied from the newspaper, Internet or other job posting services, whereby almost all jobs demand of their candidates a valid G driver's license and usually, daily access to their own vehicle. I then place the rhetorical question as to where this person is supposed to work if they cannot get their license. If one thinks the state should not provide for these people, then think again. If you are an employer, will YOU hire them?
In essence, driving is not a privilege here in Niagara, but nevertheless, the privileged are the only ones allowed to drive and thereby obtain all the benefits arising therefrom. Those that have never experienced the issues above tend to blame the individuals and have in their mind an idea that they are "better than" those who have had their licenses revoked or suspended. The truth is most license suspensions are not due to driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but instead unpaid fines and medical reasons. Many of my clients were not aware they were suspended because for whatever reason, they did not receive the letter in the mail. In an average community, including Niagara Region, thirty percent of its residents over the age of sixteen do not drive. Many people do not drive because they cannot afford to own and maintain their own vehicle, which means living here in this region will perpetuate that cycle indefinitely because there are no jobs available to those that cannot or choose not to drive. Employers just assume everybody drives, or they want to exclude the riff raff that doesn't, as those discriminatory requirements are in place in almost every job, not just jobs where the bone fide components largely involve driving. As a result, the majority of people with disabilities, students, older persons and low income persons are trapped into this legislated cycle of poverty, perpetuated by accepted prejudice and legalized discrimination.
It is not just in employment, non-drivers are discriminated against or treated disdainfully by their community. In order for a driver to remove their lens of privilege, they need to leave their car at home or dispose of it somewhere for more than a month, and then try to carry on their life regardless of not driving. I would ask them to transport their children to school, drop them off at daycare (which may or may not be close by or at a bus stop), go to work, attend all of one's work meetings or attendances without a vehicle even if this means going to another city for a meeting, and then after work, return to pick up their kids, stop to grab a few groceries and then go home. In the evening, after dinner (which means privileged workers get to be home by six), there might be time to take in a movie or go for a quick work out at the gym or the YMCA. Remember, do not use your vehicle, just go to these places anyways ... enjoy the two hour trip there and the two hour trip back, to such a point where you do not want to go there anymore, as it is too much trouble.
As a non driver, you will eventually discover you cannot just do a grocery run on your way back home, as you do not have the time or the bus fare or flexibility in doing so. You will find you have to take up one of your precious weekend days to do it, if your job or business allows you to have weekends in the first place. For those without a vehicle, grocery shopping is a bigger chore than it is for those that do drive. You can only go to the grocery store every week or every two weeks to do this. You cannot shop at multiple locations. Tough luck if there's a special in the meat department at one store and a special on produce in the other. You can't go to both, because once you leave the first store, there is nowhere to put your groceries while you go to the second store to get the balance of them. Drivers simply put the groceries from the first store into their trunk, but remember if you are leaving your car at home, there is no trunk, so you have to stick to one place. Research has shown this will cost you at least 15% more even if you normally purchase the same products from two or three locations. Once you finish the groceries, you need to get them home. You only have two hands, so taking them on a bus might be impractical, especially if you live a long way from the grocery store. Many phone a cab. Cab companies, while charging an arm and a leg for their service, are not reliable transportation for people who work shifts, taking home groceries, or need transport for medical reasons. CT Scams, dialysis and some other non-emergency medical trips are required on a 24-hour basis. Drunks, however, get instant service, while it is not unheard of for people to wait at a hospital, a grocery store or elsewhere for two or more hours to get a cab if one comes at all. That is the kind of "service" and respect people that don't drive get in my own region.
I often hear drivers complain about the cost of gas, insurance, maintenance, etc. for their cars; however, it is more than likely that they have been able to secure employment that pays them enough to cover these expenses, while non-drivers have to pay five to ten times the amount drivers pay on a per kilometer basis and struggle financially. I have no sympathy for vehicle owners, as they pay much less on a month to month basis than I do to get to fewer places. In effect, our government, likely through the heavy influence of the auto industry, driving has become a necessity, not just for getting around, but for maintaining one's dignity and belonging to the community one lives in. After all of these years, I have little attachment to the region because I feel I don't belong here. I wouldn't miss much if I ever had the funds to move elsewhere. Non drivers do not go to community events because usually these events are held on statutory holidays, where the transit service is non existent or unreliable. Relying on other people for transportation is not a dignifying alternative in my region. Most drivers consider it a huge sacrifice to help someone else get somewhere, even if it is to go to the same place they are going anyways. Non drivers don't have the same ability to use many community services, such as going to garage sales, trading on Kijiji or participating in a swap service, as drivers consider that if they are giving an item away for free, the person wanting it should come to get it. If all of my transportation needs could be met by me driving my own vehicle, I would actually be able to escape poverty. This is unfortunately never considered in discussions to find solutions to poverty.
It is harder to get somebody to invest in my business, because they think they will be stuck being a "taxi" for me, or having to sacrifice much of the firm's value on alternative transportation services for myself, thus not allowing the firm to make as much net profit as it would otherwise. Many of my items have been "returned to sender" because I have been unable to take the full afternoon off to go to the Carlton Street location where the post office seems to send my packages, when in fact I have a post office near my office where it should go instead if I was not present when the package was first delivered. Other times I had to pay over $20 in taxi fares to do so, so that my afternoon would not be wasted waiting for buses, etc. To me, my whole community disrespects and treats with impunity non drivers because it could. They want to force everybody to buy a car, yet thirty percent of the community does not drive and eleven percent do not have access to a vehicle or driver in their household. I have encountered many members of that eleven percent. Very few are gainfully employed and if so, they are substantially under employed. If they are young enough, they tend to make plans to leave the region to go elsewhere, because they see others older than themselves stuck here. I am still trying to figure out what I had done to deserve the kind of maltreatment and disrespect that is rained upon me here in Niagara.
To me, if the Ministry of Transportation wants to maintain its right to decide who can and cannot drive a motor vehicle, and to retain this activity under license and privilege, then it has to provide meaningful, effective and reliable alternatives to those that cannot drive, cannot afford to drive, choose not to drive or who have been suspended for any reason, so these people can access most jobs and get around conveniently. They would also work with the courts, human rights commissions and other enforcement bodies to ensure that denying people access to employment, other than jobs as drivers (e.g. taxi driver), should be made illegal and such companies would be forced to pay out enough funds so that the non driver can comfortably live without a job. It should cost employers to deny access to jobs in this way. If they complain and say, well people have to go here and go there, then too bad - find another way for this to work. Put the onus on the company to ensure all of its staff can do the essential duties of the job. Municipalities should also enforce the AODA if cab and private transportation companies even want to keep their license to operate.
For cab companies, I am sorry, but drunks are the last priority for pick-up. If priorities were exercised properly, and medical, community and employment related trips were prioritized in that order, then drunks will only have to wait an extra ten to fifteen minutes. This is not an undue hardship on either the drunks or the company itself, as they will still get their fares for all of these rides anyways. They lose no money. For priority trips, it should provide a ride within twenty minutes or the ride is free - simple as that. Dispatchers have access to software where all requests are spelled out and priorities can be taken. It would not be a substantial hardship to put medical, community (getting groceries) and employment at the top of the list for all dispatchers, while the drunks can wait a few extra minutes and will get taken home as well in a reasonable period of time. The later at night it is, there would be less "priority" trips, so it would not be an undue hardship. Cab companies will complain about how they will now have to organize their fleets this way, but this is THEIR problem, not mine. I am tired of waiting and waiting and waiting for taxis while my food is going bad, or in the rain, because some drunk needs to get home from some festival I couldn't get to anyways.
As somebody who has been unable to obtain a driver's license for years due a medical condition, and even if that were resolved, going back to the graduated system in place would be impossible for me at my age. That should apply strictly for people under twenty five, as most of them still have access to parents that would be willing to assist, even though mine never did help me at all when I was that age (but my understanding is that most people's parents have been there for them and mine were in the minority even for my generation). If the Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Municipal Affairs, Ministry of Infrastructure and other Ministries think that upgrading RELIABLE alternative transportation for communities is going to cost too much, then they need to reconsider what it costs for the individuals that are deliberately left behind, especially by the Ministry deciding if somebody can or cannot drive ... with the right to make this decision should come the responsibility for ensuring access to jobs and the community for those ruled out of driving. I don't give a fig about the cost, especially when I have no way of accessing regular employment and enjoying a life where my stress levels can be kept at a minimum. What if these people ruled out of driving for whatever reason did not want to be on Ontario Works or ODSP, or unemployed?
Then I would say the onus goes back to the government and our policy makers to make driving indeed a REAL CHOICE, and not deprive people of an income just because they cannot, choose not or cannot afford to drive. In my view, if this position were taken by all communities, there will be less dangerous or risky drivers on the road, so it will be much safer for those that do drive.
I am interested in hearing from folks that have concerns about this issue.