In Accessible Transportation, News & Blog, Opinion

About the author: Heather Lamb is SCI BC’s Information Resource Specialist and one of the voices on our toll-free InfoLine, where she fields calls (and emails) from clients dealing with issues related to employment, housing, health, and more. Heather has a master’s degree in Social Work, and years of work and volunteer experience in the disability and accessibility fields.

The wheels on the bus go round and round—and so too, it seems, does the struggle for truly accessible transportation.

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As a visually impaired adult, I rely on many forms of transportation to get around. Until recently, that included Greyhound. When the company was first asking to eliminate most of its routes in Northern BC, I spent a lot of time advocating with various levels of government and anyone else who would listen, about how essential it is to have transportation options for everyone, including the hundreds of callers to SCI BC’s InfoLine every month.

In June, the BC government started the BC Bus North, a one-year pilot project to provide service from Prince George to the north, east and west, all routes previously served by Greyhound. While this was obviously good news for me, I was dismayed to discover on the day of the announcement that the new service would not be wheelchair accessible.

To attempt to fill this gap, seniors and people using mobility devices who cannot use BC Bus North are allowed to use the Northern Health Connections Bus service for non-medical travel, along with the usual passengers traveling between northern communities for medical appointments. At first glance this might sound like a good alternative, however the limited passenger eligibility means that I cannot travel between communities in the North with a friend who is a wheelchair user; I don’t qualify to use the health bus and they can’t get onto the BC Bus North.

Fast forward to July and the government’s official launch of the new service. Because I had been pretty vocal about the need for transportation in the North, I was asked to attend the launch to support the new BC Bus North service. I politely refused because, ironically, the location chosen for the launch is not served by either public transit in Prince George or sidewalks. I was able to attend the launch because a Ministry staff person picked me up. All well and good… for me. But that still means that people who use wheelchairs have unequal access to transportation.

Apparently there are logistical reasons BC Bus North was launched without wheelchair accessible service: it wasn’t possible to source enough used accessible buses to ensure a fully accessible fleet and with the vast distances to cover, it wouldn’t be possible to guarantee an accessible bus could be available when requested unless all the buses have lifts. That might sound okay to some residents because after all, there is the option of using the Northern Health bus. However, these excuses don’t satisfy me. In this day and age, we should be creating new programs that meet everyone’s needs, even if it takes a bit longer to find enough accessible buses so that people can travel together on the same service. Greyhound, despite the many other deficiencies of their service, at least offered an accessible bus with sufficient notice.

In this day and age, we should be creating new programs that meet everyone’s needs, even if it takes a bit longer to find enough accessible buses so that people can travel together on the same service.

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I applaud the government for stepping in to meet a major need in our northern communities but I hope that the obvious deficiency in the new service will not be overlooked when the government decides what to do to fill the gap left by Greyhound’s imminent departure from the rest of BC.

This is an important time for SCI BC members to provide feedback to the provincial government—even those who don’t foresee a need to use this service. With wheelchair users absent from the pilot and launch event (kept away by lack of transit and sidewalk access), it might be easy to assume that accessible transit isn’t wanted or needed by wheelchair users. The lack of voices of wheelchair users in this transportation policy is particularly important as the government decides how to respond to the service gap to be left elsewhere in BC when Greyhound leaves at the end of October. I also see it as part of a larger issue: Disability and accessibility lenses should be an essential part of any new program or service, not an afterthought.

So what can you do? Be vocal. Contact your local MLA today to voice your concerns (you can find your MLA’s contact info here). Add your voice to the conversation to help ensure that when it comes to transportation, people with disabilities are on the map—no matter how big or small the communities we come from may be.

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