If Vancouverites think they have a hard time getting around, they should take a trip up north, or go to the island, or the interior.
SCI BC spoke to one person in three different BC communities to get some regional perspectives on public transit. As it turns out, the barriers to accessibility people in smaller communities face are similar to those in Vancouver–except they’re magnified. Overall things have improved a lot, especially in the last five years, but work still needs to be done.
Here’s a look at the experiences of three people in Prince George, Victoria and Kelowna.
Terry Pipkey sits on the provincial board for the BC Coalition of People with Disabilities (BCCPD) and is the chair of the Accessible Transportation Action Committee (ATAC) in Prince George. He is legally blind, is a regular transit user, and he has been on the ATAC for almost ten years.
“Ten years ago most of our buses had steps so they were inaccessible to people who were chair users or other people with mobility devices. That was the first major hurdle we had to overcome: getting buses that had ramps in them.
Now all our buses are low riding buses with ramps. That happened about four or five years ago. So it’s a much better system then it was; we have more buses, more hours, more routes.”
“Our newer sidewalks are starting to become wide. Something we started a few years ago was curb cuts to two meter widths instead of one meter. That took some work. So our sidewalks for the most part downtown, they’re accessible for people in chairs.
A lot of our bus stops even today are quite inaccessible because there are no sidewalks [outside of the downtown core] just gravel, so getting on and off the bus with a mobility device can be quite difficult.”
“What complicates things even more is our winter conditions. Last winter was a real problem. We had snow for about four months and some of our bus stops were snowed in so it’s even an issue for able bodied individuals. That’s a current issue we’re striving to improve on: convincing the city that they have to put the snow removal equipment along the bus routes first.”
Problems getting to and from the airport
“The biggest issue here for people in chairs is getting to and from the airport. We have a private company that does transportation of folks going downtown to the airport and vice-versa but they’re not wheelchair accessible. We’ve tried to get Transport Canada involved but we’re such a small community that they don’t want to get involved.
So they either have to phone a wheelchair taxi or they can prearrange with HandyDART but it makes it especially difficult for outside folks who come in from out of town who may not know about this.”
Chris Marks lives in downtown Victoria and uses a wheelchair. This is his third year on his local Accessible Transit Advisory Committee. He is an occasional transit user.
“In the last two to four years Victoria has acquired 100 per cent low rise buses on every route. That’s great. Sometimes if a bus breaks down they have to replace it with one that isn’t but still, that’s great, it’s not the norm. Low rise accessible buses are great for the future too, because Victoria is a large retirement community and accessibility isn’t just for people in wheelchairs; it’s for mothers with strollers, people in walkers, people with other mobility challenges…”
Decent sidewalks for an old town
“[Victoria] is not like Vancouver. You can be going along and find that curb cuts are missing. Some are quite steep so I can’t make it up in a manual chair. They’ve gone down and around and fixed a few curb cuts that ended in deep dips. So it’s pretty good considering it’s an older historic town.”
“The ferry system is pretty good. Even if you arrive before the boat leaves they try to prioritize the boarding and sort you out. Elevators in the ferry work, but the biggest challenge is getting in the elevator with other people. Often times the elevator is full of people by the time it gets to you so you have to wait a long time to get down.”
“As good as it is in Victoria there are still lots of challenges. There’s a lot frustration from some [Accessible Transit] Committee members who think that stuff they’ve brought up in the past hasn’t been dealt with.
Things like marking accessible stops. There’s supposed to be a protocol for that but some members feel that some stops that are accessible aren’t marked as such and that results in confrontations with the drivers.
People with vision challenges also struggle, because the stops aren’t called out so they don’t know where they’re getting on and off often.
I don’t use HandyDART services because they want so much notice notice. It might have gotten a bit better but now basically I don’t use the system. There’s no spontaneity. They only give you a three to five minute window for when they come to pick you up”
Way better than the rest of the Island
“I’m originally from the Campbell River area.
Accessibility in Campbell River is minimal. It’s much better in Victoria than anywhere else in the island. I haven’t checked the bus out in Campbell River in the last year or two. They have a lot more low rise buses then before but I don’t think it’s 100 per cent like Victoria.
I’m in Courtney every month. It has its challenges like anywhere else. There are sidewalks with funny angles or strange dips. I’m glad I don’t live up island just because transit is way better in Victoria.”
Jeff Bourne is a 32 year-old Kelowna resident and life-long chair user. He regularly relies on public transit to get around.
“Until recently, I had to rely on cabs and family members to drive me anywhere. Luckily the TaxiSaver program has been spared because that’s a huge thing for anyone with a spinal cord injury.
Honestly I was a little hesitant to take the bus up until three years ago. I had to learn the routes and what not. I was hesitant because there aren’t wheelchair accessible buses that go everywhere in Kelowna.
If I took a wheelchair accessible bus to a mall or a movie theatre and there was no wheelchair accessible bus to go back to where I was going I would be kind of hooped, but I started taking it about three years ago and I’ve noticed improvements ever since. The amount of buses that have low floors have improved in the last few years. They have more in Kelowna than ever before but there certainly is a need for more.”
HandyDART is unreliable
“You have to take a HandyDART to get to the ‘burbs. I don’t know if you’ve had any dealings with them but they’re not a very good system. It’s not their fault they’re just so busy. But they way they’re scheduled you either end up showing up late for an appointment or really early. If you have a job you can’t show up late for a shift and HandyDART would regularly drop somebody off late. You have to book at least two days ahead. You can the day before, before twelve in the afternoon, but if it’s after twelve you’re hooped until the next day.
Right now as it stands it’s not working. I use it all the time but it’s left me in certain places because I wasn’t right on time or they’ve been really early or really late picking me up. Right now it’s ridiculously hot and you don’t want to be sitting in the sun for 20 or 30 minutes waiting for your HandyDART, especially if you’re a senior citizen you’re susceptible to the heat.
Since 1998 when I’ve been taking it and it hasn’t really improved since then.”
Accessible bus stops and quickly fixed sidewalks
“The bus stops are very accessible in Kelowna, at least the ones I’ve been to: at the mall and downtown it’s very accessible, and the ones near my place. There are two near my place and there’s one where you have to go up a hill so it’s not great but I can get up there, but for somebody with limited strength in their arms that would be a huge issue.
The sidewalks are accessible but when it does get cold they do tend to crack with the potholes. I myself went to the city with pictures of the potholes and was able to get them fixed. It took about three weeks, the city was very receptive.”
Attitudes have improved “by leaps and bounds”
“The bus drivers here are really helpful but I’ve never been asked by anybody on the bus if I need help or if I need assistance. I’ve had the odd looky-loo but the attitudes have improved in the last 15 years. Definitely there is room for some improvements but things have improved by leaps and bounds.”
Improve Accessibility Near You!
1. Take photos of barriers to accessibility and make them public
Like Jeff, you can push your municipality to fix barriers to accessibility by taking photos of obstacles in your path. When Jeff brought photos of a cracked sidewalk to the city of Kelowna, they were fixed within three weeks!
So whether it be a lack of curb cuts, a ramp that’s too steep or a bus stop without an accessible sign, please share your photos of obstacles with your suggestions for solutions and send them to your appropriate representatives.
Together, we can make our province even more accessible.
2. Join a local Accessible Transportation Advisory Committee
You might be able to find one via BC Transit’s website, or contact your local municipality. If all else fails, contact SCI BC’s infoline and we’ll connect you with the right people: call toll-free 1-800-689-2477 or email us at email@example.com
If you live in Vancouver, a call for 2013 committee member applications will be made in late summer 2012. Visit Access Transit’s Committee Eligibility Requirements page to see if you’re eligible to become a member.
Get to know Metro Vancouver’s public transit system with SCI BC’s annual Bus Stop Hop (BSH) on August 17th. Inspired by the Amazing Race, the BSH is a one-day, team-based event that has participants racing across the city, using accessible transportation, completing fun activities and collecting points. What makes BSH unique is its focus on accessible transit and its team structure: four teammates consisting of two able-bodied people and two people using wheelchairs or mobility aids. Race across the city using public transit, compete to win great prizes and party with SCI BC staff, peers and volunteers over an evening BBQ. For more information and to register click here.
3. Share your thoughts and photos!
4. Read the rest of our Accessible Transportation Series
- Lessons Learned From the TaxiSaver Debate
- Just how accessible is Vancouver’s public transit system, really?
- Accessible Transit in BC: A brief history of many victories
- Regional perspectives on public transit in BC
- Accessible Travel Advice: by Peers, for Peers