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How to accommodate wheelchairs and baby strollers on buses

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There have been several letters to the editor recently that were pro and con on the bus transportation system. Issues of concern included people standing at the front of the bus instead of moving to the back, having disabled passengers scrambling out of their seats when baby carriages (which take up to three seats) come on board and people being forced onto regular buses (not low floor) that cannot accommodate extra luggage such as baby strollers.

In 2008, Transit received $142 million for improvements, which included more low-floor buses (all buses were to be low floor by 2011) and heated bus shelters. Electronic fare-collection boxes and debit cards were to be introduced by 2009. This will now be done by 2012. Why is it taking so long?

Low-floor buses were introduced on the regular bus lines so wheelchair users and people with mobility concerns could use regular transit and take the pressure off an overburdened Handi-Transit, which was losing a significant amount of money due to the increased demand on the system by seniors. The Handi-Transit system was never meant to accommodate seniors, but that issue has never been adequately addressed. If you look at the City of Winnipeg's website concerning low-floor buses you won't see a single word about it being designed for strollers and baby carriages. Recently, the civic access advisory committee, chaired by Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, determined -- without city council approval -- that strollers and baby carriages of all types and sizes are to be allowed on the low-floor buses, along with wheelchairs and mobility aids, on a first-come, first-served basis.

What does first-come, first-served mean? The space that has been set aside will safely accommodate two wheelchairs, one wheelchair and one baby carriage, or two baby carriages. It is up to the bus driver to ensure that when a wheelchair or baby carriage gets on the bus, that those passengers who are not disabled are moved to another seat or to the back of the bus.

This leads us to the question that several readers have raised about rules and enforcement by bus drivers. Several years ago, the Independent Living Resource Centre trained bus drivers in the etiquette of how to deal with people in wheelchairs. This training has been disbanded to the point today where some bus drivers ignore the rules and regulations, while others enforce them very strictly.

For example, some bus drivers, once there are more than two wheelchairs and baby carriages aboard, refuse any more, while others let three or four on, which causes a safety hazard. Other bus drivers get out of their seats and assist passengers in wheelchairs by lifting up the seats and moving people to the back of the bus. The lack of enforcement spills over to passengers, many of whom yell at people in wheelchairs when they are asked to give up their seat, or appear to not know they are supposed to give up their seat.

There are some in the disabled community who would love to ban baby carriages on low-floor buses, while others have looked at how other cities deal with this issue. For example, in Saskatoon, only a baby carriage of a certain size is allowed on low-floor buses. Rather than pit baby carriages against wheelchair users and other people with disabilities, one possible solution to the problem of providing enough space on buses might be to expand the concept of universal design to include more seats on buses that can be moved up to make more room for both wheelchairs and carriages.

Nick Ternette is the chairman of the transportation committee of the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities and is a disabled political and community activist.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2010 A11

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