Bumpy ride awaits Transit’s stroller policy

Strollers versus mobility aids has long been an issue on Winnipeg Transit buses, with both often having to jockey for spaces in the few priority seats at the front of the vehicle.

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Opinion

Strollers versus mobility aids has long been an issue on Winnipeg Transit buses, with both often having to jockey for spaces in the few priority seats at the front of the vehicle.

A new policy, scheduled to roll out in October, is aimed at ensuring priority seating is reserved for those with disabilities, so people who require the use of mobility aids — particularly those who use wheelchairs — are not left on the curb because the bus is too packed to accommodate them. This shameful practice has been an ongoing problem, and disability advocates have long been calling for a solution.

Part of Winnipeg Transit’s solution declares strollers “must be capable of being folded and stowed.” The accompanying graphic shows a figure holding a baby, with the stroller tucked neatly behind them — a rendering that leads one to conclude its designer has never taken, or perhaps even seen, a Winnipeg Transit bus.

Who holds the baby — and the diaper bag, and the bag of groceries or whatever else the parent may have picked up on their trip — while the parent tries to fold a stroller on a moving bus? What if the bus is crowded? Where, exactly, are these strollers being stowed?

Who holds the baby — and the diaper bag, and the bag of groceries or whatever else the parent may have picked up on their trip — while the parent tries to fold a stroller on a moving bus? What if the bus is crowded? Where, exactly, are these strollers being stowed?

What if one is travelling with more than one child? Will the bus wait for parents to get settled, effectively cratering rush hour schedules? And what happens when it’s time to get off the bus?

The folding-style, or “umbrella,” strollers are not safe (or even recommended) for children under six months old. Babies are safest strapped in the stroller on a moving bus. Parents themselves may be disabled, precluding them from wearing their baby in a sling or carrier. Children themselves may also be disabled or have mobility issues — or are simply too young to walk or hold up their own head yet — requiring the use of a stroller.

Low-income families might not be able to purchase a new stroller, the average cost of which is $100 to $300, or even have much say in the stroller they currently have.

There’s no question the status quo isn’t working, nor is there a question that people with disabilities face disproportionate barriers to public transportation — and, for that matter, a great many other areas of society. Winnipeg Transit’s proposed policy is well-meaning, but it ends up pitting disabled people against parents (in particular, mothers), a scenario in which everyone loses — especially parents who are also disabled.

Public transit is just that, public. Disabled people live in society. So do children and parents. Everyone should be able to access safe, affordable transportation. And yet, both groups — which, again, are sometimes overlapping camps — seem to be met with hostility when it comes to getting around.

Public transit is just that, public. Disabled people live in society. So do children and parents. Everyone should be able to access safe, affordable transportation. And yet, both groups — which, again, are sometimes overlapping camps — seem to be met with hostility when it comes to getting around.

A policy that has a low probability of both compliance and enforcement is little more than an attempted cheap fix to a systemic problem whose solution(s) requires real resources. One option is having more buses run more frequently, which would mean a parent with, say, a double stroller could choose to hop on the next one, instead of possibly being stranded for 25 or more minutes.

More buses more frequently would mean less overcrowding, offering a safer — and more pleasant — ride for everyone.

Design changes to buses, so more seats can be flipped up or down to accommodate riders with a range of accessibility needs, could also be explored. The side-facing seats by the rear door, for example, could be flipped up to accommodate strollers.

Real problems require real solutions. Until Winnipeg Transit addresses this issue in a meaningful way, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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