City council extends the 2019 transit inquiry report another 180 days
By: Brett Kelly
Every winter, many public transit commuters are left at the curb due to over-crowded buses — including those using wheelchairs and other assistive devices. Winnipeg city council has been exploring wheelchair accessibility improvements on buses since March though changes to transit accessibility have been on council’s agenda since early 2019. The latest report has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns.
The Independent Living Resource Centre, a Winnipeg-based non-profit supporting people with disabilities, says more needs to be done to improve wheelchair accessibility on fixed-route transit lines. Patrick Stewart, presenting to city council on behalf of ILRC, says one solution could be to remove at least one set of fold-up seating at the front of low-ride buses.
“Removing one of the flip-up bench seats at the font of the bus could represent a low-cost solution,” said Stewart at city council’s May 29 meeting. “As well as reconfiguring the poles at the front of the bus as these are things people in wheelchairs have to navigate around.”
Although some transit users would prefer to keep the existing flip-up benches, executive vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union James Van Gerwen says the city needs to support those with accessibility needs.
“It was always disheartening for me to inform somebody who’s in a wheelchair we have no room for them to get on the bus,” Van Gerwen said to council. He says these situations can be difficult for drivers as Winnipeg transit is technically first-come, first-served.
Coun. Brian Mayes, citing increases in per-ride costs, suggests the city reconsider its delivery of Transit Plus, formerly Handi-Transit. Mayes says the city successfully delivered Handi-Transit through a blend of city-owned and third-party contracts.
Current Transit Plus contracts are allegedly leaving some drivers without benefits or overtime pay, according to documents from ILRC. It goes on to say ATU provides operators for Transit Plus vehicles. An earlier report submitted to council suggested this would increase costs, but provided no specific numbers.
Without a firm plan, some public transit users may find Winnipeg inaccessible.
“It’s not standard operating procedure,” Stewart told the council. “Our buses are perfectly accessible to everybody when we’re talking about June — when we’re talking about a bus that’s half full.”
Stewart pushed council to continue public engagement as part of this ongoing report. The city’s office of public engagement has been backlogged and, in some cases, closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s unlikely students will see any changes to accessible transit by the beginning of the fall semester.