She Just Wanted to Ride the Bus

Posted By Grant laFleche Standard Staff
June 15, 2010

When GO buses first arrived in Niagara, they were hailed by local politicians and transit buffs alike as a boon for the region.

If they looked at the fine print, however, they would have known GO bus routes in Niagara are accessible to everyone except those with disabilities.

If you need help getting on or off a bus because you use a wheelchair, you're out of luck. GO won't take you, at least for now.

Diane Foster, a St. Catharines woman who uses a motorized wheelchair, learned she couldn't take GO last month while trying to get to a doctor's appointment. She bought a ticket in St. Catharines and was ready to get on the GO bus at Fairview Mall bound for the Niagara Falls Via Rail station.

"It's ideal for me," she says. "The station is not far from my doctor's office and taking GO is cheaper than the regional para-transit or (charter) buses."

When she got to the mall, everything seemed perfect. The bus had a lift for wheelchairs. It had a sticker on the door indicating it's a handicapped-accessible bus. Foster uses a wheelchair. It all seemed to fit.

But it didn't.

"I didn't understand. I still don't," says Foster, a member of the mayor's advisory committee on accessibility. "There was nothing wrong with the bus. The driver said he wanted to take me, but his supervisor said it was a non-accessible route."

It turns out that while all of GO Transit's buses and trains are accessible, outfitted with lifts and ramps, not all the routes are, said GO spokeswoman Vanessa Thomas.

Thomas says the GO service in Niagara is classified as "train-meet-bus" - buses scheduled to take passengers to GO stations to catch a train.

The buses run on a tight schedule, she says, and if they take the time to load and unload someone in a wheelchair, the bus won't reach the train station on time.

"It takes on average about 10 minutes to get (someone in a wheelchair) on the bus," Thomas says. "It takes about five minutes to unload them. That is too long."

She says GO wants to have all its routes in Ontario accessible by 2016, and is launching a pilot project this summer to try and find a way to solve its logistical problems.

Thomas said those with accessibility issues should call GO before buying a ticket to find out what restrictions might apply to a bus route. When a GO route is not accessible, a customer service agent can direct them to other transit options.

Foster, who didn't know the route was not accessible before buying her ticket, says she is frustrated by GO's response.

"It's an unbelievable excuse," she says. "I use the city transit all the time. They are accessible and make connections with other buses on time."

Foster has been using a wheelchair for two years after severe arthritis made it too difficult to walk. She uses municipal transit, the regional para-transit service and charter buses.

She's used to having to call ahead to ensure a bus she wants to take can handle her wheelchair, but she has never heard of a bus route being non-accessible.

"I was angry. I was humiliated. I was denied service, a service that is designed for everyone, because I am in a wheelchair."

Thomas says GO has a policy of ensuring accessible service, which is why when a route is not accessible a passenger is directed to another service like para-transit.

Foster will be offered a refund on her ticket, she says.

glafleche@stcatharinesstandard.ca

For GO information about the accessibility of routes, call 416-869-3200, 1-888-438-6646 or 1-800-387-3652. GO also has an accessibility guide on its website at www.gotransit.com/public/en/travelling/accessibility.aspx

Article ID# 2624229

Reproduced from http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2624229

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