Barriers to accessibility are all around us
On Saturday, we held a meeting at the University of Ottawa to discuss transit issues. Frustratingly, the so-called ‘accessible’ room we booked was actually not all that accessible. In order to get to the boardroom, people have to walk down a set of stairs OR take the mini elevator.
You need keys to get the elevator working and we didn’t have keys.
Question number one for me is why does the elevator need keys? ‘Regular’ elevators don’t require keys.
Question number two is why weren’t we told in advance? Why isn’t there a number on the elevator that we could call to summon an employee with keys?
Question number three is why is this room available to be booked without a warning about the barrier?
Ottawa Transit Riders is focused on transit issues, but accessibility (all over the city) is also one of our concerns. We wrote to the University’s Centre for Students with Disabilities to propose some alternatives.
We’ll let you know how they respond.
Reliability of transit apps
How do you know when to catch your bus? Do you rely on printed paper schedules? Do you use Bus Buddy or another app? Do you text 560-1000 when you get to the stop?
For a transit system to work, people have to have reliable up-to-date information about the buses.
Here’s a common scenario. If I want to go downtown, I have three options, but I have to decide when I leave my house which option is best – so I use a bus tracking app. When the bus that is supposed to show up fails to arrive, I’m left angry and frustrated. It’s too late to walk to a different bus stop to take a different bus and I’m left wondering how to prevent this from happening again.
Ottawa Transit Riders will push OC Transpo to provide more accurate GPS-assisted minute-by-minute information on where your bus is so that riders can make informed choices.
Here’s a Capital Current article with one of the co-founders of Ottawa Transit Riders talking about the new travel app on OC Transpo’s website: Ottawa transit users concerned about reliability of OC Transpo’s new travel app
It’s the 21st Century – don’t you think access to such information should be easier?
Save the date! Saturday, April 27th 2:30PM
The Ottawa Transit Riders is hosting its founding meeting and launch party on April 27th at Jean Pigott Hall (City Hall).
We will be sending out formal invitations to those on our mailing list, but we encourage everyone with an interest in transit to join us. We will be voting on a mandate, membership, and decision-making rules. And then we will elect the first Board of Directors.
Come and meet the candidates.
Come and discuss your priorities, suggestions, ideas …
There might be cake.
Click on the button for upcoming activities to RSVP
How to make transit better
There are experts all over the world debating and discussing what makes a transit system work.
Here’s an infographic on tips to make travelling by transit quick:
If you haven’t read it already, check out Montreal-based Taras Grescoe’s amazing book Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile which describes and compares different systems around the world.
I totally get it if it makes you want to book a trip to Copenhagen.
Another book on transit (that I have not yet read) is Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives by Jarrett Walker.
Read, learn, get inspired!
What is an Equity and Inclusion Lens?
According to the city of Ottawa’s own promotional material, the equity and inclusion lens is like a pair of glasses that helps policy makers ‘see’ issues from other people’s perspectives.
The best example I can give is to encourage people to see the world through the eyes of a person with a mobility disability. Want to go to your favourite café? I’ll bet you never noticed that you have to step up to get in. Where are the bathrooms? Down a narrow hallway? Up stairs? Once inside, can a person sitting in a wheelchair reach the soap?
As able-bodied people, it’s easy to be oblivious to barriers.
At the Transit Commission meeting on February 20th, I heard John Manconi claim that OC Transpo had applied this ‘equity and inclusion lens’ to their decisions on route changes.
I was skeptical so I asked for documentation and received the following paragraphs:
Service Planning reviews proposed service changes through the City’s Equity and Inclusion Lens. We look at each of the groups identified by the Lens and would confirm that each group has been considered in the final recommendation of the service change. This was an approved recommendation by Transit Commission back in July 2013. Our approach has been to review how any of the identified groups in the Lens have been impacted by using spatial data – are there significant pockets of groups along a route that have been impacted by a proposed change.
While there is not a spatial identification of women across the City, women are a significant part of other equity groups for which we do have spatial data. For example, we do have spatial data for seniors, Aboriginal, racialized groups, recently immigrated, people with disabilities and low-income groups. Transit improvements affecting each of these equity groups also would represent gains for women.
Besides the frustrating bureaucratic language, it’s obvious that OC Transpo failed to understand the purpose of the equity and inclusion lens.
Here’s what they should have done.
Step one, identify the specific groups of people MOST affected by route changes. In the case of transit, they are:
- people with disabilities
- elderly people
- low income people
- people with cognitive impairment
- people without cars
Step two, identify HOW people will be affected:
- people will be unable to get to where they want to go
- they may be forced into unsafe /uncomfortable situations (crossing unsafe streets, waiting for long periods of time in unheated shelters)
- due to frequent transfers, they may spend more time travelling, may risk missing appointments / commitments
- may affect their ability to keep a job
- may be unable to handle multiple transfers so their mobility and freedom is further curtailed
Step three, mitigate any unintended harmful consequences:
- … ?
No government or service provider should advance changes to their programs that negatively affect people, especially vulnerable people. OC Transpo is a service provider funded by tax payers of the city of Ottawa and users of transit. Whenever changes are proposed, some people may benefit, some people may not, but it is the responsibility of OC Transpo planners to identify any unintended consequences and mitigate the harm.
I see no evidence that OC Transpo made any effort to understand who was harmed by the route changes in September 2018, nor have they made any effort to repair the harm.
And that's something we should worry about.
Is it hopeless?
No! Check out what other cities are doing to develop and maintain their transportation networks:
Vancouver is a big sprawling city with serious geographic limitations. When I was growing up there, the transit system was terrible and old – do you know that Vancouver still uses electric trolley buses?
When the city launched the SkyTrain in 1985, people were so excited about it, they used to just ride around on it for fun until the city launched public campaigns to remind people that joyriders shouldn’t be taking up spots for legitimate commuters.
Vancouver is one of the last big cities that does not allow Uber or Lyft (or any other ride sharing service). Since 2006, its population has grown by 6-9% and it is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in so MANY people live a long away and commute into the city.
But in recent years, Vancouver has made alternative modes of transportation – cycling and public transit – keystone policy goals. The results have been impressive.
I’d also like to point out that Vancouver city councillors unanimously declared that climate change is an emergency: https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/vancouver-councillors-unanimously-approve-motion-declaring-climate-emergency
This news isn’t going to surprise anyone, but it’s taking longer for people to travel around this city.
A new report from CBC: StatsCan study shows Canadian commute times are getting longer — and it's costing us
In a related article: Yes, your morning drive is taking longer says that commuting times are going up no matter how you do it.
The frustrating thing about articles like these is that the problem is framed as if these things just happen – there’s nothing we can do about it.
That’s not true.
The problem is caused by bad city policies that prioritize driving.
We can change this.
Build an efficient transit system with bus-only lanes and reliable scheduling. As more people switch to transit, the burden on those who drive will lessen as well. Win-win.
We know how to fix the problem; we just need the political will.
Along the topic of consultation, five urban ward councillors have launched a survey on what residents want to see the city focus on. It’s short and sweet and allows people to rank their preferences (affordable housing, waste collection, transit, etc.).
You can even indicate what percentage of transit costs should be supported by taxes.
Click on the link to make your voice heard: urban ward survey
Who gets to consult?
All residents of this city have one vote and technically speaking, we should stand on equal footing. But in reality … some people are more important than others.
An interesting tidbit of information that we learned at the Healthy Transportation Coalition meeting in February is that the city requires extensive consultation with communities, BIAs, and local councillors before they are able to increase parking fees.
In general, we’re big fans of consultation, but we’re also big fans of equality and inclusiveness and fairness.
The situation in Ottawa in 2019 is that transit riders can beg and plead and make impassioned speeches about how a 2.5% increase will affect our lives and how poor transit traps people in their houses or puts them in dangerous situations (see the letter from Stephen St. Denis below) and the reaction from City Hall is “too bad, so sad, there’s nothing we can do”.
But, consider a proposal to ask wealthier people to pay slightly more for parking and as soon as people object, City Hall throws up its hands and says “democracy in action – the people have spoken – we can’t possibly impose a fee increase”.
It’s rather shocking, isn’t it?
Parking fees have been frozen since 2008.
Transit fares have risen 70% over the same time period.
Think this is ridiculous? Speak up. Talk to your councillor.
Personally, I would like the following change:
- Put transit riders and car owners on the same level – mandate that OC Transpo consult with communities before making route changes/fare increases and remove the veto power of car owners so that reasonable increases in parking can be considered when a majority agrees.
Meaningful consultation means that you listen to all sides of an issue and make the best decision possible that benefits the most people and does not harm the most vulnerable.
The city of Ottawa is conducting consultations with residents on whether to re-think their parking strategy: Municipal Parking Management Strategy (MPMS) refresh
There’s also an online survey so we're hoping that people who read this blog will let the city know their opinion.
A final report on the MPMS refresh will be presented to Council in June 2019.
Attention transit users in Kanata, councillor Jenna Sudds is conducting a survey.
We’re big fans of consultation so it’s nice to see her reaching out. Add your voice if you can.