By Sally Thomas
As many disability advocates have said, Para Transpo, Ottawa’s paratransit system leaves the user a lot to be desired! Advocates have often asked councillors if they would ride along with Para users to experience the challenges for themselves.
Last week, the Chair of the Transit Commission, Glen Gower, agreed to accompany me on a small errand to the grocery store for one item.
The goal was to demonstrate what it’s like to use Para Transpo for ordinary tasks. I want to show all councillors how decisions made by the City Council and the Transit Commission affect those of us who have to use it as a primary way to get around. In fact, for the majority of Para Transpo’s thousands of users, it is our only way of getting around.
Plans for this began with a challenge made on X (formerly Twitter) for any Councillor to join me and experience it for themselves. Graciously, Councillor Gower accepted.
For those of you who don’t know, Councillor Gower represents Stittsville, which is quite a distance from downtown Ottawa where I live. After a bit of negotiation, we planned to meet on October 17 at 9:30 in the morning. Para Transpo users cannot just hop on a bus and ‘go get milk’. They require 24 hour notice, so before booking a ride for us, I had to confirm that we were still on schedule to go. Para Transpo also requires notice if anyone will be accompanying you on your trip…and whether or not they require a mobility device, to ensure there is space in the vehicle. Of course, we met in Somerset Ward where I live.
To his credit, Mr. Gower also decided to take conventional transit to meet me. Not surprisingly, his commute from Stittsville to Somerset was shorter than our commute to the grocery store, seven minutes by vehicle from my place! It took him 90 minutes to get to me and it took us two hours round trip. As I told him, ‘not too bad’!
Our bus to the store was 15 minutes late. The driver had picked someone else up on the way. We then spent almost ten minutes in my parking lot, securing my wheelchair and paying his fare. My card is registered with Para Transpo, so my fare was already recorded. The card reader that advocates fought hard to have in the buses, did not work. Ultimately, he paid cash.
We can only book rides 90 minutes apart, so when we were done, we had 45 minutes to wait for the ride home. Thankfully we were able to enjoy a hot beverage and a fruitful conversation about his experience.
I encourage other Para Transpo users to connect with their councillors to share their experiences.