For much of the year, Gatineau Park remains so close, yet so far, for many in our region, especially those who rely on public transit to get around. While the park is considered to be on the doorsteps of many, the lack of access for transit users represents a disappointing policy choice for various levels of government that otherwise encourage us to get outdoors, stay active and to reduce stress levels by spending time in nature.
Today, the National Capital Commission (NCC) decided that it would cancel its Fall Rhapsody shuttle service for the entire fall season due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases around the region. This follows a previous one week suspension of service announced last week. The Fall Rhapsody shuttles represent one of the only ways for those who do not own or have access to a car to access Gatineau Park and to enjoy the splendor of its trails, lookouts and picnic areas. The lack of public transit within the park, and to many NCC trails within the Greenbelt, means that many who would love to spend time outdoors in nature do not have the chance to do so. While there has been unprecedented access for active transit users (e.g., cyclists, runners, hikers, etc.) this summer to both Gatineau Park and the NCC parkways, these modes leave behind many, especially persons with disabilities and those who find these destinations to be too far to easily access by active transit.
While safety during the pandemic is certainly an underlying concern, the NCC’s website indicates that safety measures including physical distancing and masks had been considered and were planned for the shuttles. The NCC’s decision to allow access to cars but not to shuttle buses that provide access to low income individuals, persons with disabilities and those who rely on transit is a sad move and further restricts access to the outdoors for those who are often forgotten in public policy. Instead of restricting the park to automobile users, more just and equitable solutions can be found, such as requiring pre-registration for the shuttle, reducing crowding and distancing by adding additional trips and longer service hours, or adding shuttle trips at off-peak times to reduce crowding at lookouts and attractions. Safety during COVID-19 is important, but so is allowing equitable access to NCC parks and attractions for everyone.