An open letter regarding public transportation for PWD to those running for office.
With this year’s edition of the Ottawa Transit Challenge still relatively fresh in our minds, I wanted to take the time to highlight some of the ongoing concerns that Para Transpo users face. I’m also hoping that some of the local councillors, new candidates, and other participants who are still following the #otttransitchallenge2022 hashtag will also read this.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge all of the hard work by ParaParity, other groups, and individuals advocating for equal public transit systems for PWD and improving Para Transpo.
As an advocate, I can tell you that it can be exhausting, frustrating, and affects your mental health, at least mine. Over the years, I’ve had to roll away from it for that reason.
So, a big kudos to those still on the front lines. Right now, I’m in the background, reading and listening to the conversations. Occasionally, I’ll chime in, and clearly, I also write about it, which I love.
We all have different experiences with Para Transpo. There are days when Para Transpo shows up on time, and everything rolls smoothly. Sadly, those days can be a rare occasion.
Let’s get to it, and please keep in mind that this is no particular order.
1. As I’ve mentioned before, I need to go online the day before to book or reserve to get a ride on Para Transpo. Typically, it’s not a big deal. Thankfully, most of my able-bodied friends understand by now. However, what if something happens, and we need to pick up something, or a medical situation occurs? We’re quite literally stuck at home, while most able-bodied people have the options to drive, take Uber or Taxi, or (in theory) take an OC Transpo bus or the LRT.
Most PWD aren’t physically able to sit in a car, and wheelchair-accessible Taxis are non-existent at night. Therefore, our only option is Para Transpo. That’s not acceptable or safe.
Earlier this summer, three of my friends were left stranded because Para Transpo and wheelchair-accessible cabs weren’t available. Now imagine being stranded during winter. It’s -20C outside, the ground is covered in snow, and the PWD attempts to move, but it’s draining the chair’s battery.
What is a PWD supposed to do?
Better question, what would YOU (as a councillor) do at that moment if you were physically disabled?
2. This one goes with the first on my list.
Ottawa DESPERATELY NEEDS more Para Transpo vehicles, drivers, and wheelchair-accessible Taxis. At this point, Ottawa NEEDS to do whatever it takes to get more wheelchair-accessible public transportation on the streets of Ottawa.
One thing that people need to remember is that almost EVERYONE can use a wheelchair-accessible Taxi. Both able-bodied and some PWD can use it. In other words, the more passengers can take a cab, the more money rolls in.
I truly don’t understand why some at city hall can’t understand the need for wheelchair-accessible taxis since they’re capable of picking up both able-bodied and PWD passengers.
3. Para Transpo should be available 24/7. As I mentioned above, what if a medical situation happens?
Yes, we can take an ambulance. When we take an ambulance, though, we’re unable to bring our mobility devices, which opens up another list of risks, and added stress. Also, not every medical situation requires an ambulance, at least not if you can get a ride within a reasonable time frame.
For medical reasons alone, having Para Transpo operate 24/7 would greatly relieve most, if not all, Para Transpo users.
Also, let’s not forget about the social aspect. The latest we can book Para Transpo is midnight. If you’re at a bar, most concerts/events begin at 10 or 11 pm. If you’re at an arena or outdoors, the concert or event may end by 11 pm, but you can’t go out afterward.
But, according to some at city hall and elsewhere, people with disabilities don’t have a social life.
4. Right now, it costs $3.75 cash to take Para Transpo, bus, or LRT. Yes, there’s Presto and Community Presto. I’m going to talk about physical money.
For $3.75 cash, we are all paying for horrible transportation. For those on ODSP, it’s simply a cost that many of us can’t afford. Because they can’t afford transportation costs, that can also mean having to cancel medical appointments, meetings, and sometimes, even funerals.
Public transportation prices either need to come down and/or be free for those on ODSP. I also believe that Para Transpo should be free at the absolute very least.
It’d be one less thing for PWD to worry about as we regularly struggle to have enough money to pay bills, food, and rent.
To those of you running in the municipal election, YOU have a chance to better include people with disabilities in Ottawa. PLEASE listen to us, and not just up to election day.
We are not photo ops or the issue of the month. PWD ARE people too, and OUR city leaders have ignored us for far too long.
I know full well that Ottawa’s a big and diverse city. It’s impossible to be there for everyone. When I ran for Mayor in 2018, my main objective was to make PWD a priority and to give them a voice at the head of the table.
Four years later, I’m asking all of you to please listen to us, get to know us, learn what you need to know to address our concerns, and truly be the difference that Ottawa needs.
P.S. If any of you need our help, we are more than happy to assist you as long as we know that you’re genuinely trying to help those in the PWD community.