Attention city hall: Please stop ignoring Para Transpo riders

Last week, I took my first trip of 2022 on Para Transpo. While my experience on that day went smoothly, it’s not always the case. Having a positive experience with Para Transpo can almost be a reason to celebrate.

For those who aren’t aware of what Para Transpo is, I’ll explain a bit about them.

Para Transpo is a public transportation service for people with disabilities in Ottawa. Whenever a Para Transpo user needs a ride, they need to book their rides a day in advance. Booking a ride for the time you need can be pretty challenging depending on how many users need a ride that day and if it’s the same time as you requested.

In “the good old days,” if you wanted to book a ride, you had to call Para Transpo at 7 am or soon after 7. The lines were often busy, and it would take several minutes or even hours for someone to answer. Also, by the time they’d answer, all of the times were often fully booked, and you’d probably be out of luck. The only options left were taking a cab, a bus, and the LRT. However, for various reasons, many in the PWD community cannot get to an OC Transpo stop or take a cab.

Since 2020, the booking process has become easier, at least for some Para Transpo users.

After years of meetings at city hall and OC Transpo, the city FINALLY made an online booking system. While I haven’t had a bad experience with their online booking system, several have. Due to the pandemic, I haven’t used Para Transpo nearly as much as I used to.

Most of the problems for online booking involve the website itself and some users not understanding how to use it. Some PWD don’t have access to computers or smart devices. Those without access continue to call in the early morning. It takes less time to book by phone, but it falls short of an ideal system.

Thanks to a local advocacy group, ParaParity, improvements, such as online booking, have taken place.

One of our ongoing issues is booking our trips a day in advance. People who use all other forms of local public transit can just hop on an OC Transpo bus or train at almost any time, and no booking is required.

So, why can’t users of Para Transpo do the same?

The short, semi-quick answers are a lack of drivers, lack of vehicles, and the city of Ottawa continues to ignore the PWD community.

When it comes to public transportation, all discussions are focused either on the LRT, buses, and taxi service. Meanwhile, users of Para Transpo get pushed aside.

In the city’s mind, people with disabilities should just be happy with what they have.

We’ve been given a transportation service that often leaves us feeling more disabled.

Para Transpo is in dire need of an overhaul.

Later this year, a municipal election is set to take place. Residents of Ottawa are aware that Jim Watson won’t be running, which to me, is a good thing.

Ottawa needs a change, a reset, if I may say.

At the top of my list of things to change is how PWD are viewed. Instead of ignoring, or pushing us aside, sit down with us. Sit down with us, and learn about our concerns regarding Para Transpo and the lack of wheelchair accessibility, including city-owned facilities. You’re not getting the complete picture of our needs by not coming to us. PWD also want to be included in the process itself.

Simply emailing or tweeting back and forth doesn’t do as much as a face-to-face discussion.

When I ran for Mayor in 2018, my main focus was accessibility and improving Para Transpo. As far as I know, I’m the first mayoral candidate to mention those topics.

But I shouldn’t be the last.

During the upcoming campaign season, both locally and provincially, I would like to see candidates include people with disabilities for more than just photo-ops. Talk to us, learn from us, and honestly do everything in your power to improve the lives of people with disabilities.

The number of people with disabilities continues to grow, and numbers matter when it comes to voting.

And so should people with disabilities.

Photo: Courtesy Para Transpo