Meeting with OC Transpo General Manager Renee Amilcar and Management
Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting with OC Transpo General Manager Renee Amilcar. Sally Thomas invited me from Ottawa Transit Riders. Laura Shantz, also from Ottawa Transit Riders, was also present. With Renee Amilcar were Rami El Feghali, Pat Scrimgeour, and Lisa Bishop-Spencer.
Before I dive into the meeting, I want to mention that I’m physically unable to take notes or use any type of recorder. To be even more honest, I can’t understand my own voice, so even if I had a recording device, I’d be baffled. Thanks to Laura Shantz for taking notes. Most of this article will combine excerpts from the notes and my thoughts.
Our meeting started with Renee Amilcar introducing herself and explaining her history with STM in Montreal and her involvement with Montreal’s version of Para Transpo. Afterwards, we all introduced ourselves, and Sally and I gave a brief description of our roles regarding advocating for improved Para Transpo service, as well as transit that is equal and accessible for everyone.
I also mentioned that I write a weekly column for Ottawa Life Magazine discussing Para Transpo and wheelchair accessibility. Except for Sally and Laura, I didn’t feel that others understood my voice.
Recently, Ward 6 Stittsville City Councillor and Deputy Mayor Glen Gower joined Sally Thomas on Para Transpo. A trip from Stittsville to Centretown took 90 minutes, and another two hours for Sally to do a simple errand in her neighborhood.
Following that topic, Sally talked about safety concerns with using conventional transit, including being victimized twice while using conventional transit. Rami noted that the follow-up service has improved since the pandemic, and OC Transpo is working to follow up with everyone who reports an assault.
At this point, Renee Amilcar asked me what form of transportation I used, which I said was Para Transpo, mostly during winter, along with OC Transpo, wheelchair-accessible cabs, and LRT when it’s working.
Sadly, it was lost in translation.
Other challenges include poor pedestrian infrastructure, weather, and reliability of conventional transit, emphasizing delays for transit users with disabilities waiting on a cold or hot day.
Rami and Pat suggested checking out the updated OC Transpo app.
Sally and I both mentioned having ongoing issues with the online booking system. Staff said they will follow up to see why.
Issues with wheelchair-accessible taxis were then discussed. Due to the size and design of the taxis, users are forced to sit at an upwards angle. Sitting that way can be very uncomfortable and painful. In my experience, I don’t feel entirely safe sitting that way. Sally mentioned being too small to feel safe, and I said I’m too tall, and my chair is really wide. I just barely fit. If Ottawa had bigger wheelchair-accessible taxis that were safer and more available, I would use taxis more often.
Sally then talked about how some taxi drivers aren’t helpful. Also, some drivers don’t speak clearly and can be hard to understand.
Sally recounted her experience with taxi companies in Toronto last summer. In Toronto, you can book a ride on the same day, and riders don’t sit at an upwards angle. All users board from the side.
I didn’t mention it during our meeting, but I recall Ottawa having similar vehicles at one point.
Our next topic was communication.
Sally and I discussed how Para Transpo drivers don’t always get booking changes or the necessary information. Service changes are also poorly communicated to riders. New riders need specific information, which could be distributed through the Rehab Centre.
News regarding Para Transpo continues to be ignored, while conventional transit garners headlines.
Lisa suggests a newsletter might help share information with riders. Sally offered to help with gathering contact information.
Next on the menu was safety.
Specifically, what’s the safety plan for riders using mobility devices when the LRT breaks down?
Some PWDs can’t be separated from their devices, including myself, with my portable ventilator.
It was at this point that a lightbulb appeared.
The next day, Sally received an invite from the Para Transpo Working Group to their next meeting, which will include a presentation on the steps taken for people using mobility devices (including larger devices) during an LRT evacuation.
In an ironic twist, I’m not invited to the meeting. The reason is that I’m not a member of the Para Transpo Working Group.
Yet, if I hadn’t been at the meeting with Renee Amilcar and OC Transpo management, the subject probably would’ve been overlooked or minimized.
At first, I was upset and frustrated but not overly surprised. I still feel that way, and I could explain my feelings, but honestly, what’s the point?
If they don’t value my presence and voice, that’s not a ‘me problem.’ I’m sure Sally will continue to do a fantastic job of advocating at the meeting.
Other topics discussed with Renee Amilcar included the budget, on-demand pilot project, and same-day service.
Regarding the budget, Renee indicated that conventional fares subsidize the service, and we’re getting good value.
The on-demand pilot project works differently than Para Transpo and only serves bus stops along the route. The project won’t be a replacement for Para Transpo riders. If riders can’t get to a bus stop, Para Transpo will still be available.
For Para Transpo to offer same-day service, more contracts for minibuses and taxis are needed for availability and coverage.
Ottawa also needs more financial resources. Staff can follow up when a cost estimate becomes available.
Currently, Para Transpo offers some same-day trips. Sally and I said it depends on which dispatcher answers the phone. Staff will ensure that all dispatchers understand when an emergency request should be prioritized.
That was it.
The meeting was an hour long and flew by.
While it seemed far too short, we did our best to voice our concerns and others in our community.
Renee Amilcar and OC Transpo seemed receptive. I’m hopeful this is a new beginning.
Again, thank you to Renee Amilcar and OC Transpo management for meeting with us. Thank you again, Sally, for inviting Laura and me. Also, thanks again for taking notes, Laura.
Header photo: (left to right) Laura Schantz, Pat Scrimgeour, Ryan Lythall, Renee Amilcar, Sally Thomas and Rami El Feghali.