Trust in our public transit system remains stormy

ABOVE: Ryan Lythall wants to know what procedures are in place to ensure the safety of people with disabilities during an emergency evacuation on the LRT or on the buses? (Photo of LRT via CTV News)

At the time of the writing of this article, Hydro Ottawa is still cleaning up after the damage caused by last Wednesday's ice storm. Last week's storm left thousands of homes without power, and our LRT system was down for a day and a half.

By the time I woke up on Wednesday morning, there were already reports about the LRT system breakdown, but that’s not the surprising part. At least to transit riders. Let’s face it; the LRT system breaks down even when the weather’s fine.

The surprising part in OC Transpo’s and the City of Ottawa's minds was that people were actually riding the LRT system at the time of the breakdown and, as a result, had to be evacuated. To make matters worse, one of the LRT trains shut down beside a fence. To get the passengers out, emergency crews had to put a hole in the fence to get them out, and passengers were forced to walk in the freezing rain to the nearest bus stop.

OC Transpo was nowhere to be found, including on Social media. Little mention of a delay or that the LRT system was down was made. Both OC Transpo and the City of Ottawa continue to ignore their riders. According to them, we have an acceptable LRT system, and more people need to use it.

As I mentioned, both the City of Ottawa and OC Transpo continue to ignore their riders, including people with disabilities. When footage of the LRT breakdown was shown on TV, it showed passengers needing to be helped by emergency crews to safely jump over a large gap between the train doors and the ground.

Of course, my first thought, along with several others on social media, was, what if a person with a disability was stuck on the LRT? How would they be able to get off the train? Would they also be forced to walk or roll to the nearest stop in the freezing rain? How would they even be able to “jump” over the gap?

First of all, it would’ve been impossible for Para Transpo to rescue passengers due to the location of where the LRT broke down. The PWD would also need to attempt to navigate the icy conditions to get to a safe place to wait for Para Transpo. Even then, what happens if the person’s mobility device is damaged while getting to the stop?

Secondly, what happens if a person with a disability is non-verbal? How would they be able to communicate their needs? I’m sure they’d be terrified and unable to adequately express their needs and concerns. As it was, passengers were stranded, and the driver offered very little information to the passengers.

Imagine being stuck on the LRT without being able to speak, see, or hear. You don't know what is happening or if you will be rescued. To me, that is a scary situation.

Since the LRT was announced, I have made numerous attempts to reach out to OC Transpo and the City of Ottawa to find out the procedures for such an event. So far, they responded that they have policies but refused to give any details.

While there were no official media reports of any person(s) with disabilities being stranded on the LRT at the time of the breakdown, it’s always possible. For all we know, there could’ve been a PWD on board. After all, the idea of people with disabilities using public transit is crazy and unheard of.

The City of Ottawa has taken the “let’s wait till something happens” approach for years. In this case, since there was no mention of a PWD becoming stranded, it’s doubtful that a better procedure for such an event will be implemented.

What exactly is the City of Ottawa waiting for? Does someone need to be hurt or, worse, on the LRT before the city does anything? Also, whose idea was it to put the LRT near a fence or in places Para Transpo can`t get to when the LRT system breaks down?

That’s a HUGE safety risk for people with disabilities and seniors.

The City of Ottawa and OC Transpo NEED to address this problem now. Don’t wait for something to happen, and treat us like guinea pigs to find out what works and what doesn`t when evacuating people with disabilities in an emergency.

If OC Transpo is serious about getting more riders, they need to restore trust and confidence with ALL public transit users, including people with disabilities.

Once again, I’m reaching out to OC Transpo, this time to General Manager Renee Amilcar.

What procedures are in place to ensure the safety of people with disabilities during an emergency evacuation on the LRT or on the buses? If the LRT system breaks down in an area Para Transpo can’t reach, how are we supposed to get home safely?