Waterloo Region Record
By Luisa D’Amato
February 1, 2017
Able-bodied people would never stand for it.Chantal Huinink is in a wheelchair. She can ride regular buses, which have ramps. She can use a door-to-door service called Mobility Plus, which is offered by Grand River Transit for disabled people.And if Mobility Plus can’t help her, she can use half-price coupons for taxi rides that Grand River Transit also provides.
It adds up to a thoughtful array of options, on paper. But in real life, the services are oversubscribed and difficult to use. She’s left feeling frustrated, wondering if her rights are being disregarded.
The month of January has been difficult for Huinink, who works at a social agency and is also a student at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo.
Here’s what happened:
•On Jan. 5 she tried to book a ride to work with Mobility Plus. Despite booking six days in advance, she was told there weren’t enough vehicles, so they could only drop her at work two hours early and pick her up two hours after her shift ended. That would have meant 12 hours at work for an eight-hour shift.
•On Jan. 9, she decided to take the regular bus to meet a friend in uptown Waterloo. Two buses stopped, but their ramps were frozen shut. She couldn’t get on. The buses continued without her.
The third bus had a working ramp and she could board. But when she got off, she couldn’t move. Her wheels were buried in snow clogging the sidewalk. She had to call her friend to help. It was an “emotionally denigrating” experience, she said.
•The next morning she called Mobility Plus for a ride to the Via train station. A taxi was sent, but it came late because of an error at the cab company’s end. Huinink missed her train.
“These issues make it extremely difficult for citizens of Kitchener Waterloo who have disabilities to function within the community,” she said.
Eric Gillespie, director of transit services for the Region of Waterloo, said it’s “very disappointing” to hear this story. “We want to provide an excellent experience,” he said.
If ramps on buses are not working, the driver is supposed to report it. There is no record of that having happened, he said. The company clearing snow from bus stops gets a grace period of 72 hours after a snowfall. That deadline wasn’t up when Huinink was trying to use the sidewalk.
Gillespie said officials have worked hard to improve the service while staying within budget.
There are successes. In the last week of November 2016, 5,409 door-to-door rides were given, and there were 424 requests that couldn’t be accommodated. Compare that with the last week of this month: 5,374 door-to-door rides were given, and only 165 requests were denied.
But soaring numbers of people are asking for Mobility Plus. About 7,700 now are entitled to accessible transit. Of those, 1,343 first signed up in 2016.
Gillespie isn’t sure why the numbers are rising. But “we’ll be requesting additional dollars to meet that demand,” he said.
It’s a painful choice to raise taxes. But it’s even harder to make people, who already face so many challenges in life, feel even more powerless.