Thunder Bay transit aims to help special-needs passengers

Thunder Bay Transit is introducing a new line of buses will make it easier people who use wheelchairs, walkers or strollers to use the city bus system.

New bus design roomier, more accommodating for wheelchairs, walkers, strollers

Jon Hendel, planning and marketing analyst for Thunder Bay Transit, tries out a new theatre-style bus seat. When the seats are empty, they fold up along the inside wall of the bus. (Elyse Skura/CBC News)

Thunder Bay Transit is introducing a new line of buses it hopes will make taking public transit easier for people who use wheelchairs, walkers or strollers. The new bus was designed specifically with the needs of Thunder Bay passengers, and an aging population, in mind.

At least one mother in Thunder Bay is happy to hear the city's newest bus will make provide more room for strollers and young families.

Last summer, Michelle Richmond-Saravia said a bus driver left her at the stop because there wasn't enough room for her stroller.

"Waiting for a bus, sometimes having to wait for the next, due to it being full, was problematic, so a full bus can pass you by," she said.

"Then you're left for that half hour ... to entertain your children."

On one occasion she opted to walk several kilometres, instead of waiting for the next bus. But not everyone is able to do so.

Herbert Nerytnyk tries out one of Thunder Bay's new buses, which are meant to be more accessible and comfortable to people in wheelchairs or who use other mobility devices. (Elyse Skura/CBC News)

"It's all kinds of families that are using the bus," Richmond-Saravia said. "Nobody should be turned away because they're depending on that to get to places, to better their lives."

She said she feels good "knowing that families are a priority to Thunder Bay and that Transit wants to make all people feel safe."

Accessibility concerns

Thunder Bay Transit spokesperson Jon Hendel said the city took into account accessibility concerns when designing the bus. The roomier model has a large, open aisle and seats that fold up.

As one enters the bus, there are two spots for wheelchairs, neither of which require wheelchair-bound passengers to strap in. There is a padded bar for the passenger’s head and a bar beside them with a call button (for stops). The bar is close enough that the passenger’s chair cannot tip over, adding an element of security.

On the opposite side of the bus there is a row of seats — none of which face forward.

Up a step at the back of the bus there are more seats, in a horseshoe shape, all along the side.

Hendel said the seats at the back of the bus were done this way because now they are far enough apart that people cannot put their feet up.

"Through the transit master plan process … we heard consistently … [requests to] find a way to assist with people not putting their muddy winter boots up on the seats," Hendel said. "In Thunder Bay, that's definitely something that happens."

The new bus design is good for people like Herbert Nerytnyk, who brings his motorized wheelchair onto a lot of buses as he makes trips to doctors’ appointments and runs errands around town.

He said he takes the bus "at least once or twice a day. It all depends what mood I'm in and how much power I have in my powerchair."

So far, only three out of 49 buses have the new design. One of the buses is already on the road, on the No. 1 Mainline route.