British Columbia

Disabilty advocate denounces TransLink change to front-facing wheelchair spots

Because of COVID-19 physical distancing requirements, bus drivers will no longer be securing front-facing wheelchairs or scooters on certain buses.

Physical distancing rules mean bus drivers are no longer allowed to secure wheelchairs, scooters on some buses

TransLink bus drivers will no longer strap in front-facing wheelchairs in order to comply with COVID-19 physical distancing rules. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The news that bus operators in Metro Vancouver will no longer be able to assist wheelchair customers strapping into front-facing berths due to the province's physical distancing requirements is a further blow to people with disabilities, according to an advocate.

TransLink is now advising customers with mobility devices who want to travel by bus to bring someone with them to provide assistance.

But Jocelyn Maffin with Spinal Cord Injury B.C. says that only puts a further burden on those who are already hard hit by the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"[The pandemic] happened so fast and it's even harder to find caregivers now because people have to look after their kids and are worried about exposure to the virus. So transit's request that they bring their caregiver is not really realistic," she said.

"And those [affected] are inherently more vulnerable and forced to travel on transit in their wheelchairs at a high-risk time because they don't have help at home."

According to TransLink spokesperson Jill Drews, the announcement applies to approximately 20 per cent of the bus fleet with front-facing wheelchair berths.

Inside an TransLink Coast Mountain bus. About 20 per cent of buses are equipped with front-facing wheelchair bays. (Jeremy Allingham/CBC)

The remaining 80 per cent have a rear-facing accessible seat which can be secured independently by those in a wheelchair or scooter. 

"Due to the nature of operations it isn't possible to predict with accuracy what bus will be used on what route at any given time," said Drews.  

As per the existing TransLink policy, bus drivers will call for a taxi if a person in a wheelchair or scooter is unable to board the bus, she said.

Maffin says it's been heartwarming to see neighbours and community members helping each other out, but doesn't see it as a replacement for bus travel. 

"I completely understand the abundance of caution here to protect their workers, but it really surprised me when I heard about this change because at this point we really talking about folks that don't have a lot of alternatives."

On Feb. 20, TransLink made all buses free and moved to rear-door boarding for most passengers.

The move was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to allow for physical distancing between drivers and passengers. 


With files from the Early Edition


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