CNIB wishes Higgs had thought of visually impaired before rejecting public transit aid
Group says money could've been used to make public transit more accessible to people with sight loss
An advocate for the visually impaired is pushing back against Premier Blaine Higgs's rejection of federal money to improve public transit.
Brad McPherson of the New Brunswick division of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind said the money could be used to help people with sight loss gain better access to buses and ride them with more confidence.
"We've seen a lot of changes to transit schedules over the last five months," said McPherson, the CNIB division's board chair. "We need to be able to make those the most accessible, so people with phones, laptops, whatever it is, can be able to get to those schedules.
"And for people that don't have that ability, we need to make it as user friendly as possible to allow their friends and relatives their sighted guides and whatnot to be able to access new scheduling."
The CNIB has more than 5,000 clients in New Brunswick, many reliant on public transit to get around.
New challenges for bus users
With routes downsizing or changing and a reduction in hours because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said it has become a lot more challenging for people who are blind or visually impaired.
Locating bus stops on any given day can be a challenge but especially in winter, when there are more barriers. Now it's even more difficult because businesses have been expanding outdoors to allow for physical distancing.
"It can be challenging if bus stops are blocked by any kind of pathway."
As a result, many CNIB members are forced to rely on family and friends to help them get around, which decreases their independence and confidence going out in public, he said.
Funding audible stops
Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earmarked $1.8 billion for municipalities for transit — with the condition that each province must match the transit funding they receive.
HIggs has refused the offer, saying it's a program designed for larger urban centres, and New Brunwick's smaller centres need the money for other things. "We don't need a subway," he said.
But McPherson said he wishes the government would think of the groups that depend on public transit in New Brunswick.
He'd like it to finance audible stops for New Brunswickers, a system of announcing each stop on a route as it come up.
For example, someone heading to the Regent Mall in Fredericton would be able to hear the stop's name, rather than have to figure out another way that it's time to get off the bus. The same system could also provide visual cues for the hearing impaired.
"Those would be very beneficial on the go forward."
Audible stops are already used in Halifax's public transit system. While the reaction has been mostly positive, McPherson did say there has been complaints about the sound being too loud and annoying.
Boosting transit services
Some of the rejected federal money could have been used for brighter signage and tactile strips, especially for bus stops on busy highways or streets across New Brunswick, McPherson said.
Meanwhile, municipal bus systems are facing a budget crunch because of the drop in ridership and added expenses during the pandemic.
McPherson said the province overlooked accessibility when turning down federal transit dollars, and now any kind of reduction of service risks hurting the day-to-day mobility of visually impaired people.
He has written a letter to the province, with hopes leaders will reverse their decision on transit relief funding but hasn't heard back.
"The money could've boosted transit services and helped with operational expenses, adding accessible features for transit," he said.
With files from Information Morning Fredericton