Ottawa·ELECTION 2018

The Fix: Paralympian has bone to pick with OC Transpo

With the Oct. 22 municipal election just around the corner, CBC Ottawa's 'All In A Day' is collecting municipal gripes — and seeking solutions.

Series shares voter concerns, from community housing to potholes

At CBC All In A Day's special election storytelling pop-up, Sally Thomas explained how an inaccessible bus stop is causing her grief. Event participant Elaine Tamblyn-Watts spoke up afterward to propose a solution. 4:09

With the Oct. 22 municipal election just around the corner, CBC Ottawa's All In A Day is collecting municipal gripes and seeking solutions.

The show has invited eight listeners to share stories about a specific time they've felt let down by the City of Ottawa, from an over-proliferation of potholes to missing sidewalks at bus stops.

Their stories were gathered Oct. 3 at a "pop-up" community event called The Fix, hosted by CBC Radio's Alan Neal.

In the first edition we heard from Graham Winter, who'd lived in an Ottawa Community Housing [OCH] building on Caldwell Avenue for nearly a decade.

Next up is Sally Thomas, a former Paralympic power lifter who has a bone to pick with OC Transpo.

OC Transpo advertises that all of its buses and trains are fully accessible, but Thomas — a wheelchair user — is more concerned about what happens after she gets off the bus.

Thomas goes to a community health centre on Belfast Road on a weekly basis and gets dropped off at a bus stop near the corner of Trainyards Drive.

But Belfast only has a gravel and asphalt shoulder, forcing Thomas to go around the corner to reach a paved sidewalk.

Sally Thomas gets dropped off at this bus stop on Belfast Road. There are not paved sidewalks, and the bus shelter has a small concrete step that makes it inaccessible. (Google Street View)

"In the meantime, because there is no sidewalk there, I have to wheel on the road to get around the corner," she said.

Thomas said she has been going to the health centre for nearly a decade and has consistently brought the issue to the attention of OC Transpo and the city.

"I've brought it up again with two of our mayors, Jim Watson and [former Mayor Larry] O'Brien."

Thomas said it is an easy fix: simply move the bus stop around the corner to where there are sidewalks.

But one audience member there need to be more systemic change when approaching city planning and projects.

"The fix is to stop treating these problems like 'Oh surprise! I forgot wheelchair users exist, I forgot scooter users exist,'" said Elaine Tamblyn-Watts, who herself uses a scooter.

Tamblyn-Watts said a focus on accessibility needs to be front and centre during any city planning and design.

In an email to CBC, OC Transpo's director of customer systems and planning Pat Scrimgeour thanked Thomas for her feedback, but said moving the bus stop would be hard to do.

"If the bus stop were moved to Trainyards Drive, there is currently not enough land available in the City right of way to install a shelter, and we do want to retain a shelter," he said.

"Staff will look for ways to make the installation of a shelter feasible."

"If the bus stop needs to remain at its current location on Belfast Road, staff would explore opportunities to make the stop more accessible, such as by improving surface conditions and updating pavement markings."

All In A Day is committed to pursuing solutions to all of the problems that have been identified as part of The Fix. 

On Wednesday, each of the candidates in Alta Vista were invited on the show to share how they would respond to Thomas's concerns.

Kevin Kit sent his response via email and Mike McHarg was not available. 

Jean Cloutier​

We could move that shelter approximately 50 metres to east and that would alleviate the situation.

Absolutely, we need to extend that sidewalk from Trainyards further along Belfast at least to the Carefor property.

The accessibility advisory committee works very hard and I want to ensure that they are on board and reviewing OC Transpo.

I want to get OC Transpo to review the accessibility across the city; all their bus stops and shelters, just like we did when we rebuilt St. Laurent Boulevard.

Some of the other options are the accessibility surcharge we are charging Uber. We could talk about that and how we could use those ideas and the feedback we have received.

Clinton Cowan​

For the frustrated Sally's and Elaine's out there. I hear you. With your help I will be proud to open a consultation house in Alta Vista: an open, accessible space where we can collaborate, consult and work on issues like this.

We need to talk about our older adult plan in our city. That is the plan to become an age-friendly city.

This is an opportunity to ramp up funding to address the grade issues around many of our intersections.

We need to look at our accessibility advisory committee and expand the scope of what they work on, beyond just building permits. Have them mandated to look at our streetscape and public realm.

We did an accessibility, walkability audit in Alta Vista, and one of the things that revealed itself [is] around our bus stops and at our intersections the snow walls are creating huge hurdles.

We need to remove all the barriers to make our systems work.

Raylene Lang-Dion

The first thing right away would be to meet Sally and Elaine. To really have that face to face discussion in terms of identifying exactly what the concerns are. That to me is just common sense.

I did that yesterday in between canvassing, going over and seeing exactly what the problem is. 

The job of a councillor is to listen to the people, so number one would be advocating for Sally.

It would be resident led consultations: bring us around, let's go around the ward, let us see where the problems are.

Let us identify them and take the steps with OC Transpo and Para Transpo to ensure these things don't happen again.

John Redins 

Disability can happen to anyone. I have lived it everyday since 2010.

We have an accessibility department. What do they do? I don't know.

We have a disability committee that is ineffective at times. They need more power.

OC Transpo, with the LRT, has lost confidence with folks. Some employees and customers like me feel that their input is not being heard

OC Transpo needs a shakeup. Two per cent to 2.5 per cent rate increases with decreases to customer services are affecting everyone. I do believe we need an external audit.

Kevin Kit 

When I listened to Sally Thomas I was struck by how many people she contacted over a long period of time, with no resolution.

It's not that the city does not know or has not recognized the importance of this issue.

In fact, the City of Ottawa has a five-year Municipal Accessibility Plan (2016-2020) that seeks to enhance the accessibility of city services.

Within the report there is a transportation section that outlines transportation initiatives for residents with disabilities.

One of the recommendations is that the city should continue facility improvements to enhance the design of transit stations, transit stops and facilities to increase accessibility. 

We need a leader who will ask the tough questions. We need a leader who will measure progress on results not intentions.

Finally, looking beyond the issue of transportation, we need to be committed to implementing the Municipal Accessibility Plan and ensure accessibility is a real consideration in the design of our infrastructure.