Ottawa

City responds to LRT accessibility concerns

The City of Ottawa says discussions about the accessibility of its new light rail system continue with a variety of groups, and is promising to keep an eye on emerging technologies that could make the system easier to navigate for people with disabilities.
The Ottawa chapter of the Alliance for the Equality of Blind Canadians is concerned Ottawa's new LRT trains won't be easily accessible for visually impaired riders. (City of Ottawa)

The City of Ottawa says discussions about the accessibility of its new light rail system continue with a variety of groups, and is promising to keep an eye on emerging technologies that could make the system easier to navigate for people with disabilities.

City officials met Monday evening with the local chapter of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians to discuss concerns about whether the trains will be properly equipped to meet the needs of some blind and visually impaired transit users.

Pat Scrimgeour, the city's director of transit customer assistance and planning, didn't attend the meeting, but told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Tuesday that about 25 people were there in person, plus another 10 connected by phone to ask city officials questions.

Pat Scrimgeour, the city's director of transit customer assistance and planning, says work to make LRT accessible is ongoing. (CBC)

The alliance's president, Peter Field, told Ottawa Morning Monday the group has concerns about a number of features including buttons to open train doors.

Scrimgeour said Tuesday that all doors will open automatically at busy stops and indoor stops, but "at quieter times and at colder stations we'll keep the doors closed, except when people need to get on or off."

As for how blind and visually impaired persons will find the buttons, Scrimgeour said they'll use the existing Trillium line's doors as a model.

"They're consistently located with the trains we have now, which people have been using successfully for years. And of course, as with everything about the system, we'll be introducing all of our customers ... to all of the features, all of the differences between the travel experience they have now and the one they'll have in the future when the O-Trains open."

Promised demonstration never happened

Field was also disappointed with the lack of followup from the city after meeting with the alliance nearly two years ago. He also said the city promised in 2016 to show the group a train car before the system goes live, but that hasn't happened.

Scrimgeour stopped short of making that promise Tuesday, saying they're "eager" to show off the line and its features to all customers, and that they'll see if they can fit a viewing into their schedule.

"We're going to try a number of things. Trying it when it is in service is also an idea because then you get the idea of what the station will sound like, what the station will feel like when there's hundreds of people in it," Srimgeour said.

"We're dealing with a number of groups. [The alliance] is one of them.... We're happy to continue to stay in touch."

City studying new technology

Field also called on the city to adopt and install a digital navigation system that would allow visually impaired passengers to use their smartphones to help find their way through stations.

Scrimgeour said the city is keeping an eye on the emerging technology, which uses small, low-energy Bluetooth transmitters and is currently being used at some underground stops in London, U.K., and in Toronto.

"We're watching it, and we're trying to find out if that's the right technology. It seems to be the leading technology but it's really early-going," he said.

OC Transpo's $12-million automated bus stop announcement system came under fire recently when visually impaired passengers complained it failed so often it was practically useless.

The Canadian Transportation Agency fined OC Transpo $25,000 in December following a CBC story about the failures.

The city installed a system to announce bus stop locations two years ago, which helps visually impaired riders, but the system was only installed after two fines from the Canadian Transportation Authority. 

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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