Ottawa

Seniors' centre calling on OC Transpo to reinstate bus routes

Ottawa's Good Companions Centre for seniors says it has lost members and volunteers since the LRT changes left only one bus stopping at the facility on Albert Street.

Good Companions centre says attendance has dwindled since last week's LRT changeover

Agatha Phillips said she had to wait 25 minutes in front of The Good Companions centre for a Route 16 bus on Thursday. (Laurie Fagan/CBC )

Ottawa's The Good Companions, a non-profit seniors' centre on Albert Street, says it's seen a drop in both members and volunteers since OC Transpo removed all but one of the bus routes they relied on to get there.

Prior to last week's changeover to LRT, 14 bus routes stopped in front of the centre near LeBreton Flats.

Those included such well-established routes as the 95, as well as other buses that used the Transitway. Now, only the Route 16 stops at the centre during the day.

"I am broken-hearted," said Monique Doolittle-Romas, executive director of The Good Companions.

"They are finding it extremely challenging now that we've been reduced to one bus every 30 minutes."

This is crazy, and who thought up this idea for seniors?- Agatha Phillips, 74

The centre serves 300 seniors a day with fitness programs, art classes, bingo and hot lunches, according to Doolittle-Romas. More than half — 56 per cent — of those who attend weekday programs travel by public transit, coming from all parts of the city, she said.

The nearest LRT station, Pimisi, is about 300 metres away on Booth Street.

Doolittle-Romas said she's heard from about 50 members and volunteers who told her that without better bus service, they can no longer get to the centre. She's calling on the city to add more buses or increase the frequency of the one remaining route.

Monique Doolittle-Romas, executive director of the Good Companions Centre, and volunteer Brian Robertson spoke to CBC News about what the lack of bus service has meant for members. 1:43

Longer commutes

Agatha Phillips, 74, normally takes Para Transpo from her home near Albion Road to the centre, where she likes to take part in exercise classes and sing-a-longs. But when her return trip was cancelled Thursday, she waited 25 minutes for a Route 16 bus.

"This is crazy, and who thought up this idea for seniors?" Phillips asked. "If I fall down in the winter I'll be in trouble." 

Brenda Thompson, 73, has been a volunteer and ambassador at The Good Companions for five years.

"I was a voluntary shut-in for almost 12 years after my husband died because I gave up on everything, including myself,"  she said. "The Good Companions literally saved my life, and I'm serious about that." 

Monique Doolittle-Romas, executive director of The Good Companions, says she's hearing from members and volunteers who can no longer get to the centre on Albert Street. (Laurie Fagan/CBC )

She now takes two buses and the LRT to get to the centre, with a travel time of one hour and 20 minutes. The same commute used to take 35 minutes.

"It's not acceptable … I am really upset about this because we're all friends and we need each other. It's like a community in this building." 

'It's not acceptable,' said Brenda Thompson, a volunteer who says the programs she found at The Good Companions saved her life. (Laurie Fagan/CBC )

OC Transpo collecting feedback

Doolittle-Romas said she shared her concerns with OC Transpo officials when the Confederation Line was being planned, but agreed to wait and see how operating with one bus would be.

Pat Scrimgeour, OC Transpo's director of transit customer systems and planning, said in an emailed statement that in addition to Route 16, route 85 from Bayshore has been modified to drop passengers off at Pimisi station.

Since hundreds of buses disappeared from downtown Ottawa, members of a seniors' centre say they've ben having a hard time getting there. 8:30

Doolittle-Romas said that 300-metre walk from the station is easy for a young, able-bodied person, but for a senior using a cane or walker it can be difficult, especially once the cold weather sets in.

"What about during the winter when the streets are icy?" she asked.

Doolittle-Romas said she was encouraged by a call she received Thursday from Mayor Jim Watson's office requesting a meeting with her and OC Transpo officials. 

"We need to keep seniors active and engaged in Zumba and art classes or having a meal," Doolittle-Romas said. "You don't want a senior sitting home alone and isolated.It leads to depression and health issues. They deserve better than this."

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