Why are certain cities pouring millions into green transit when they have yet to master the basics of transit itself? This question is asked almost daily by persons living with disabilities in many regions of New Brunswick, and more specifically in Saint John.
Transit is a fundamental need and right (see the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Article 9). The lack of transit hinders our ability to work, to get proper medical treatment, get out and socialize (of course, not during the pandemic), shop for essential needs like medications and food and so much more.
In Saint John, bus routes are not being adjusted to account for gentrification, yet there continues to be focus on the lack of users. Of course, usership is down. Routes do not serve the bulk of those who would use the bus!
For years, people have been telling Saint John Transit that when your bus schedule does not allow hospital staff to arrive at work in time for the 6 a.m. shift, then the service is useless. The notion that people only work 8-4 while developing bus routes schedules is not just ridiculous, it is archaic. Until schedules are made to accommodate transit users, which includes better hours, better routes, and much better service, it will never be a feasible system.
For people with disabilities and seniors, when stops are changed with no input to our needs, when drivers refuse to properly strap in wheelchairs, or have seats set aside for people with disabilities, seniors, etc. vacated by those who do not need them, how can they question why people with disabilities and seniors are not satisfied with the system? Together we represent at least 50 per cent of the population, so when you do so little to help accommodate many who could and would use your service, it will fail. If it were a private business, it would have failed long ago.
To boot, so many of these issues were pointed out in reports already paid for by the city, but apparently, when they do not like the results, they simply spend money on a new report or creation of a new plan.
The most probable solutions to make Saint John Transit break even or even be profitable include, but are not limited to:
- Investigating and determining where routes should be based on how the city’s demographics have changed over the last 10 years;
- Ensuring schedules are time appropriate and properly fit the realities of today’s users;
- Ensuring bus spots are in appropriate and accessible areas so that all users can get to the stop, as well as easily embark and disembark from the bus;
- Ensuring all bus drivers receive sensitivity training;
- Ensuring all drivers know how to safely assist seniors and persons with disabilities and their equipment;
- Immediately beginning use of the voice automation system purchased years ago as part of a settlement from a Human Rights complaint that is sitting in a box somewhere;
- Making it easier to pay for transit services, including para-transit. This would include having one reduced fare for all seniors and persons with disabilities.
Our financial ability to even take transit is often questionable, but necessary. Would it not be better to charge a little less and have full buses than make more per passenger, but have a lot less?
I truly hope that for once Saint John Transit and Saint John City Council respectfully listen to the citizens and their needs and then actually follow through on meeting our needs. Too much lip service has been made in the past that is then followed by no action or the opposite action.
Yes, we need to green our transit system, but before purchasing new and different sizes of green buses, let’s ensure we are purchasing the right bus for the right route. It makes no sense to continue the existing route schedule, so why would we purchase buses based on this? You cannot start building a house by putting up the roof, you need to develop a good, solid and appropriate foundation first (routes and times), then put up supporting walls (trained drivers, accessible stops), and then you add the roof (green buses).
Shelley Petit is the chair of the New Brunswick Coalition of Persons with Disabilities.