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Stuck on the Sidelines

Wednesday, July 8, 2015 5:27:10 EDT PM

Butterfly Beth Fields feels like she’s lost her independence.

Every week she hopes one of the city’s new accessible buses will arrive at the Marshall Avenue transit stop to pick her up.

But if not then hopefully a stranger will be kind enough to help.

Fields said she’s had to count on the compassion of many strangers who have helped her because she couldn’t get up the bus ramp.

“Because the ramp is so steep on the older bus models I don’t have the physical ability to pull myself up and combine that with my foot plate hitting the ramp before my wheels usually causes me to become stuck,” she said.

“Transit will tell you the city buses are all wheelchair accessible, but the old ramps only work on a sidewalk or curb. We need accessible buses that can help people in wheelchairs whether there is a sidewalk, curb or nothing.”

The latest situation occurred June 18 when Fields said the bus driver refused to help her up the ramp.

“The bus driver turned around, there were 10 or 20 people on the bus, and she asked if there was anyone who could help me,” she said.

“I was lucky one woman stood up.”

Fields said the nearest bus stop with a ramp or sidewalk is about 1.6 kilometres away.

She said the city’s para bus program is also not a viable option because you have to book a seat days in advance.

“If I need to go anywhere I have to wait. I have to either wait for a new bus or wait for someone to help me.”

Fields said she’s contacted the city as well as the transit system to complain and offer a solution.

“It’s been a three year battle,” she said.

“Why should my happy days rely on strangers and passersby. Excuse me for living an active life and wanting to get out.”

Remi Renaud, transit manager for the City of North Bay said the city’s fleet of transit buses are 100% accessible.

“All of our buses are compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act,” he said. “We address issues as they come up.”

Renaud said many things have to be considered before bus stops can be adjusted with pads etc. such as winter maintenance.

“All of our buses have the kneel and ramp feature. As technology progresses and newer buses are built these features are improved to decrease the angle.”

Adam Miller said he sympathizes with Fields and can relate to her frustration.

“It happens all of the time,” he said. “As a business owner people with disabilities don’t always get a fair shake. If you’re catching a bus on Lakeshore Drive or Algonquin Avenue you’ll have no problem, but there are plenty of places along the city’s side streets that have no curb or sidewalk.”

Miller said he would like to see the city create curbs near bus stops.

“If we had curbs we wouldn’t have these issues,” he said.

“I have started my own business, Miller Promotions and Event Planning, and I rely on transit to promote my business.”

Renaud said the city will receive two new buses this year, which will bring the new fleet to eight.

The city’s transit system cost $6.65 million in 2014. The projected revenues were $3.95 million. The city subsidizes the shortfall.

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