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Fed up with winter Transit 

Halifax's accessibility needs to improve

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I have been living in Halifax for the past five months and until yesterday, I've had nothing but good things to say about the city. Back in January I had read an article about Gerry Post who was sharing his opinion on issues he has had with Halifax Transit. I myself use a manual wheelchair and use the Access-a-Bus, mostly to get from Halifax to Dartmouth Crossing where I work. After reading the article I was considering writing a rebuttal. I had had no issues with Access-a-Bus, the local taxi service or regular transit, but I am now in agreement with Mr. Post.

It all started approximately 10 days ago when Access-a-Bus forgot me. I was working until 9pm that evening and had booked Access-a-Bus from 9-9:30. For those of you who read the article on Gerry Post, you know that Access-a-Bus has a 30-minute window. Normally that's fine. Considering the size of the area they cover and the fact that–according to a driver I was speaking to one evening—they have over 10,000 clients, I think a half-hour window is pretty impressive. However, that evening I was left waiting for over an hour. 

At the time I didn't let it bother me. The driver apologized dozens of times on the way home and at the end of it all, they DID pick me up and take me home. I'd rather get home a little late than be stranded.

This past Friday I attempted to leave my apartment. I live on South Park Street and all I wanted to do was wheel down to the Tim Horton's for a coffee on Spring Garden. After leaving my apartment and travelling approximately 20 feet, I went into the other entrance of the building and back into my apartment. Nothing was shovelled, not even a little. Sure, I could take the #10 bus to the corner and then the #1 bus down Spring Garden, but that seemed like an awful lot of trouble just for a coffee.

I understand snow can be hard to deal with. I can only imagine how things were dealt with last year when the weather was much, much worse. But not having the sidewalks cleared well enough that I can't even leave my building is quite disheartening. 

And then, there was yesterday. I had worked until mid-afternoon and had booked Access-a-Bus to take me home, like I always do. I was out by the front door waiting at the exact time my 30-minute window had began. After 45 minutes, I called the dispatch office to see where my ride was. After being on hold for more than 20 minutes (which is another issue all in itself), someone answered and when I had asked (calmly) when the ETA for my pick up was, I was told that their system was down and that there was nothing they could do for me. I was given no solutions on how to get home. The person on the other line had the attitude of "I'm having a bad day, I don't want to be here anymore.” I understand people have bad days, but I found that very unprofessional. At least when they forgot me the previous week I got an apology.

My next course of action was to call a cab. I've used the taxi service many times, but considering the price it's typically a last resort. It was now nearly 5pm and I knew that with rush hour, this ride would cost me at least $50. But considering how cold it was yesterday (I didn't really want to wait outside for two buses), I decided to grin and bear it. I called a taxi, told them where I was and where I was going and specified three times that I needed a wheelchair accessible taxi. I was asked if I could get out of my chair and while I can, my chair does not fold up in any way so I responded with a resounding "No". 

The taxi arrived approximately 20 minutes later; A taxi that was not accessible. Despite the troubles I was having I stayed calm. After all, it wasn't the driver’s fault. At that point I saw one of my coworkers heading up the hill to the bus stop so I decided to join him. If he wasn't there I wouldn't have been able to to make it up the hill or onto the sidewalk myself because, once again, nothing was plowed properly. I don't like taking the bus for numerous reasons. On days like yesterday if I'm outside waiting for long periods of time that could do considerable damage as I have no feeling in my legs. The Access-a-Bus is there for people like me so if I really need to get somewhere, I use it as much as I can. The fact that I have to book them a week in advance is a pain, but as I try my best to stay on top of things all had been fine until recently.

The bus arrived (on time) and I proceeded to take it from Dartmouth Crossing to Mic Mac Mall, where I had to get on the #10 to South Park Street. It seemed like I would finally get home. Unfortunately, I ran into another problem. After the #10 arrived and I attempted to get on the bus, my wheelchair got stuck in a snow bank. Nothing was cleared at the bus stop. It took three people and 10 minutes to dislodge my wheels. At that point, I had had just about enough. I was planning to take the #10 bus all the way home (it stops right in front of my building), but as we got onto Spring Garden, I requested a stop in front of Tim Horton's because, quite frankly, I needed caffeine. 

Soon after I headed home, which turned out to be treacherous. I really should have just taken the bus all the way home. The sidewalks were so slippery on South Park Street that I nearly ended up either in a snow bank or in the street. If it wasn't for a helpful passerby I probably would have. One thing I will say is the people in this city have been incredibly helpful. Every time I've headed downtown to run errands or to simply explore the city I'm often offered a hand heading up or down hills or into buildings. The transit and snow removal definitely needs work, but Nova Scotians really are the friendliest people in this country.

I finished work at 3:30pm yesterday afternoon and entered my apartment at 6:30 yesterday evening. A drive that would normally take 20 minutes (on a good day) took three hours. It was then that I realized, Mr. Post was right. Something needs to be done.

I've never been one to rock the boat or to complain, but after my ordeal yesterday, something needed to be said. I come from a small town and the transit system is miles ahead of what I'm used to, but considering the size of this city and the fact that there are many people here with mobility issues things definitely need to improve.

I'm curious, what if the same situation were to happen to someone who couldn't find another way home? I try to be very independent, but for some people it simply isn't an option. Unfortunately it may take a situation like someone getting stranded for things to actually change, but I sincerely hope it doesn't come to that.


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