Last Updated Monday, September 16, 2019 11:19AM PDT
Transit users want to see more open and flexible spaces in SkyTrain cars, a survey conducted by TransLink says.
Earlier this year, about 13,500 transit users weighed in on changes they’d like to see inside SkyTrain cars as the transportation authority prepares to get more than 200 new cars.
Results from the survey, released Friday, found that front-facing seats were the most popular, with 53 per cent of respondents preferring them. But perimeter seats were firmly in second place, with one-third saying they’d like some side seating in the new cars.
Transit users were also very interested in seeing more leaning rails next to windows, particularly for those who have difficulty sitting. Across both its public survey and the TransLink Listens survey, 90 per cent of transit users were in favour of leaning rails.
Opening up areas entirely for flex space was also a popular option, with about 60 per cent of respondents saying they’d like to see flex space on trains doubled. Right now, the newest train cars have two flex space areas – one at each end of the train. In those flex spaces, two-thirds supported bike racks being included.
SkyTrain users also wanted improved signage showing the upcoming stop, destination and exit side.
They also called for policies on washrooms to be reviewed. Currently, only washrooms at SeaBus terminals or on the West Coast Express are open to the public. There are also staff washrooms at stations, which are only accessible to the public with the permission of a TransLink staff member.
However last December, TransLink’s board of directors approved a recommendation to create a policy that would see public washroom facilities on the transit system.
Data on those scores has not yet been released and there is no timeline on washrooms being made available at stations.
The request for proposals for design and delivery of new cars will close at the end of this year. The new train cars will be used to replace the oldest “Mark 1” cars and will be in service sometime between 2024 and 2027.
Port Moody resident Micaela Evans takes the SkyTrain and the West Coast Express commuter train everyday to get to her job in Vancouver as a communications coordinator at a non-profit that helps people with spinal cord injuries.
Typically, Evans’ daily commute to the Spinal Cord Injury BC office in South Vancouver takes her just over an hour each way.
Evans, 24, uses an electric wheelchair, so if an elevator breaks down at a SkyTrain station, or is undergoing maintenance, the delay can add an extra half hour each way to her commute. Sometimes, these elevator outages can occur several times a month.
“I have a job like anyone else, I just want to be able to get to work and be there on time,” Evans said in a phone interview.
Is it still possible for me to get from the Expo Line to Canada Line for work tomorrow in a wheelchair?
She isn’t the only disabled person who has faced delays when an elevator is out of service at a SkyTrain station. Justina Loh, executive director of Disability Alliance B.C., said other people who rely on elevators because they have disabilities have complained about delays when an elevator is out of commission.
At times, Loh said staff and volunteers have arrived late for work because they’ve had to wait or because they’ve had to reroute themselves to get to work in a different way.
“I would say it’s a pretty big issue,” Loh said.
Evans, who said she thinks TransLink’s overall service is good, said the company posts alerts on their website and Twitter to warn users when an elevator will be under maintenance. But she says the wording of these alerts are vague and puts the onus on the person with the disability to figure out a Plan B.
“They just kind of expect you to figure out how the heck you’re going to get to the next successful station,” Evans said.
She said she’d like to see more support staff at stations to provide help, adding she’s noticed a reduction in services.
Each work day, Evans boards the West Coast Express at Moody Centre Station and disembarks at Waterfront. She then transfers to SkyTrain’s Canada Line and takes the train to Marine Drive station.
She has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder that affects the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement.
TransLink spokesperson, Jill Drews said when the transit authority has scheduled elevator maintenance at one of its SkyTrain stations, it attempts to provide users with a minimum notice of three days, which it relays through tweets and on its website.
If a customer arrives at a station and isn’t aware of the outage, they can request a TransLink assistant to call a taxi, which will take them to the next station with a working elevator.
Regular elevator maintenance is necessary, Drews said. Under B.C. safety regulations, TransLink must inspect each elevator in the system once a month. There’s also a yearly inspection that’s more in-depth and can take multiple days.
“You can imagine how catastrophic it could be if a fault, you know, trapped a customer or led to injury. That’s just not something we can risk,” Drews said.
Loh pointed out TransLink was one of the first systems to implement the Universal Fare Gate program which uses sensors so people who can’t physically tap a Compass Card can have the fare gates open for them.
But, Loh said there are still barriers for people with disabilities when it comes to taking public transportation.
“I would say, one, it’s either just too congested, and there’s a lack of understanding and empathy from other transit users,” Loh said.
Drews said TransLink’s policy states it must have to have an attendant present when the only critical elevator to access the platform is out for maintenance or repairs. She also said the company tries to schedule maintenance during non-peak hours but there’s an industry shortage of qualified elevator technicians.
Drews said TransLink isn’t able to offer as much money as other companies, so in order to stay competitive, it schedules technicians during daytime, meaning the work is conducted during commuting hours.
Two weeks ago, Gabrielle Peters spent a rare day out in Vancouver with friends. They took in a cultural festival in the afternoon, then headed for dinner at a restaurant Peters had always wanted to try.
“As soon as we sat down, my anxiety started. In the back of my mind was, ‘I’m going to have to call a taxi,’ and that’s likely to be not a good experience,” she remembered.
Peters uses a wheelchair. It’s always a challenge to find a taxi that will take her, but she says the night of July 20 was the worst it’s ever been.
She and her friends say she was refused by multiple drivers with accessible vehicles who dropped off passengers while she was waiting in front of the restaurant.
Meanwhile, she was dealing with serious back pain from a day spent wheeling over uneven surfaces. The restaurant didn’t have a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, so she desperately needed a toilet.
“Drivers are giving me the, ‘No no no no no no’ and driving away,” Peters said.
This wonderful driver from Richmond Taxi helped me transfer into his regular taxi. <a href=”https://twitter.com/bambinoir?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@bambinoir</a> and the club staff started chasing taxis and he felt so bad for what we’ve been through he insisted my ride is free. Meet Mohit – the greatest cab driver in BC <a href=”https://t.co/0XKi7h9uZL”>pic.twitter.com/0XKi7h9uZL</a>
Mohit kept apologizing and we all told him it’s not his fault. <br><br>Mohit: I know but we’re a community and people shouldn’t be treated this way. <br><br>I started to cry. I really wasn’t sure how I was going to get home. Mohit is the hero we needed tonight.
But this isn’t a story about one horrible night in the life of a woman who uses a wheelchair. This is a story about all the frustrating nights, mornings and afternoons disabled people have trying to find reliable transportation in Vancouver.
Other wheelchair users who spoke to CBC for this story confirmed they’re frequently refused cab service, and said they believe drivers prefer to use the extra space in accessible taxis to carry tourists’ luggage.
They say the situation is even more desperate for wheelchair users who also happen to be poor or people of colour, and the situation isn’t likely to improve when Uber arrives in B.C.
“This is part of a larger problem, and all the solutions that they’re proposing are not solutions for this particular problem,” Peters said.
“We’re innovating on a cracked foundation, and we’re not really solving the root of a lot of these problems for a lot of people,” said Yasin, who is co-chair of the Canadian Institute of Planners’ social equity committee and speaks on inclusive infrastructure.
Ride-hailing is set to begin in B.C. in the fall, and companies like Uber and Lyft will have to pay a 30-cent fee for every trip in a non-accessible vehicle.
The revenue is meant to support more accessible transportation options, but officials at the transportation ministry say they haven’t yet determined how the funds will be allocated.
‘I’ve hidden behind the bushes’
Vancouver Taxi Association spokesperson Carolyn Bauer told CBC she’d like to speak with Peters about her experience, and find a way to make things right. That includes holding the drivers who passed her by accountable — Bauer said all taxi companies have penalties for discriminating against disabled passengers.
“We take very seriously our responsibility to provide timely transportation services to everyone, and will continue to work diligently to ensure we live up to this obligation,” Bauer wrote in an email.
The B.C. Transportation Ministry notes it’s strengthened penalties for businesses and drivers that fail to follow the Taxi Bill of Rights, which prohibit discriminating against people with disabilities. Fines of up to $50,000 can now be issued for anyone who does not comply, and licences can be suspended or cancelled.
So far this year, the Passenger Transportation Branch, which regulates taxis, has four complaints on file related to excessive wait times for people with wheelchairs that resulted in trip cancellations. Peters says the complaint process is difficult to navigate, a subject she’s written about in the past.
Peters is not alone in her experiences with cabs.
Bronwyn Berg lives in Chemainus, but has similar stories from her visits to Vancouver. She says she’s had taxis speed past her while the driver yells “no wheelchairs!” out the window.
That’s why Berg never lets the dispatcher know she has a wheelchair when she calls for a cab — something that wouldn’t be possible if she used a power chair.
When she’s hailing from the street, “if I’m with one of my adult children, they’ll say, ‘No one’s going to stop for us unless you hide.’ I’ve hidden behind the bushes and around the corner while they hail a cab.”
‘A really hopeless, desperate feeling’
The consequences for a person’s quality of life are hard to fathom for anyone who doesn’t have to deal with this on a daily basis.
The cost of a wheelchair-adapted vehicle is out of reach for many people, and public transit can be extremely uncomfortable, depending on the disability. HandyDART service, meanwhile, has to be booked a day in advance.
“You have a whole different metric for whether or not you’re going to go out,” Peters explained.
“I start off by being excited that I have this opportunity to go do something, and then I start thinking about all of the various barriers between getting there and being there and getting home … and suddenly start going, you know what, I’m not worth it.”
Berg points out that reliable transportation is also a crucial part of staying safe.
According to Statistics Canada, disabled Canadians are almost twice as likely to be victims of violent crime, and disabled women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted.
“There is a really hopeless, desperate feeling if you’re in a city and it’s dark and late and you cannot get home,” Berg said.
If the situation is going to improve, Peters believes wheelchair users need to be at the table when any sort of transportation policy is under discussion. Accessibility should be built into the system from the beginning, not padded on as an afterthought.
“You need to start with us,” she said.
Rather than the province’s current focus on increasing the supply of wheelchair-accessible cabs, Peters wants tougher rules to ensure drivers will actually pick up wheelchair users — and handle both people and their chairs with care, an issue worthy of its own story.
She’s especially skeptical about the introduction of ride-hailing in B.C. this fall.
Uber and Lyft depend on drivers using their own vehicles, which means wheelchair-accessible cars are few and far between. And ride-hailing companies generally don’t require hands-on training for dealing with wheelchairs.
“What we need is more regulation, not less,” Peters said. “What we need is more training, not less. We need rules.”
Executive producer Garth Mullins of the Crackdown podcast at the Ovaltine Cafe in Vancouver. Submitted: Alexander B. Kim/Crackdown / PNG
Fed up with attending funerals for friends and loved ones, people in the vanguard of B.C.’s overdose crisis have made a podcast to file dispatches about important stories they say the public and policy-makers are missing.
Crackdown, a new podcast recorded in Vancouver, launched its first episode, “War Correspondents,” on Wednesday. It starts by telling the story of Zoë Dodd, a harm-reduction activist who confronted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about addressing the national overdose crisis, and introduces listeners to the drug-user activists who make up the podcast’s editorial board.
It explores some of the agony caused by government inaction.
“The crisis has just taken so many people and it just keeps going, it’s not stopping, it’s spreading,” said Garth Mullins, Crackdown’s executive producer, writer and host. “I’ve lost 50 people that I came up with, at least. I just stopped counting at 50.”
Mullins, who for years used heroin and then methadone, said one goal of the podcast was to shed the stigma and challenge perceptions about people who use drugs.
“Drug users are everywhere — in your church, in your community, in your workplace — but the stereotype that you see in a lot of television production is a gritty back alley with somebody shooting up,” he said. “We don’t feel that’s a good representation.”
Mullins said media coverage often falls into two categories, one scapegoating drug users as “a destructive scourge on society,” and another which “pities drug users as just helpless waifs.”
With Crackdown, listeners will get to know the drug-user activists who have fought for supervised injections sites, needle distribution and prescription heroin programs. They will take back some agency by telling their own stories.
Mullins said the podcast will remain grounded in research and data from its science adviser, Ryan McNeil, who is an assistant professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of B.C. and a research scientist at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use.
The podcast is aimed at Canadians impacted by the overdose crisis, but Mullins said he hopes it also reaches the ears of those in charge of making policy that could save lives, who he believes the media often let off too easy.
“The other audience for us is Justin Trudeau, the federal cabinet … Doug Ford and all the people who are running Ontario and trying to cap safe-injection sites,” he said. “The audience is John Horgan and the government of B.C., who are not acting fast enough to do something about this — the people who have their hands on the levers.”
Dean Wilson, a longtime activist who in 2011 successfully fought a federal government appeal to shut down the Insite supervised injection site, sits on Crackdown’s editorial board and brings two decades of Downtown Eastside knowledge to the podcast.
“We’ve always been written about and the story has always been about us, but the narrative has never been ours,” Wilson said. “This is a way of setting our own narratives.”
New episodes are released on the last Wednesday of each month, and can be downloaded on most podcast apps or streamed at crackdownpod.com.
Sean Haffey, a stroke survivor, is in an accessible suite designed for people in wheelchairs thanks to The Right Fit. Photo: Nick Procaylo/PostMedia Nick Procaylo / PNG
Sean Haffey likes being able to cook again in his new apartment.
His last one just wasn’t designed for someone like him in an electric wheelchair. Living there meant he was reduced to microwave meals. Despite its limitations, he had no choice at the time but to move in.
After suffering a stroke that paralyzed him on his left side when he was in his mid-40s, Haffey spent six months in rehabilitation at GF Strong. When that came to an end, he spent a short while in transition housing before moving into a senior’s building in the West End.
He was so young in comparison to the other residents he had to get special permission to move in.
Now, he has a kitchen. The counters are low so he can roll his wheelchair in close. The oven is on a wall and higher than a standard oven that opens from the front. Instead, it has a door that opens to the side — making it safe when handling hot foods for someone in a wheelchair.
He also has a courtyard garden facing south he can easily access by opening a door.
When he’s asked how much better his new place at Alexander House is, Haffey hesitates, then says: “In so many ways.”
Haffey, 51, works as a building accessibility assessor for the Rick Hansen Foundation. He pays $320 a month for his subsidized suite.
It took him three years to get into this wheelchair accessible rental apartment.
Haffey recognizes that his long wait was complicated by the region’s housing crisis.
“I feel very lucky that not only were they able to find a place for me but that it turned out to be so affordable,” he said.
He’s in the unit because of a new program called The Right Fit Pilot Project that matches people in wheelchairs with rental units designed with their unique needs in mind. In the first phase of the program, Haffey is one of five people who have been matched with accessible units administered by BC Housing.
“If it hadn’t been for Right Fit, I don’t know when B.C. Housing would have contacted me,” Haffey said.
“It’s great there is a program designed to make sure that wheelchair accessible units go to people who need them.”
Dalton Finlay, The Right Fit project manager, said one of the challenges finding accommodation for people in wheelchairs was that there aren’t a lot of accessible rental suites in Metro Vancouver.
On top of that, in some cases, people who are able bodied are living in the limited supply of units designed for people in wheelchairs.
“Primarily, our goal is to match wheelchair users with accessible units,” Finlay said.
“There is a very, very low turnover rate when it comes to finding accessible units — something like four per cent a year. They’re very hard to come by.”
According to B.C. Housing, the total number of wheelchair accessible rental units in Metro Vancouver is 430; every year, about 450 people in wheelchairs find themselves looking for accessible subsidized units.
In the past, Alexander House would have gone directly to B.C. Housing for a tenant. If that had happened and given Vancouver’s tight housing market, Haffey’s accessible unit could easily have gone to someone able bodied.
“The people who manage Alexander House heard of Right Fit and said: ‘We’d like to work with you, ” Finlay said.
The Right Fit has a growing database of 60 people in wheelchairs who are looking for rental units.
‘We’re there for the whole process from start to finish,” he said.
“If there is anything they don’t understand or that the housing provider needs assistance with, we’re been there from the get go”
The Right Fit, which started in 2017, is moving into a second phase to include people who aren’t on disability income and can afford to pay more for monthly rent.
If the pilot project goes well, and all signs point in that direction, the idea is to expand it to all of B.C. and then across the country.
“So far, it’s going great,” Finlay said. “It has been picking up. We’re getting more vacancies.”
Finlay knows about the challenges of finding accessible accommodation. His mother is in a wheelchair. It took her five years to find a place to live.
“This line of work hits home for me,” he said. “I’ve seen the struggle. B.C. Housing is great, but the length of wait is too long for people in wheelchairs.”
Last Saturday afternoon, a disturbing incident occurred on a street in Nanaimo involving a female wheelchair user. It’s the type of incident many disabled people say happens often on our streets and public spaces.
Bronwyn Berg had just left a store on Fitzwilliam Street when a man grabbed her wheelchair from behind and began pushing her rather quickly. She turned, looked directly at him and said “no, no, no.”
But the man didn’t stop. Berg screamed, “stop” twice and called out for help. Passersby on the street looked away, or at their phones, she said.
Finally, the man let go and ran away.
Later, she shared the frightening experience on social media, which elicited an outpouring of support. Many people posted angry reactions to the Nanaimo man’s actions.
Berg says she has no idea what the man’s intentions were and believes that focusing on that misses the point.
“The point is never, ever touch a wheelchair without asking,” Berg said. Aside from the risk of injury, she says the more fundamental issue is one of consent and body autonomy.
“Our assistive devices are a part of our body. We aren’t furniture that can be moved around.”
‘I didn’t need help’
The lack of support from passersby also left Berg shaken. “I thought I’m alone here. I’m not safe in this world…I felt invisible.”
She doesn’t know why the man approached her, “I didn’t need help and wasn’t asked,” she said, adding that when she did ask for help, people ignored her.
If you see a person in a wheelchair (especially a woman) being pushed by someone and she’s screaming Stop! No! Help! For the love of humanity help her!<br>A guy grabbed my wheelchair today and just started pushing me, not a single passerby helped even though I was screaming for help
As a wheelchair user myself, I know what it’s like to have strangers push me without asking — even when I tell them to stop.
Once, an impatient taxi driver pushed me without warning, causing my wheelchair to tip and throwing me onto the pavement outside Vancouver General Hospital.
When I became disabled, the goalposts for consent and support for my autonomy and rights shifted
“The point is never, ever touch a wheelchair without asking,” says Bronwyn Berg. (Submitted by Bronwyn Berg)
Strangers demand to know, “What happened to you?’ or “‘Why can’t you walk?”
Our needs are ignored by the physical, social and political environment we exist in. It is little wonder people don’t ask before grabbing us. Disabled people aren’t seen as fully human.
What is the cumulative impact is of being touched without consent and met with hostility when you tell people to stop? Are these experiences helpful for a demographic already at risk?
Statistics show disabled women are twice as likely as non-disabled women to be the victim of a violent crime.
Once on Denman Street in Vancouver, I felt the hands of a man on my back. My wheelchair has no handles, yet people still push me. I struggled with my gut that said he was a threat, and the fact I’d had to learn not to react with hostility when grabbed.
Later that day, I saw the man’s face again on Twitter. The tweet was from VPD. He was a serial sex offender, considered at high risk to re-offend, who had failed to return to his halfway house.
Our struggle is not new but social media has provided disabled people with a new way to connect, share and organize.
Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist and campaigner in London, England started the #JustAskDontGrab campaign last August.
Kavanagh said she launched the campaign after she became a white cane user and people started grabbing her on her commute.
After hearing from others with similar experiences, Kavanagh created #JustAskDontGrab to educate people on how to behave when they encounter disable
“I encouraged people to use the hashtag to raise awareness of the issue and how to offer assistance in a positive respectful way.”
Amy Kavanagh, a visually impaired activist and campaigner in London, England started the #JustAskDontGrab campaign last August. (Submitted by Gabrielle Peters)
Kavanagh does not want people to stop asking disabled people if they need help. Once, when the front caster of my wheelchair became wedged while crossing an inactive railway track, I was grateful when a passerby asked if I needed help.
Which raises the question of whether assistance would be needed if our cities were more accessible to disabled people.
Removing existing barriers and preventing the building of new ones is the motivation behind accessibility legislation in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Manitoba. British Columbia has none.
Berg’s perspective on accessibility has changed. The steps in front of three stores on Fitzwilliam street in Nanaimo prevented Berg from entering the first businesses she turned to for safe refuge.
“It used to mean that I wasn’t allowed to fully participate in the world. I often felt unwelcome, but now it feels dangerous,” Berg said. “No one would intervene and I couldn’t get to a safe place.”
Berg has not gone out alone since it happened. “I don’t think I’ll ever return to that area of town.”
This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.
An ambulance races down E. Hastings Street in Vancouver, BC Wednesday, January 31, 2018. Jason Payne / PNG
Emergency first responders, hospital physicians and others trying to revive overdosed drug users are now having to give several doses of naloxone to counteract increasingly toxic concoctions including heroin, morphine, and fentanyl, B.C.’s top public health official says.
Chief provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said even the free, Take Home Naloxone program kits are now being distributed with three vials since toxic street drugs require more intense antidotes — as many as six to 10 doses in the most challenging cases, according to ambulance paramedics.
Henry said contrary to some perceptions, it’s not that opioid drugs are becoming “resistant” to naloxone, it’s that many drug users are using not only more toxic opioids drugs like carfentanil but in multiple combinations with other drugs. Moreover, the current reality of the overdose crisis is such that users are taking drugs for which naloxone has no effect to revive them, she said. That includes cocaine, speed and GHB.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” Henry said.
“Some of the drugs are so toxic, and drug users are also taking opioids with sedatives like Valium, alcohol or Xanax. So yes, we’re seeing that many people require several doses,” Henry said, adding that hospital emergency departments are also requiring higher doses of naloxone in intravenous drips to save lives.
“What we’re seeing is these potent toxic drugs, even the smallest amounts cause respiratory depression, cause people to stop breathing. So we may be getting naloxone in but we may need more and more, for longer periods of time because it (naloxone) wears off quickly.”
There are an estimated 55,000 individuals in B.C. who have opioid use disorders.
Joe Acker, director of clinical practice for B.C. Emergency Health Services, said in 2017, ambulance paramedics responded to 23,400 overdoses and the number in 2018 will, in all likelihood, exceed that. (The overall number of overdoses in B.C. would be greater because the figure provided by Acker does not include overdoses attended by other emergency personnel or those not attended by such professionals).
Acker said naloxone was administered in about a quarter of cases and he acknowledged that some drug users react with anger when they are revived with naloxone because it not only “ruins their high” but can also cause nasty withdrawal symptoms.
At times, oxygen may be used instead of naloxone to prevent those effects. Paramedics are no longer required to take drug users to a hospital once they have been revived as long as their assessments show that the client is stable.
Acker said some drug users seek out the most concentrated drugs like carfentanil while others are unsuspecting. Paramedics have observed that welfare cheque days are often the busiest and most lethal.
On the worst days, ambulances have been dispatched to as many as 135 overdoses across B.C. in a 24-hour period. Public health experts are expecting between 1,400 and 1,500 deaths in 2018, similar to 2017.
While paramedics and health professionals use safety-engineered retractable needles to avoid contracting infectious diseases from those to whom they are administering drugs, Henry said public health officials have not changed their minds about distributing such needles to drug users.
The issue of used needles being discarded on city streets and parks where unsuspecting children, adults and pets can step on them came up repeatedly during the civic election campaign. Needles that retract as soon as they are used are a harm reduction strategy in some jurisdictions but Henry said they have been ruled out here because they are harder for injection drug users to handle.
Acker said BCEHS does respond to citizens reporting accidental needle-pokes on streets and in parks but he couldn’t provide a number reflecting the frequency of such calls. Henry said while such cases would be traumatizing to individuals, in B.C. there has never been a case of transmission of HIV or other serious infections caused by such incidents.
Discarded needles seen on Vancouver streets or in parks will be collected if citizens call a hotline at 604-657-6561.
In her presentation on the opioid overdose crisis last week to city council, Vancouver Coastal Health chief medical officer Dr. Patricia Daly said overdose prevention sites and take-home naloxone kits were saving lives; the B.C. Centre for Disease Control estimates thousands of deaths over the last two years have been prevented because of the measures.
Daly said more than 300 people have died from overdoses in Vancouver so far this year, similar to the number at this point last year.
While Canadian life expectancies are rising, in B.C., they have dropped because of opioid overdoses. Last year, drug overdoses led to more deaths than suicides, homicides and motor vehicle accidents combined.
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