It’s supposed to be an accessible mode of transportation that allows people with disabilities to travel around the community. However, Vernon HandyDART passengers say newer buses in the fleet are making the service less accessible.
“A lot of the drivers say it is like they are going back in time rather than moving forward to being more accessible,” said Vernon handyDART passenger Gail Pifer.
“I’m an advocate for people with disabilities and I just hated hearing how upset people were about this change happening without being consulted.”
Pifer, who is blind and uses a guide dog, says taking HandyDART isn’t as easy lately after some of the service’s buses with ramps were replaced with buses with stairs and a lift.
“The stairs are very narrow and my dog has to go up in front of me rather than the two of us together. He hesitates every single time and I have to coax him to go up the stairs to get on the bus,” said Pifer.
“Then when you do go up the first four stairs, you make a turn and there is another stair that’s on an angle that you have to make sure you step up on. It trips up people a lot, especially myself.”
Pifer said the lift on the new buses can also pose problems for passengers.
“I have spoken with people that use walkers and they are very reluctant to go up the lift because they have to stand with their walker on the lift,” Pifer said.
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“The driver will stand on the lift with them to go up to try to make them feel a little bit more secure. But it has to lift perfectly level. It’s very difficult for the drivers to find a place where they can maneuver the lift down and up on a completely level area.
The newer buses are also a concern for fellow rider Michael Gauthier who lives with a visual impairment and takes HandyDart multiple times a week.
Gauthier said he also finds himself tripping on the final stair and has twisted his ankles a few times when he has forgotten about that top step.
“I don’t have the greatest balance so I wouldn’t risk riding the lift,” Gauthier said.
Gauthier said another concern on the new buses is his guide dog must sit in the aisle, which he fears would leave her unprotected if there was a collision.
BC Transit said it bought the newer lift buses in 2019 and 2020, in part because of concerns about operator injuries caused by pushing wheelchairs up the front ramps and difficulties using ramps with snow and ice.
The crown corporation declined an interview on Wednesday. In a statement, BC Transit said, after a review last year it plans to keep a mix of both types of buses in its fleet to be dispatched based on customer needs.
“BC Transit has advised that with advance notice, Vernon handyDART customers can request use of a transfer chair for additional support when boarding a HandyDART vehicle using a lift,” BC Transit said in a written statement.
That stance is unlikely to satisfy passengers who find the newer lift buses harder to access.
“Hopefully in the future BC Transit will maybe put a little more thought into redesigning something that already works,” Gauthier said.