Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Priority" seating

The other day, Jen at TransLink Tales came up with some thoughts about "seat hierarchies" on public transit in Metro Vancouver.

It's very interesting how it works. There seems to be no clear unwritten universal rule; what I've noticed in Metro Vancouver may not be applicable in a place like, let's say, Hong Kong or even Los Angeles.

The only one that seems even remotely universal is... priority seating. (That may be the worst segway into using this blog's title, ever.) In all of the places I've been to throughout the world, wherever there is special designated priority seating for those in need such as people with disabilities, the rule seems to be the same -- get out of our way, b*tches. (Honestly, I'll stop with that now.)

However, one thing that makes the TransLink system so darned interesting is that there is a sort of seating hierarchy among those using the designated priority seating as well. Here, I will give several scenarios that I've encountered. Please note that these are only my own experiences and may not apply to others' experiences. Also, this is likely Rebecca Black's worst seating nightmare.

Scenario #1: Two wheelchair users (one manual wheelchair, one battery-powered wheelchair) getting on at the same stop.

There seems to be no real rule but for some reason, in every single situation I've been involved in, the person with the battery-powered chair gets on first. This may be because a) that chair can climb the ramp faster, b) it needs more space once on board anyway and c) driver assistance is usually needed for battery-powered chairs. While the driver is otherwise occupied, manual wheelchair users with good hand function (like me) can strap ourselves in.

I have never tried this on a 351/601 bus (with the hydraulic lifts) though. I'd imagine it would be similar.

Scenario #2: Two wheelchair users (both the same type of wheelchairs) getting on at the same stop.

Usually we figure out who goes first, one way or another. Or we fight to the death. Whichever works.

Scenario #3: Two wheelchair users (one manual wheelchair, one battery-powered wheelchair) getting on at the same stop -- on to a newer bus with rear-facing spots.

Usually, the battery-powered wheelchair tends to get the rear-facing spot mostly because the logistics of using straps on a manual wheelchair are less complicated and less time consuming (for both strapping and unstrapping).

Scenario #4: A wheelchair user gets on a newer bus with rear-facing spots.

Regardless of the types of wheelchairs, the "first come, first served" rule is the default here as far as I know. I guess this is because it's difficult enough maneuvering one wheelchair on board a bus, let alone two -- a simple shuffling of wheelchairs to match the results of Scenario #3 would be tough to do. (Also, standing crowds on buses can make such a shuffling impossible.)

Scenario #5: Two wheelchair users (one manual wheelchair, one battery-powered wheelchair) get off at the same stop.

The manual wheelchair user tends to get off first because he/she often gets unstrapped the fastest. But even when both people are unstrapped, I find that the manual wheelchair user gets off first regardless. Don't quote me on that; I've yet to encounter anything different but you never know.

Scenario #6: Two wheelchair users (same type of wheelchair) getting off at the same stop.

Fight to the death.

Scenario #7: A wheelchair user gets on, but both sides of the priority seating are occupied by the elderly or people with other disabilities.

Usually, the side with the fewest people in need will be asked to vacate the seats. It's rare that both sides would have the same number of such people. (Usually other people would offer their seats to those in need who had to vacate.)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bus pass-ups

On Saturday's edition of the Vancouver Sun, the cover story was about how often buses pass up passengers in the TransLink system. For the most part, it was surprising to no one which routes were impacted the most. But for passengers with mobility impairments, it can be an even bigger challenge.

Us wheelchair users have the biggest challenge. Most people can "squeeze on" a bus as long as there is room but wheelchair users cannot do that for obvious reasons. Even if we could "fit" on the bus, the space needed to merely park ourselves is simply not there. This results in wheelchair users getting passed up at the same stops where able-bodied people (or people without wheeled mobility devices) are able to get on.

The most annoying corridor for me is the #99 B-Line one. That route is busy at the best of times, so unless you board at Broadway-Commercial Station or at UBC Loop, sometimes whether you get on or not depends solely on luck. The lucky thing with that corridor is that sometimes you can take the #9 bus instead but if you're in a hurry, that can be a problem.

However, not all routes are so lucky to have an alternate route servicing the same corridor (of which many people are painfully aware).

TransLink and Coast Mountain Bus Company launched a campaign a while ago promoting accessible transit. It's nice that they are aware of this growing need but sometimes I look at the problems they already have. Their infrastructure for passengers with disabilities has improved over the years but the crushing passenger demands are making this campaign rather difficult to implement to its full potential.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Staying safe

One of the biggest challenges of being a wheelchair user is safety. Something as simple as navigating through a parking lot can be a challenge because if you have to cut through some parking spots, some people can't see you because people are shorter when seated. Same for crossing the streets -- some drivers' instincts are tuned towards people walking, not people rolling.

Similarly, staying safe on public transit is also a challenge for wheelchair users. However, there are some cases I've come across in the TransLink system where safety is not taken into account and could result in serious consequences.

One of the things that happen the most often is bus drivers taking off before passengers in wheelchairs are secured. My most recent incident was last week on the 99 B-Line. I boarded the bus, but the driver was more concerned about his schedule than safety. There was certainly not enough time for me to secure myself before the bus took off; in addition, one of the belts turned out to be broken, leaving me in a precarious situation for my trip. Through the whole trip, the driver was in a mad rush.

Now, I understand drivers needing to stick to a schedule but the potential consequences of an injury or incident due to disregarding safety would dwarf any problems you would have from simply being late. I'm lucky enough to have full hand and arm function but some wheelchair users do not and if they were in my situation, something would have likely happened and the driver would have been in big trouble.

Another common situation I find is on community shuttles. Some shuttle drivers don't use any straps or restraints for wheelchair users, which is apparently a big no-no. I actually did not know this until recently because a) I don't take shuttles often and b) no driver offered restraints or straps. But a few weeks ago when I went to the Vancouver Ability Expo in Yaletown, the shuttle driver took them out and started putting them on.

According to him, shuttle drivers are required to use the straps and restraints. For both trips using shuttles that day, the restraints were used. They take slightly longer than belts and straps on a regular bus but for me, the delay was not by much at all. I wonder how much time was actually "saved" on my previous strapless and restraintless trips.

I don't know if this is a thing going on with the South Surrey shuttles (which my previous trips were on) or if the Vancouver shuttles are more strict about safety. But South Surrey and White Rock shuttle routes are a lot steeper and turbulent, and probably need the restraints more than the Vancouver shuttle routes I've taken.

In a way, I'm surprised more incidents haven't occurred. But I guess if I had an incident happen to me, I'd be hesitant or scared to take transit again. It makes me wonder how many have been scared off conventional transit as a result. So much for integrating people with disabilities into society.