Sunday, December 18, 2011

Let the past stay in the past

Recently, some of the old so-called "fishbowl" buses have been making their rounds on the streets of Metro Vancouver. These buses are from a previous era and have since been replaced by newer buses.

GMC Classic bus, Translink
A "fishbowl" bus, circa 2006.
(Photo courtesy of BuckyHermit at Flickr.)

As expected with the current "vintage" fad ripping through society right now, many people have a sense of nostalgia for these buses. They represent a time when transit was the good old neighborhood service that was reliable, uncrowded and friendly. There are some who dislike the current low-floor buses right now. I get that.

But I have a problem with people advocating for the FULL-TIME return of these buses. As well, I can't help but feel a bit insulted when I see something like this.

While I realize the purpose of this is not to offend, it unfortunately does so. The reason for this is not because of the wording but the purpose behind it. The "fishbowl" buses' biggest sore spot is its lack of wheelchair accessibility due to their high-floor design (and of course, high-floor buses are noted for being notoriously inaccessible or having very clumsy wheelchair access).

By advocating for the return of those buses, it feels like people are looking to step backwards and undo the great progress that public transit has made in wheelchair accessibility. In other words, it feels like people are in favor of discrimination against people with disabilities just for the sake of nostalgia.

This feeling was also sparked by an incident recently that I encountered. There was a person (who I shall not name) who was VERY strongly in favor of bringing back all the obsolete high-floor buses. I informed him that unless they figure out how to make them more wheelchair accessible, that move would be a disaster.

His response? "Make a separate bus for wheelchair users [much like HandyDart]."

It's unfortunate how many people think that is a solution. There are several reasons why that would not work:

  1. That move encourages segregating people due to disability. We are not a third world country. It also violates a very vital part of the disability rights movement – the ability to be integrated (rather than segregated) from mainstream society. There are many times when I feel thankful my friends can join me for a simple bus ride to the mall instead of them having to ride separately.
  2. Handy Dart (Vancouver's paratransit service) has to be booked well ahead of time. For healthy young people with disabilities, this can restrict your access. No spontaneous trips to the mall for you!
  3. Handy Dart is often not point A to point B like fixed bus routes. That means you could be taking the scenic route to pick up a few more passengers (and load them, one by one) before you actually start heading to your destination.
  4. The cost per passenger of running Handy Dart is much higher than the cost of passenger using conventional transit. More passengers on Handy Dart means a bigger financial strain on the already cash-strapped system.
  5. The British Columbia disability transit pass (which costs $45/year) cannot be used on Handy Dart, which only accepts regular fares for a service that gives you much more restrictions than an able-bodied person using conventional transit. If you were able-bodied, would YOU choose that method?
Yes, I realize and understand that there is nostalgia for "fishbowl" buses. I am not against honoring and recognizing the past; in fact, it is extremely cool to do so. However, there is a reason why it is in the past and why we have moved on from it. Returning to the past is not always the smartest move. (Added note: I am specifically targeting those people who are making the suggestion of bringing back all inaccessible buses. I am NOT against preserving history or display it, but rather against the FULL-TIME return of high-floor buses, especially the "fishbowl" buses. There was a lot of anger because of this misunderstanding.)

No comments:

Post a Comment