Those of us who have mobility problems and other disabilities often have trouble using conventional transportation services. Most municipalities however have some form of para-transit. Most of the time the passengers pay the same bus fare as regular bus passengers; they do take temporary passengers also for such mobility issues as a broken leg. There are lots of jokes about the “short bus” but it gives a lot of people more independence that they might otherwise have.
Transportation for the disabled: experiences riding the short bus
Many municipalities have transportation for the disabled which allows people to have more independence, Kitchener's service is called MobilityPLUS
The para-transit system in Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge is called MobilityPLUS and it is affiliated with Grand River Transit. Unlike many transit services, you don’t need a doctor’s note to apply for MobilityPLUS. You just have to answer a few questions and take a test depending on your disability; mine involved climbing or trying to climb the stairs of a normal bus. The buses they use have room for 7 people to sit and for several wheel chairs; if the service is too busy they will send out a regular taxi. The current one-way fare is $2.50 and passengers can bring a friend or attendant. Those who are accepted as a users of the service get free travel if they do decide to take a regular low-floor bus. There is also a program called TaxiScrip which allows MobilityPLUS users to buy discount coupons for taxis; you pay $20 for a coupon book which contains $40 in taxi fares. This is perfect when you want to go somewhere on the spur of the moment.
250 Strasburg Rd
Kitchener,ON N2E 3M6
In my case, I have a slight mobility problem that makes it impossible for me to climb the stairs on a regular bus or to walk over 3 blocks. I cannot plow through snow or ice; if I fall I cannot get up by myself. So taking a regular bus is out of the question, even though many have low floors.
Before I was accepted by the para-transit service as a passenger I had to walk about three blocks to the bus stop, then wait for a low-floor bus (not all of them are) and once I got to my destination I had to walk up a hill to my workplace. One day I tripped and fell in the driveway of my workplace, I had to crawl over to a picnic bench and pull myself up. All the time I was hoping no one saw it happen, I was embarrassed. After that I arranged for a work colleague to pick me up in the morning and drive me home at night. Thankfully, I was accepted as a para-transit client soon after that. I get door to door service for wherever I want to go as long as I book two or three days in advance. Also, if it’s snowy or icy the driver helps me to and from the bus.
Currently, I am working from home but I still use the para-transit service to take me to the gym three days a week, to take me to doctor’s appointments, for job interviews and for social engagements. I, like many others, would not have a social life without it, we hate to always have to depend on others to drive us around.
Positive and negative
In my opinion, there are more positives than negatives involved in using para-transit. The main negative is that you have to book rides two to three business days in advance; you can’t decide you are going out one day and give them a call. Occasionally you have to wait more than half an hour for your ride to show up and a couple of times my bookings were messed up and they forgot me. But that was easily fixed, I called them and they sent a cab to pick me up. Also, sometimes the only time you can book a ride for an appointment means you will be hanging around for an extra hour or two. Sometimes I feel like the refugees who “wait in Casablanca, and wait, and wait…” I solve that by bringing my kindle with me.
But the positives are many. The door to door service is wonderful, especially in the winter. The drivers are all very friendly and helpful. The driver might be the only person the passenger will talk to during that day, the drivers seem to understand that. Some are more talkative than others but they almost feel like friends in some cases. They don’t have to help you with packages or groceries but they always do. One driver insists on me taking his arm and walking me to the door of my apartment building every time. If I have booked to go home I can often get the driver to drop me off at my local supermarket or mall instead of home. This all depends on their schedule and if there is anyone else on the bus, but it's very helpful at times.The service is available daily from 7 am to 1 am so you don't have to leave parties or bars too early.
I am very grateful for MobilityPLUS; I don’t know how I would have managed in the past seven years without it. Some municipalities are not as lucky as we are in Kitchener. I have heard horror stories about the para-transit service in Toronto and experienced a less comprehensive service in Niagara Falls.
I’m glad our society is more concerned about accessibility than it was when I was younger. An aging population means there will most likely be more and more call for these types of services. Before long, we may all be riding the “short bus.”
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