A new priority seating policy on Winnipeg Transit buses is being rolled out with new guidelines for strollers.
The policy is aimed at making sure there’s space for people living with disabilities.
“If there’s a wheelchair, there’s no way a wheelchair can just fold like that,” said Mamie Salia, a Winnipeg parent who occasionally takes her daughter on the bus using a stroller. “You can just carry your child on your lap and fold the stroller and put it on the side and give the space to a person with a disability. I think that’s a good idea.”
The new policy being rolled out by the City of Winnipeg this October will require anyone occupying priority seating areas to give up the spaces to people living with disabilities when they board the bus.
Buses only have two priority seating areas and the city said that means starting Oct. 5 all strollers must be capable of being folded and stowed to ensure the area is available.
“This is a council-approved policy that looks at ensuring the equitable access to public transportation for all riders,” said Teresa Platt, Winnipeg Transit’s manager of client services.
Bradley Mulvena, 37, uses a power wheelchair and often finds it difficult to find a place to park it on the bus.
He rides fixed-route buses every day in the summer and mainly uses Winnipeg Transit Plus in the winter.
“There’s only two stalls in the front of the bus behind the driver and on the passenger side for people with mobility devices and that’s also where strollers have been parking as well,” Mulvena said in a phone interview. “If there’s a stroller and another wheelchair on the bus then I have to wait for another bus.”
To get people ready for the change, Platt said the city has launched a public education campaign.
Platt said new decals will define the priority seating and the courtesy seating areas, the latter of which is set aside for riders to move to in order to make room for someone using a wheelchair or mobility device.
“The guideline is looking at how to ensure equipment is useable, foldable when it’s required,” Platt said. “We’re looking at defining the priority and the courtesy seating area so that individuals understand when they can use that area and when they need to yield that area.”
Platt said the priority seating areas are the only areas that give riders a way to secure their wheelchairs.
Patrick Stewart, an independent living consultant with the Independent Living Resource Centre, said people living with disabilities have had negative experiences boarding fixed-route transit buses when priority seating areas are occupied.
“If there wasn’t space in the priority seating area, which is often the only space that a person with a disability might be able to ride safely in, then they’d be passed up by the bus driver,” Stewart said. “We have never had a policy before. It was first come, first served.”
“The difference now is that there’s some rules and some guidelines to support everybody.”
City data shows there have been 52 wheelchair pass-ups so far this month, up from 31 last month but numbers are down from more than a decade ago when there were nearly 150 wheelchair pass-ups in September 2011.
Romeo Ignacio, the head of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, which represents Winnipeg Transit drivers, worries about bus operators being required to enforce the new rules but he’s supportive of the policy.
“We probably don’t have control over what Walmart or the stores sell as far as strollers are concerned but there needs to be some standards and this, I think, is a step in the right direction,” Ignacio said.
A move Mulvena hopes will make the bus more accessible to him and other riders.
“From my understanding, the driver won’t be able to deny me a ride unless there’s already two wheelchairs on,” Mulvena said. “Then I would have to wait for another bus.”
Some other wheelchair users told CTV News Winnipeg they also support the change.
“Because that gives us the ability to sit down,” said Susie Dyck, who uses a power wheelchair and usually takes Winnipeg Transit Plus but sometimes rides fixed-route buses.
Salia’s stroller already collapses.
While she understands it may mean some parents have to find a new stroller, she supports the change.
“Everybody has their own thing but for me, I think it’s a good idea,” she said. “If it’s in winter and something like that happened…and there’s no space for him or her to come in then it’s kind of like really difficult to stay in the cold like that.”
Winnipeg Transit said people with strollers can still use the priority seating area if it’s available.
Despite this new policy officials said no one will be asked to leave a bus if both priority seating areas are needed.
If there is a conflict, Winnipeg Transit said it will require looking at what other space is available on the bus to make sure there’s room for everyone.