The City of Winnipeg is poised to launch a project to remedy the problem of disabled people struggling to obtain priority seating on Winnipeg Transit buses, although the union representing bus drivers says operators won’t get involved in passenger disputes involving seating regardless of the new initiative.
Pending council approval, the city will develop a priority seating policy that’ll include a public awareness campaign and operator training. Wheelchair securement stations, along with new signage identifying priority seating areas will be deployed.
New buses ordered by the city will have colour-coded seats to differentiate between regular and priority seats. Also, tactile identification features will be used for the visually impaired.
“It’s about educating the public so they are aware they should be yielding their seats should a person board a bus with an assisted mobility device,” Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River) said during an interview with the Winnipeg Sun on Thursday.
Chambers spearheaded the initiative with Coun. Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) and Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona). He said the project will open up fixed-route transit to those who normally use Transit Plus, a service providing door-to-door transportation for the disabled.
“The accessibility community indicated people were not yielding their seats in priority areas and the drivers were not weighing-in to assist them in securing wheelchairs or assisting them with other Transit customers who may not want to yield their seat in those situations,” Chambers said. “Common sense and courtesy have to be mandated. We like to think Winnipeggers are compassionate.”
Transit’s pre-existing audio-visual announcement system will be used to notify passengers when priority seating or the securement system is required, including when a wheelchair-using passenger is preparing to board a bus, or when requested by a disabled passenger.
“We still don’t allow our members to intervene,” Romeo Ignacio, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, which represents Winnipeg Transit bus drivers, said in an interview with the Sun on Thursday. “We are expecting the city to provide the information to passengers. We could prevent arguments between passengers. That way if we can prevent arguments, then the operator won’t have to deal with it. The most important thing is, the program will allow people with a disability to ride the bus. But we are still limited to two wheelchairs.”
Nason told the Sun the seating status quo on buses is a matter of “courtesy versus required.” The new seating priority system, he explained, will require able-bodied individuals to surrender priority seats.
“We need to be an inclusive society,” he said. “To be inclusive is to remove these barriers that have been in place.”