Mystery surrounds little-known free bus pass program for people with disabilities

Advocates say the City of Winnipeg should advertise program better

By Austin Grabish, CBC News

Posted: Jul 18, 2016 4:15 AM CT
Last Updated: Jul 18, 2016 2:12 PM CT

Jesse Turner rides Winnipeg Transit for free but says the city program that allows her to do that isn’t advertised to everyone in Winnipeg’s disability community. (Austin Grabish/CBC )

A little-known city program that lets Handi-Transit users ride Winnipeg Transit for free should be better advertised and made available to more riders, advocates say.

In 2006, the city made it free for Handi-Transit users to ride regular transit for free, but several transit users CBC News spoke to say they’ve never heard of the program.

Any Handi-Transit user that uses a wheelchair, scooter, or is legally blind or unable to walk 175 metres qualifies for the program.

But numbers provided by the City of Winnipeg show only 919 users have a free pass. There are 6,371 users eligible for the program, the city said.

“It’s not something that they state outright on the public transit and Handi-Transit website,” said Jesse Turner, 34.

Turner is a wheelchair user registered with Handi-Transit but rides regular transit because she has a free card from the program.

She got the card after hearing about free fare through a friend who also had a card.

“I try to avoid using Handi-Transit just because you have to book in advance and then you’re on their schedule,” Turner said.

Eva Beaudoin is the chair of the Disabled Women’s Network of Manitoba and said she never heard about the free fare program until CBC News contacted her.

Beaudoin, 58, lives with a disability, uses a cane to get around, and is on a fixed income.

She uses Winnipeg Transit for convenience and sits in priority seating on the bus but said she would apply for Handi-Transit just to receive the free fare.

Eva Beaudoin
Eva Beaudoin is the chair of the Disabled Women’s Network of Manitoba and said she’s never heard about a free fare program that lets Handi-Transit users ride the regular bus for free. (Austin Grabish/CBC )

“I think it should be done for everybody all people with disabilities,” Beaudoin said.

“It would save a lot of money.”

Josh Brandon, a community animator for the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, said the free fare program should be better advertised so it can reach more people. He suggested the city advertise directly on Winnipeg Transit buses.

Brandon said Handi-Transit is already a program difficult for many to get into.

“There’s always a problem when you have programs that are application based.” “That’s why we prefer programs that are more universal,” he said.

City of Winnipeg spokeswoman Alissa Clark said in order to ride regular transit for free, Handi-Transit users must obtain a photo ID card, which is good for three years.

Clark said the majority of Handi-Transit users have impairments that prevent them from using Winnipeg Transit and suggested that could be the reason for the discrepancy in the numbers.

Advocates say the City of Winnipeg should advertise a city program better that lets Handi-Transit users ride Winnipeg Transit for free. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

She said letters are sent out to all Handi-Transit users who qualify for the program and clients are also informed about the free program verbally.

But some say they were never told about the program.

Libby Zdriluk, 30, uses both Handi-Transit and Winnipeg Transit to get around. She said she didn’t know about the waived fare program until a free card arrived in the mail one day.

“It just showed up,” Zdriluk said.

“Obviously, I was pretty mad to find out I could’ve been riding for free,” she added.

Scott Best is legally blind and has a free fare card. But the 26-year-old said he hardly uses it because he finds Winnipeg Transit too difficult to navigate.

He said the free fare program feels “a little weird” since he can’t use it easily.

Terry McIntosh, 54, rides Handi-Transit and doesn’t have the free fare card.

“It would be useful but with our weather in winters I couldn’t use it half the time If I wanted.”

She added she doesn’t mind paying to ride the bus. “We want to be treated equal so why would I use the bus free?”

“It’s probably not a perspective most people would agree with, though,” she said.


‘People don’t move’: Strollers vs. wheelchairs on Winnipeg Transit

Advocates say overcrowded buses and parents with strollers are leaving wheelchair users on the curb, so who should get a seat?

Posted: Jul 04, 2016 5:45 AM CT
Last Updated: Jul 04, 2016 6:07 AM CT

Libby Zdriluk, 30, says finding a spot on Winnipeg Transit is becoming harder due to crammed buses and parents with strollers taking up accessible spots.  Libby Zdriluk, 30, says finding a spot on Winnipeg Transit is becoming harder due to crammed buses and parents with strollers taking up accessible spots. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

By Austin Grabish, CBC News

People living with disabilities are calling on the City of Winnipeg to make sure they can catch a seat on the bus hassle-free.

Advocates say overcrowded buses and parents with strollers are leaving wheelchair users on the curb.

The Independent Living Resource Centre said parents with strollers are taking up accessibility spots on buses on a daily basis.

Allen Mankewich, a wheelchair user and consultant with the Independent Living Resource Centre, said it’s an issue he deals with regularly.

“I had an issue myself the other day. There was myself on the bus, one of my colleagues [and an] oversized stroller with three wheels on the bus,” Mankewich said.

Allen Mankewich Allen Mankewich, a wheelchair user and consultant with the Independent Living Resource Centre, said Winnipeg Transit should create a policy so oversized strollers don’t take wheelchair spots on Winnipeg Transit buses. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

“We basically had to play Tetris to get ourselves in and out of the bus.”

Libby Zdriluk, 30, uses a power wheelchair to get around and said she’s had to wait in frigid temperatures during the winter because strollers have taken the only space available for wheelchairs.

She wants Winnipeg Transit drivers to make sure wheelchair users get on the bus hassle- and confrontation-free.

Currently people with disabilities are being left to fend for themselves, she said.

“I just wish the drivers would automatically say ‘move over’ or ‘get off the bus for a minute,’ but they just don’t seem to do that,” she said.

The City of Winnipeg said it has decals on all of its low-floor buses to indicate designated areas for wheelchairs and strollers.

Spokeswoman Alissa Clark said drivers are trained to help passengers with wheelchairs or strollers and are supposed to ask riders without mobility issues to move if a seat is needed.

But Eva Beaudoin, 58, said it’s always a struggle finding room on the bus when there’s a stroller. She said she finds it awkward asking people to move so she can ride the bus.

“I have to practically ask for a seat and then I get a dirty look,” Beaudoin said.

“People don’t move.”

But not everyone in the disability community feels wheelchairs should be given priority over strollers.

Winnipeg disability advocate Jim Derksen said he wants the City of Winnipeg to add more flexible seating on its buses, so both wheelchairs and strollers have more room.

“I believe in universal design and don’t think our needs are any more important than parents with children,” Derksen said.

John Callahan, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, which represents Winnipeg bus drivers, said the union wants more buses put on the street to help deal with the issue.

He said drivers have raised concerns about strollers taking accessibility spots on the bus and the absence of a policy instructing drivers what to do about it.

“It’s something that’s been around for a long time, but there’s been no official stand on how to approach it,” Callahan said.

“I think they need to look real seriously at it.”

U.K. Supreme Court case

In the U.K., the battle between a wheelchair user and a bus firm has gone to the country’s Supreme Court.

Disability activist Doug Paulley took his case to a lower court in 2012 after being told he could not get on a bus when a mother with a stroller refused to move.

The Supreme Court held a hearing into the case in June and Paulley said he hopes to receive a ruling from the court in the coming months.

He said he is optimistic about the case and hopes it will end with better enforcement of the rights of people with disabilities.

“Public transport should be available for everybody,” Paulley, 38, told CBC News via Skype from Wetherby, England.

The heartbreaking battle over a home for people with disabilities in Stonewall

A bitter battle over a proposed group home for people living with intellectual disabilities in Stonewall may have ended.

But for the three adults who will call nine Rossmere Crescent home, their battle is far from over.

They will continue to face discrimination from opponents who’ve forgotten it’s 2016 and fear the presence of an adult living with an intellectual disability.

The controversy started last December when the Association for Community Living put forward an application to Stonewall council to rent a home in the upscale neighbourhood of Stone Ridge Meadows.

Outdated zoning rules that have failed to keep up with provincial human rights legislation forced the association, which already has several group homes in Stonewall and Selkirk to make the request with council.

Sharon Inman has a son who lives with a disability.

“It’s really quite heartbreaking as a family member to have to go through this and to ask permission,” Inman told the Stonewall Tribune.

 Heartbreaking indeed.

“Most people do not have to ask permission for their family member to live in a home,” Inman said.

The controversy over the ACL group home has been the talk of the town, and likely will continue to be for months, and it’s all because of a handful of residents with a bad case of NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard.

One woman explained her rationale in a letter to the editor, “We are in no way “rejecting” the proposed group home residents. We are parents too. We are trying to protect our investment, maintain the single-family home zoning as it was when we invested in the neighbourhood.”

It was the same story two years ago in Gimli when the town council tried to update its zoning bylaw so organizations like ACL didn’t need to seek permission when opening a new home.

The RM of Gimli’s request was quickly met with opposition from residents living in the upscale community of Pelican Beach, who emailed the town saying they didn’t want ‘sexual deviants’ as neighbours.

But when opponents showed up to a public hearing attended by reporters, they weren’t so blunt.

Instead, they insisted they have nothing against people with intellectual disabilities or any group home for them – just as long as it wasn’t going near them.

“We have no problem with there being any kind of use anywhere else,” said one opponent, who feared his property value would be lowered if a home came to his neighbourhood.

Stonewall council voted unanimously to approve ACL’s request Wednesday night after hundreds of outraged locals threw their support behind the request.

But the opponents were nowhere to be seen.

So what’s the fear?

–With files courtesy of Jennifer McFee, the Stonewall Tribune.