Discriminatory Customer Service on B.C. Transit

By | February 1, 2019

I have used mobility aids for over fifteen years. I have been using the transit system just as long. I have experienced a lot of discrimination as a passenger with a disability, I even founded my organization, Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods, in 2005 because of customer service issues with transit in Metro Vancouver. Today, I had one of the worst experiences ever. I had taken a bus from the ferry to downtown Victoria where I was catching a bus to Esquimalt. I was waiting at the bus stop and, as the bus was the second in the bay, it pulled up behind another bus. I was standing just off to the right of the front door of the bus and I said to the driver “I need the ramp”. She waved her hand and said “pole”. I repeated that I needed the ramp so she deployed the ramp without moving and, as predicted, the ramp was an inch from the light pole. I said I couldn’t use it there, I couldn’t get over the lips on the side of the ramp. I said that she needed to move the bus forward. I should not have been forced into instructing her. She glared at me and moved the bus forward, passing me where it was accessible, making myself and the growing crowd around me move forward. She deployed the ramp and I boarded. Frankly, it was humiliating having to advocate for accessibility as a growing crowd of people pushed on me and wanted to board, several people did offer words of comfort to me about the driver needing to do her job and why was she making it so difficult, but even with those thoughtful comments, the driver was making a sideshow out of what should have been a normal procedure. Finally I boarded the bus.

When we approached my stop, I stood up and moved to the front of the bus and the driver just sat there. I said “I need the ramp” and she reluctantly deployed it. As it was deploying, I said “I shouldn’t have to fight so hard to use the ramp” and she stopped the ramp halfway and just sat there. I was exhausted at this point and, honestly, extremely frustrated and angry and I didn’t want to say anything I would regret so I simply said “please deploy the ramp” and she did. As I was exiting the bus, her power play bothered me, it was so unnecessary of her to stop the deployment of the ramp as if she were going to trap me in the bus for speaking up for myself (and other passengers with disabilities). I said “a passenger shouldn’t have to fight to get the ramp deployed” and she said she didn’t know I needed it. I said I told her I needed it. She then said that “the ramps weren’t made for you, they were made for wheelchairs”. I replied that they are there for anyone who needs them and they shouldn’t have to fight for that right, they should ask and get the ramp deployed. She disagreed. I realized that no matter what I said she wasn’t going to change her mind so I continued on.

The BC Transit driver completely devalued me, she acted as if I was an aggravation and she’d only deal with me if forced. It was absolutely unacceptable and discriminatory service. There are people with disabilities who experience this type of rudeness and unwillingness to give them access to a service that is quite literally built into the bus, and never want to use transit again; I know because my organization receives calls and emails from concerned family and friends asking how to encourage them to try again. It is truly disheartening to see the same issues present in today’s transit system that were happening when I founded my organization fourteen years ago. It truly bothers me, and it should bother BC Transit, that there still drivers who demean and demoralize passengers with disabilities. Nobody who needs accessibility should have to fight for it. No one with a walker, who is unable to lift the walker onto the bus, should have to hear that the ramp is not for them and be told it is only for people with wheelchairs. No person should feel invalidated and minimized.

I expect BC Transit to make sure this employee knows that discriminating against customers on the basis of disability (or any other identity) is unacceptable.

I also expect that BC Transit will back up the talk with the driver by sending out a notice to all bus drivers reinforcing the right that if a passenger with disability (with or without a mobility aid) says they need the ramp, the ramp should be deployed. There should be no argument, there should be no shaming. and there should definitely not be service that makes them feel like they are a burden.

Image of person with walker