On Seniors and public transportation

Posted 05.07.06

Everybody loves spring, but seniors from Eastern Canada appreciate it this year more than ever. While others remark on how this year's milder winter was a pleasant change, the winter months were a nightmare for older people.

Layers of ice on streets and sidewalks, some of them so rutted and bumpy that both walking and driving presented a formidable hazard, kept many seniors indoors. Those who ventured out to take public transportation discovered high, ice-crusted snowbanks blocking access to bus stops and curbs.

Alternating thaws and hard freezes are likely to be the situation for winters to come, if predictions of global warming are accurate.

Meanwhile, our population is getting older, with thousands living past the century mark and the Baby Boomers hitting their 60s.

So where are the infrastructure changes to accommodate those of us with minor disabilities? Handicapped parking spots are sorely lacking at most locations, and those who have them often don't have curb cuts and automatic doors to allow entry to these places of business.

Park-and-ride lots are great, but only if you can climb on a bus without assistance. If you need both a cane and the banister to mount those steps, you can't carry anything, so using the bus to go shopping is useless. And unless these buses run more frequently, there aren't much help in very cold weather.

One solution might be parking lots in various parts of both Ottawa and Gatineau, Quebec, where you could park free (or for a nominal amount), and then take a taxi (or meet a friend with a car) in order to get to your final destinations. It's a pity that most shopping malls discourage this, with huge signs proclaiming limited parking hours and duration.

Another solution is light rail. One need only look at some other cities where a ground-level train runs on a continuous loop to see how efficient such a system can be.

In Portland, Oregon, the train is free, financed by savings on road maintenance, buses (which radiate from the downtown core), and revenue from park-and-ride lots serving those who live in the suburbs.

This is something that would work not only in Ottawa (where the 0-train is already operating), but could cross over the existing railroad bridge to Hull, Quebec, and could extend east and west from there along tracks that are already in place.

The key to making this work is the no-fare principle. That eliminates fumbling with change, tickets or passes and would allow people to enter from all doors, improving speed and efficiency. Of course tourists (as well as some people who live downtown) would not pay at the park-and-ride lots, but that lost revenue would be insignificant, with benefits to both tourism and downtown businesses to compensate.

A light-rail system along with a new bridge to take truck traffic from the Aviation Parkway (across Kettle Island to Labrosse Blvd. in "old" Gatineau, very close to my house) would relieve congestion on the other bridges, making rush hour traffic just a memory.

But all of this would require cooperation between the provinces. And we know how likely that is to occur.

Barbara Floria Graham is the author of the 20th anniversary edition of Five Fast Steps to Better Writing and Mewsings/Musings. Her website: www.SimonTeakettle.com

Copyright © 2006 Barbara Floria Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/04.06