If city council approves, Winnipeg Transit will soon have a formal policy on seating designated specifically for use by passengers with disabilities.
The plan was passed unanimously on Wednesday by the city’s infrastructure and public works committee. It also was lauded by advocates for the disabled community as “historic.”
“This is a bold, and I daresay a brave decision, to say, ‘We are going to take a step forward in terms of inclusivity, of respecting human rights’ — that Winnipeg is ready to make that step, to make it official,” said Patrick Stewart with the Independent Living Resource Centre.
Winnipeg Transit buses currently have seats at the front designated as priority seats for people with disabilities or “courtesy seating” (for riders who do not have disabilities but may benefit from being closer to the front door of the bus).
However, there has previously been no formal policy to enforce priority seating on city buses.
The proposals in the policy include training for Transit drivers to explain the policy to passengers and signage to indicate which seats are designated for people with disabilities.
The report that outlines the policy changes does not recommend replacing bus seats to distinguish the priority seating area, but any new buses ordered by the city will have colour-coded seating to designate the priority seating. That’s not expected to increase the cost of new buses, the city’s report says.
“Other passengers are expected to respect and obey the purpose of the priority seating area,” it says. That means a passenger in a priority seat must give it up for a passenger with a disability.
Bus operators will “remind other passengers to vacate the priority seating area, but will not enforce” the policy, it says.
Stewart told councillors on the public works committee there was extensive consultation with organizations and individuals within the disabled community before the report was completed.
“It makes the singular decision to have priority seating, to protect access for people with disabilities who may not have access to public transit otherwise,” Stewart said.
The effort to reach out to the community was also lauded by the chair of the committee, Coun. Matt Allard.
“Pleased to see this policy going forward. The report was welcomed with open arms from the community because of a robust public engagement exercise between the community and the public service,” the St. Boniface councillor wrote in an email to CBC News.
The plan calls for the city to hire a co-ordinator responsible for “providing oversight and guidance on accessible transportation.”
If the proposals are passed by city council a public engagement campaign will be launched encouraging passengers to respect the designated seating area and show consideration for those who need the seating.
Some of changes could be in place by the fourth quarter of 2021 if they are approved by council. The accessibility co-ordinator would be hired for the following year.