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Accessible Public Transportation After the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, we cheer ourselves by thinking of future socializing in-person. We also think about returning to work or activities we love. These hopes help us through the challenges of physical distancing. Moreover, these challenges show us that we can be more flexible or more creative than we thought we could. For instance, transportation providers have adapted to new ways of serving the public during the pandemic. In the post-COVID-19 future, more transportation providers may recognize the value of adapting their vehicles and services to meet citizens’ diverse needs. Consequently, more service providers may offer accessible public transportation after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Accessible PublicTransportation After the COVID-19 Pandemic

As physical distancing continues, transportation providers have made changes to the services they offer. For instance, busses have changed their schedules and seating arrangements. Similarly, many bus companies have waived fees in order to allow riders to board through back doors. All these changes make vehicles safer for essential workers and other people who need to travel on public transit, such as buses and trains. In the same way, transportation companies can adapt just as proactively to better serve travellers with disabilities.

Current AODA Requirements for Conventional Transportation Providers

Currently, the Transportation Standards of the AODA only mandate accessibility in public transit vehicles if:

  • The vehicles were made on or after January 1st, 2013
  • The vehicles were purchased on or after July 1st, 2011

In addition, if companies update one feature of their vehicles, such as signage, the updated feature must be accessible. However, remaining features continue to be inaccessible. This limitation to the standards means that older vehicles may not be welcoming to passengers with disabilities.

Some individuals responsible for vehicle oversight at public transit companies may feel that they do not need to worry about making older vehicles accessible because the AODA does not require them to do so. They may also fear that installing accessible features will be costly, time-consuming, or inconvenient. However, companies with accessible vehicles better serve both drivers and passengers.

Vehicle Accessibility

For example, different vehicle set-ups offer passengers different levels of independence. The wheelchair-accessible seats on some vehicles allow many people to secure their own assistive devices. In contrast, other vehicles require drivers to secure passengers’ wheelchairs, scooters, and other devices. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these differences in vehicle accessibility impact drivers and passengers in new ways.

The Transportation Standards require drivers to provide assistance securing passengers, upon request. However, some drivers feel that providing this assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic is not safe. Like workers in all essential services, bus drivers deserve to be safe and supported as they do their important work. Nonetheless, serving passengers with disabilities, including securing passengers, is part of that essential work. People of all abilities need to travel to their jobs and essential services, like stores or doctors.

When public transit companies invest in vehicles with more accessibility features, their drivers and passengers will be less likely to face this dilemma. In other words, the more accessible vehicles are, the safer they are for drivers and passengers. When transportation companies choose to improve their vehicle accessibility, the changes they make may later bring benefits they do not expect.