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Disability advocate wants bus driver disciplined over ramp incident

Richard Troy Stewart says he was nearly left stranded when an OC Transpo driver refused to move the bus to a spot where the accessibility ramp could be fully lowered. (Francis Ferland/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Richard Troy Stewart says he was nearly left stranded when an OC Transpo driver refused to move the bus to a spot where the accessibility ramp could be fully lowered. (Francis Ferland/Radio-Canada - image credit)

An Ottawa disability advocate wants OC Transpo to discipline a driver who he says refused to inch past a snowbank to lower the bus's accessibility ramp, preventing him from boarding on his own.

Richard Troy Stewart, who uses a wheelchair and mobility scooter, said the trouble began at a bus stop on Gladstone Avenue near Bank Street on the afternoon of Jan. 10. Stewart had been shopping and was waiting for the No. 14 bus to get home.

A snowstorm had just blown through town, leaving a snowbank near the curb that impeded the bus's accessibility ramp when it pulled up to the stop.

"[The driver] just says, 'Sorry, I can't take you,'" Stewart recalled. "And I said, 'You're legally obligated to take me.'"

Stewart said it's not unusual for snow to impede his access to a bus, but most drivers will simply advance to a spot where the ramp can be safely deployed.

This time, the driver offered no solutions and started retracting the ramp in preparation to leave, according to Stewart, who said his scooter lacked enough battery power to make it all the way home.

He said the operator gave a "little snotty wave over his shoulder," which only angered him further. Stewart describes himself as stubborn by nature and quick to act, especially when he feels someone is being treated unfairly.

"So I grabbed the ramp, pushed it with my arm," he said during an interview at his apartment on Tuesday. "And I said, 'You're legally obligated to let me on the bus.'"

Passengers helped him board

By this point, passersby were telling the driver to pull forward to an area where the curb was clear of snow, Stewart said. The operator said he couldn't block the nearby intersection, but Stewart said that wouldn't have happened.

"He would have just been in the crosswalk a little, like the nose of the bus," he said.

Eventually, as some passengers hollered at the driver to let Stewart on, others disembarked and helped him onto the bus.

Richard Troy Stewart says he was waiting for the 14 bus near Gladstone Avenue and Bank Street.
Richard Troy Stewart says he was waiting for the 14 bus near Gladstone Avenue and Bank Street.

Stewart was waiting for the Route 14 bus on Gladstone Avenue near Bank Street when the incident occurred on Jan. 10. (Francis Ferland/Radio-Canada)

When the bus arrived at his destination, Stewart said the driver continued just past the stop to avoid another snowbank and he was able to disembark without issue. Once home, Stewart called OC Transpo to complain.

He said he feels discriminated against and wants the public transit agency to take disciplinary action against the driver.

"I want proof that there's been some sort of discipline," he said. "I want proof that my concerns are being met."

OC Transpo apologizes

OC Transpo's associate director of transit bus operations and maintenance said in an email the agency is aware of the incident and has reviewed the conduct of the operator as part of an internal investigation.

In the statement, Rami El Feghali apologized to Stewart, saying the events he described don't meet agency standards.

"The control centre can provide assistance in accommodating the customer through another means such as dispatching a Para Transpo vehicle," El Feghali wrote.

"In the event the bus stop is inaccessible due to snow, operators are advised to inform the customer, and proceed to a safe and accessible location where the ramp can be lowered."

In a separate email, El Feghali said the city is unable to comment further, but "can reassure the customer that we are taking the necessary steps to address their feedback and reinforce with our staff the importance of customer service in future circumstances."

However, El Feghali also pointed to a section of Ontario's Highway Traffic Act that states "a vehicle cannot enter into an intersection unless it can pass through it. For this reason, bus operators are trained not to stop in a crosswalk or intersection."

Stewart believes his experience is emblematic of larger issues and said he's lost faith in OC Transpo.

He said during the bus ride home, he kept his head down because he felt ashamed that strangers needed to physically lift him onto the bus in front of a crowd.

"I had to be the one to force the issue," Stewart said. "And that should never be the case."

Click on the image below to listen to episode one of This is Ottawa, CBC Ottawa's new podcast that asks how can Ottawa make snow removal better for everyone?

(CBC)