Captive audience indeed. Para Transpo hits bottom…hard.

It’s no secret that I’m rather less than a fan of the Para Transpo system run by the city of Ottawa. You might say if someone paid me to use the service, they’d still be paying and I’d still not be using. But even if I wouldn’t touch them for fear of catching something, I still expected them to do a halfway decent job of taking care of the people who didn’t have that option. Not so much.

A Para Transpo customer wants the city to provide more training to a bus operator who she says hurled insensitive statements at her and damaged her special mobility equipment. The incident began Aug. 1 at around 8 p.m., as Ruth Hurst waited for her scheduled Para Transpo ride home after her weekly handcycle class at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Hurst, a quadriplegic, has limited use of her legs and arms. She can walk short distances and stand briefly, however she still uses a wheelchair, which she had that evening along with her $13,000 handcycle. The ordeal began when the driver arrived, she said. “He came out of the bus and he said, ‘I don’t even want to deal with you,’ ” Hurst said. “And he snatches up the bike by the cables, and with that he shoved the bike at this other lady who was standing beside her van.” The manhandling of the tricycle-like vehicle damaged the front wheel’s fork and some cables, Hurst said. The driver subsequently refused to help her load the handcycle and strap it down in the bus, she said. It was ultimately another member of her handcycle club that volunteered to help her load the trike and her wheelchair onto the bus.

And this from a guy who’s supposed to be getting paid to do the things he’s insisting that someone else do for him instead. Now, if it were anyone else the solution would be simple enough–just don’t use Para Transpo. But this is one of those cases, and I wondered if this would happen, where she doesn’t have a whole lot of choice and the driver knows it. Ruth is exactly the type of customer Para Transpo should be working to take care of. Instead, she would almost have been better off going solo–and as it turned out, she pretty much was.

Once on-board and en route to her home in Kanata, Hurst said, the driver was relatively calm and quiet until he dropped off the only other passenger on board. “As soon as the bus driver dropped the man off, he started up again, saying, ‘You’re the worst person I’ve ever had to deal with. I hope I never have to pick you up again,’ ” Hurst said. “I’ve only seen him twice in my life and both times he was ranting and raving,” she added, referring to a brief experience she’d had with him a few weeks prior. “When we got to the house, he didn’t open the door to let me out. He just paced up and down, yelling for quite a while, which was disturbing,” Hurst said. “I told him to be quiet and to call his supervisor if there was an issue — clearly there was an issue — and he stomps to the front of the bus, snatches the phone off the cradle and he yells at the person, ‘She told me to shut up!’ ” The operator didn’t lower the bus or untie her handcycle and wheelchair from their safety straps, Hurst said. “He didn’t do his job, basically.” Eventually, he lowered the ramp but still refused to help unload Hurst’s equipment, she said. “I had to struggle to untie everything myself and to unload everything, and I got the wheelchair unloaded, came back, got the handcycle unloaded and the guy was sitting at the back of the bus doing crossword puzzles from the newspaper. And I thought, ‘This is just wrong.’ ”

So, let me just summarize here for the hell of it. She calls Para Transpo because she needs help getting her from A to B. Clearly she does, as she’s in a freaking wheelchair. Clearly, being in a wheelchair means she’s going to need help with the extra gear she’s come with. It’s not rocket science, here. Instead, the service who’s primary function is to help people who can’t be completely independent forces her to give being completely independent her best effort–and let’s just not give too much attention to that whole safety thing.

When your customers don’t have a choice, you pretty much have the room to do exactly what you please exactly when you please and exactly how you please. And this driver took full advantage of that and then some. For the and then some, we go straight back to the article.

After getting inside her home, Hurst said the operator remained parked outside for more than an hour, sitting in the driver’s seat and looking into her house. “That was disturbing.”

So, to recap, customer who can’t get from A to B independently calls the service who’s supposed to be there to help people who can’t get from A to B independently. Service figures she’s perfectly capable of getting herself from A to B independently. Service is not entirely receptive to hearing that, duh, she can’t get from A to B independently. Service doesn’t much feel up to giving a damn. And that’s what you get to do when your audience is captive. Maybe possibly next time, though, go a little easier on the crosswords. I hear they’re bad for you.

Para Transpo has found rock bottom. Here’s a pro tip, folks. You’re supposed to be making yourselves look like a something that the people you’re hoping to expand the service to include will actually want to use. I’m no expert on, you know, playing nice and junk–I fix computers and let other people fix the people who run them, but if I’m sitting where you are, I’m maybe taking a look at the too many levels of wrong this is. And then I’m running like hell in the opposite direction. Quickly. Could we maybe give that a try?

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