Having access to specialized transit is supposed to make life easier for those who rely on it, but for one Barrie senior it’s been anything but.
Wendy Porter recently called on City of Barrie Specialized Transit to pick her up at her Blake Street apartment and take her to Walmart so she could get some groceries. When she was done shopping, she exited the store and waited for the driver to lower the ramp down before making her way, with the help of a nearby couple, onto the bus with her walker, buggy and seven bags of groceries.
After the couple helped her secure her walker and get seated, Porter says the bus driver began looking at her oddly.
“I asked if I had done something wrong and he asked if I knew the rules," she said.
After asking how long she’d been a client, Porter — who despite officially being a client for several years only started taking the bus less than two weeks prior — says the driver “nearly snapped my head off” and told her she had “way too many food bags.”
Porter, 66, says she was stunned and asked the driver what she was expected to do, at which point they told her she would need to be removed from the bus.
“I could hear him talking to his office and they said to advise (me) that (I) could only have two to three bags. Before I knew it, they were sending a supervisor," she said. "The bus driver was taking pictures and I didn’t know what he was taking pictures of … me or the bags!”
A supervisor eventually arrived, she added, who also informed Porter she would have to get off the bus and would need to instead call a taxi.
“I don’t have a dime to my name … I had $13 that was it,” she said, noting a taxi to get from the store to her Blake Street apartment would cost approximately $27.
Left with no choice, Porter says she found herself forced to collect her things and make her way down the metal ramp and back to the sidewalk in front of the store.
“I don’t think what they did was appropriate or called for,” she said. “It was freezing rain. I could have come flying down that ramp with my walker, my bundle buggy and my bags, and they just stood and watched.”
The whole ordeal lasted about 40 minutes, Porter said, during which time she says she was the only one attempting to access the bus service.
The city says Barrie Transit was made aware of this incident Wednesday afternoon and staff immediately opened an investigation with their service provider.
"There is a two-bag limit policy that is shared with all specialized clients, which is a similar policy to what is in place at many transit agencies across the province," Brent Forsyth, Barrie's director of transit and parking, said in a statement.
"The policy is in place to protect the riders and the operator from objects potentially rolling around the vehicles creating tripping hazards, potential projectiles (in the case of an abrupt stop) or interfering with the driver operating the vehicle," he added.
The policy also helps to ensure there is "adequate room" for other passengers, Forsyth added.
Sarah Porter-Murray said she initially signed her mother up for the specialized transit services several years ago, but her mother only began to use the service recently. Porter-Murray said she's angry with how her mother was treated throughout this ordeal.
“I get that there are rules and policies, but I think that they also need to be able to make exceptions to the rules. I just don’t think their decision was appropriate," the daughter said.
Forsyth said transit drivers do make attempts to explain the rules.
"Drivers typically try to do everything possible to accommodate our specialized clients and will provide ample education on the policy," he said.
In this case, Forsyth says she was provided with "potential alternative options, including calling a cab and potentially storing their additional bags with Walmart staff until alternative pickup arrangements had been made, but the additional support was refused."
Porter-Murray added, in addition to an apology for her mother, she would like to see Barrie Transit revisit the two-bag rule.
"She could have been given a warning," she said. "They need to do better and they should have seen her as a human being and not just as a client," she said. "They were trying to follow their policy to a tee and it was totally unnecessary. If passenger safety is a priority to them, then having someone leave the bus and leaving them stranded is totally against their philosophy.
"Accessible transit is for elderly or disabled people, so only allowing them to take two bags at a time, that’s making them go out multiple times in a month. A lot of people on the accessible transit are also likely on a fixed income, so it’s also making them take the bus multiple times … which is ridiculous," Porter-Murray added.
Forsyth said: "We apologize for the way the situation was handled. Staff continue to investigate the incident to see what can be learned to prevent this from happening in the future."