UBC student with a disability turned away from TransLink bus for travelling without an attendant, per pandemic policy

On May 13, fifth-year sociology student Mason McClement left his home on campus to shop for groceries.

McClement, who uses an electric wheelchair, attempted to board the 68 commuter shuttle, a bus operated by the Coast Mountain Bus Company that connects students with grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential services on campus.

Upon attempting to board, McClement was turned away from the bus because he did not have an attendant with him. McClement said he was told that he would have to call a cab or find alternate means of transportation to get to his destination, rather than board a bus he had taken many times before.

This was the result of a temporary COVID-19 policy implemented by TransLink in which buses that do not have rear facing accessible seats require customers with mobility devices “to travel with someone who can assist them or find an alternate mode of travel.”

McClement described the incident as “shocking.”

“I was completely taken off guard by this new policy … it was expressed in a way that then told me it was going to be more of a prolonged issue. That’s where I started to get quite worried about how other students in my position may encounter this policy in the future,” McClement said.

Prior to the pandemic, bus operators were able to assist customers in boarding buses, but with current physical distancing measures in place, TransLink suggests those with mobility devices take a taxi as an alternative mode of transport. The Centre for Accessibility also used to offer the UBC Accessibility Shuttle for students who required assistance navigating campus, though this was suspended at the beginning of the pandemic and has yet to be reinstated.

McClement said he wished that UBC had communicated the policy change as it affects students and faculty who use mobility devices.

McClement said that despite the policy being in place during the pandemic, prior to May 13 the 68 shuttle was just like “any other bus where I get on, I park, and I go to my destination, I get off, and that’s that — but that time around, it didn’t happen for me.

“That inconsistency is a little concerning … it’s not very clear on who it affects and what you can do to get past it.”

McClement felt that the policy could disproportionately affect those in a lower income bracket.

In a Facebook post on the incident, McClement wrote, “I sure as heck can’t pay a taxi every time … I’m a student, and like most students, I barely have any money for essentials like food.”

In a statement to The Ubyssey, TransLink said that the Coast Mountain Bus Company is reviewing the necessity of the policy as vaccination rates increase, though it does not yet have a date for when it might be lifted.

“Our Translink Planning team is moving forward assuming that regular in-class learning will be back in September and are aiming to provide sufficient service so there isn’t any overcrowding.”

In a second statement sent on June 7, TransLink clarified that the taxi would be paid for by Coast Mountain Bus Company, not the customer.

“Again, the driver should be stopping and explaining the policy, offering to call a taxi and if the customer says yes the operator would call to have a taxi dispatched.”

Nevertheless, McClement is concerned that he will now have to travel further for accessible public transport which might not always be practical in inclement weather conditions.

“If it’s raining outside or if it’s snowing outside and I have to wait for a particular number, or it’s dark and it’s getting cold … to me that doesn’t seem neither fair nor feasible.”

This new policy is also more likely to affect those with obvious physical disabilities. In his Facebook post, McClement wrote that “this policy egregiously generalises disability, whether in a chair or with a guide dog.”

“You can’t sweep a whole bunch of classifications on disability and say, we’re going to have this policy act like an umbrella term. And I think that something as central as transit should be able to accommodate … different needs, different financial backgrounds and ability for financial support,” McClement said.

This article has been updated to include a second statement from TransLink.