UBC's accessibility shuttle: paving new routes and resolutions

Six years since UBC's Accessibility Shuttle launched, students, staff and faculty are weighing in on what's been working and what needs to be improved.

UBC’s accessibility shuttle aims to promote accessibility across the campus's 420 hectares by providing transportation for people with mobility conditions from designated stops to central areas of campus.

“I see the shuttle bus as part of a suite of accessibility mobility tools,” said Janet Mee, UBC’s managing director of student affairs.

She explained that two years ago, through collaboration with UBC Campus + Community Planning (C+CP), the Center for Accessibility (CfA) worked to redevelop the WayFinding site to introduce booking on the website instead of having to call their line.

Mee said the update “allows people to pick the shortest and most accessible route.”

When asked about feedback from shuttle users, Mee said it is generally mixed.

“We do hear lots of positive feedback that the shuttle does serve a gap in the accessibility on campus, and we do hear from students that feel differently.”

UBC's Disabilities United Collective (DUC), an AMS resource group that advocates for disabled students, has increasingly raised concerns about its limitations.

Neon, the DUC spaces committee facilitator, wrote that “beyond the fact that it exists, and the drivers are occasionally nice … there is not too much that the shuttle is doing well.”

They noted some drawbacks including the shuttle being poorly advertised and frequently late, stops having inconvenient accessibility and a lack of seating on the shuttle.

“They refuse to book any trips 15 minutes before or after shift change, which is 12:30 p.m., as of last term,” wrote Neon. “If I booked a 12:45 p.m. ride, I would usually be late [to class].”

Neon has also noted problems with shuttle availability, namely the shuttle's operating hours, which end at 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and its inability to provide shelter and run in poor weather conditions such as heavy rain and snow.

“That is the most unsafe time for disabled students to be travelling by foot,” wrote Neon. “As far as I know, no stops have shelter, which is a huge oversight given Vancouver's weather.”

“The UBC accessibility shuttle is yet another service that has failed to provide any meaningful support to disabled people,” wrote Neon. “It is exhausting and disheartening to constantly encounter things that are supposed to be helpful but, in reality, aren't."

Mee acknowledges the shuttle's challenges, such as poor weather are a common obstacle.

“Most often, we try to pick places where there is shelter … where students have the best ability to stay warm and dry,” Mee said. “The problem is that all golf carts are electric vehicles and are notoriously unreliable in severe weather.”

To accommodate individuals with mobility issues, Mee worked with the AMS to lend their shuttle to users after 4:30 p.m. However, with one coordinator operating the shuttle and occasional malfunctions, Mee said it also comes down to a supply chain issue.

“When our shuttle bus breaks down, there are sometimes delays in parts we need,” explained Mee.

Mee hopes the accessibility shuttle can continue closing the gap in campus-wide accessibility. The CfA is currently discussing with C+CP and TransLink whether the shuttle can travel to UBC medical facilities and other spots on campus where students commonly travel.

“As things change, as opportunities arrive, we add new shuttle bus stops every year,” said Mee.