Innovative Bus Shelters Make An Impact in Abbotsford

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Abbotsford bus shelters that once presented a barrier to transit riders with disabilities are now sporting a unique design that is causing a stir among both city planners and transit users.

Using $4,000 of a $30,000 grant from the 2010 Legacies Now Measuring Up Fund, and with additional support from Community Futures of the South Fraser, Access Abbotsford learned some surprising things about how people with disabilities are using transit. Or rather, how they're not using transit. The reluctance to travel by bus, it turned out, had less to do with the buses than with the bus shelters.

"People on scooters told us that they were uncomfortable backing into the shelters (which have only one entrance). The visually impaired couldn't see the benches, which are the same colour as the walls. Those with walkers could see the benches – but they couldn't use them. There were no arms to help them sit and stand again," says Annette Borrows, employment development coordinator with Community Futures, a federal government program and co-chair of Access Abbotsford.

The result was that many residents with disabilities felt unsafe using transit, which was proving to be a barrier to their job prospects and their opportunities for community involvement.

So they developed a wish-list for an inclusive bus stop. With the help of Pattison Outdoor Advertising (which supplies bus shelters), they designed three new facilities for high-traffic spots. The new shelters are found at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre, city hall, and the new Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre. The facilities are expensive, costing $12,000 to $16,000 each, because they have to pour concrete to build them.

The new shelters include entrance and exit ways to allow those using wheelchairs or scooters to drive through. And they have innovations such as "tactile markers," which are large raised yellow circles, about a foot in diameter. Riders with vision loss using canes can track the markers from bus stop to shelter, which makes it easier for them to travel alone. 

The innovative shelters have proven to be a hit.

"What we're hearing is that people are feeling safe now," Borrows says. "They feel they can navigate their way around the community – which is just huge. It means community inclusion and less isolation for the disabled. They're able to go out on their own, and be employed. That's so important – one of the biggest barriers to employment is transit."

As a bonus, word-of-mouth is spreading about the inclusive bus shelters. "Abbotsford's city planning department is looking at the possibility of making them the standard," Borrows says. "But we got also got a call from Alberta transit – they heard about them and want to know more."

The accessible bus-stop initiative is one of many that Access Abbotsford has undertaken as part of their participation in Measuring Up. Together with this and a very successful employment program, Access Abbotsford and 2010 Legacies Now have created far-reaching legacies of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Measuring Up helps communities assess and improve how accessible and inclusive they are for people with disabilities, seniors and others with similar needs. The program includes a fund, established by the Province of BC, which offers grants to communities to complete accessibility-related projects.