A Victoria resident says they’ve faced discrimination on local transit buses since beginning to use a wheelchair less than a year ago.
After Daniel Sands, who is a two-spirited person and uses the they/them pronoun, went through chemotherapy they developed severe asthma and shortness of breath. Using a wheelchair, they said, helps them lead a more normal life.
This includes the normalcy of using the bus to get around town. However, since transitioning to a wheelchair Sands said they have noticed discrimination from bus drivers.
“It’s quite new to me and I guess that’s why it’s glaringly obvious,” Sands said. “Before I had the privilege of not ever facing these situations.”
Most commonly Sands will have drivers tell them there’s no room on the bus for the chair, even when they can see that there is. Sands, who takes the bus up to six times per day, has very frequently been passed by with the wave of a hand.
“It’s one thing if it’s a full bus and no one is allowed on, that’s fair. But if other people are let on and I’m not then that’s a problem,” Sands said. “That’s institutional ableism.”
If they can convince a driver to let down the ramp, Sands can always find room. Sands’ chair is a manual one, and takes up about the same space as a person.
While BC Transit offers HandyDART services, Sands’ bus pass only works on standard buses. Additionally, HandyDART buses need reservations, sometimes up to two weeks in advance.
On a standard bus there are two spots at the front where a wheelchair can be parked, which are often full of able-bodied people.
When they can get on, Sands fears that drivers force straps onto their chair, something Sands finds anxiety-inducing, especially after straps have been improperly applied and resulted in their chair sliding.
“How would you feel if someone came and forcefully tied you to your seat?” Sands said. “I also have asked them not to strap me in because I face so many physical barriers throughout the day that adding another one on purpose and without my consent is like adding insult to injury.”
BC Transit requires wheelchairs to always use a strap in forward facing positions, and in rear-facing positions unless there’s an anti-tipping device installed on the seat.
The whole situation has given Sands a lot of anxiety about using the bus, and for awhile they avoided leaving the house at certain times of the day to avoid high-traffic situations.
Sands has reported the issue many times to BC Transit, and estimates they have called about 20 times in the last four months, with supervisors telling them they’d pass the message along to BC Transit trainers. Since the complaints were put in, Sands has not seen any changes.
In an emailed statment, BC Transit said they are aware of the complaints.
“We are sorry for this customer’s experience with transit, and are working directly with the customer. …We expect all of our staff to be professional with customers,” said BC Transit spokesperson Jonathon Dyck in an emailed statement. “Our drivers do their best to encourage customers to move back but we also strongly encourage our customers on board to move to the back of the bus in order to accommodate as many passengers as possible.”
Recently Sands expressed disagreement with a bus driver about the sitution of room on the bus.
“The driver proceeded to call me a troublemaker, and that all the other drivers know me as a trouble maker. The driver said this in front of all the other passengers. He was trying to embarrass and invalidate me,” Sands said. “I’ve got to speak up and if that makes me a troublemaker that’s fine. I’ll take it.”