By Joanne Schnurr
A seniors' centre says the recent bus changes in Ottawa is hurting the health of their members.The Good Companions Centre says their elderly volunteers and visitors are being forced to wait too long for a bus now or walk too far, forcing some of them to just stay home.A bus used to pass by the centre onAlbert Street every 2 or 3 minutes during the day. Now, it's every half hour. Seniors tell us they can't wait outside in the winter that long and fear falling on the ice if they walk to the closest LRT station.
For Viola Golden, the Good Companions Centre is a whole lot more than just an afternoon out. It's become her lifeline for the past 3 years.
“It's my home away from home,” she says, “I've met a lot of people here. I love coming here.”
But coming here has gotten more difficult for most seniors since bus route changes came into effect earlier this month.
“We're not hikers anymore,” says Margaret Donnelly, a volunteer and member, “People are aging, getting unsteady on their feet.”
Two different routes used to pass by the seniors' centre every couple minutes before the LRT went on-line. That changed October 6th. Now the 16 comes once every half hour.
“You see, they forgot about the old fogies,” says Carole Morgan, as she steps on the No. 16 bus, after a half hour wait.
The options are either to wait for the bus outside the Good Companions’ Centre or go to the Pimisi station across the way. That's about 300 meters, not a big deal for some people but for a lot of the members at the centre, that's a deal breaker.
Valerie Small has volunteered there for 15 years but worries this could be her last year here.
“I'm able and I'm mobile, but I'm not as young as I used to be and I worry about falling,” she says.
Monique Doolittle-Romas is the Executive Director the Good Companions Centre, “What about the seniors with walkers, the senior with Parkinson’s. Some have arthritis and others walk with canes. it's too far for them,” she says, “We need to find a way to make sure they can get here safely. I think we at the centre owe it to them.”
The councillor for the area, Catherine McKenney, agrees and says she's working with OC Transpo on a solution.
“We have to look at all circumstances where the service was decreased,” says McKenney, “and make sure we are meeting the needs of most people who use transit. We can't lose ridership.”
In an email, Pam Scrimgeour, the Director of Transit Customer Systems and Planning with OC Transpo said, “On October 6th, the OC Transpo bus network underwent significant changes to align with O-Train Line 1. Most bus service that previously operated along Albert and Slater Streets were replaced by O-Train Line 1, or re-routed or shortened to connect to O-Train Line 1 stations. This includes Route 85, which was modified to provide service between Bayshore Station and Gatineau via Booth Street to Pimisi Station, instead of continuing through downtown to Lees Station. With the above changes, the Good Companions Centre continues to be well-served by O-Train Line 1 at Pimisi Station, located approximately 300 metres away on Booth Street at Albert Street. Pimisi Station is also serviced by bus Route 85 all day, seven days a week. With any new changes, staff will monitor the service and collect customer feedback, and will use this information to assess whether future adjustments to service are required in order to meet the needs of customers.”
Viola Golden is quick to provide her customer feedback, “You have to increase the number 16,” she says, “There's a lot of us who depend on that bus and if you don't have it, we won't be coming.”