I have been riding Guelph Transit since the summer of 1996, when the CNIB sent me my first white cane. I have seen a lot of changes in my 24 years as a passenger, but one thing has always stayed the same. The quality of the ride often depends on the issues of the riders. There have been days like today when the ride was blissfully efficient and everyone exercised common sense, and then there have been other days when I felt like I was trapped in a zoo on wheels.
The thing that made today’s ride so special was the fact that the parents pushing strollers did not feel entitled to fill up all of the priority seating, and make it impossible for a person with a challenge/disability to find a seat. To be fair, strollers require seats that stretch sideways and fold up to accommodate them. So do wheelchairs. Some people with challenges/disabilities just require a seat that’s close to the door, because for whatever reason, they have difficulty walking to the back of the bus.
I was lead to believe, by a woman with a very large stroller, that strollers will not fit between the panels that divide the front and back seats on a new bus. Fortunately today, I got to see that theory proven wrong.
The front seats are designated priority seating, while the ones behind the panels have a suggested label of courtesy seating. It surprises me that people don’t always notice the difference.
The sign for the priority seating has symbols representing a wheelchair user, a guide dog, and a person walking with a support cane. These are the easiest visible physical disabilities represent with symbols, but there are plenty more, along with a plethora of invisible ones. A person with a respiratory condition may or may not use an oxygen tank when travelling. If they don’t use an oxygen tank their issue will be less noticeable, but they may still require a front seat. Anyone who has ever tried to stay on their feet while experiencing a breathing issue will understand that the urge to get off one’s feet is even more urgent than the need to find a restroom. The same can be said of heart conditions, and other issues. Some visual and neurological issues may also be hard to see.
I’d like to dedicate that section on invisible disabilities to people with more eyesight than I have. Because of my inability to perceive many visual cues, most disabilities and challenges are invisible to me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find other ways to perceive them.
But I digress. Priority seating is for those who have issues that prevent them from quickly moving to the back of the bus, who need to be up front to see better, or who can’t see well enough to get off the bus in a prompt and timely manner.
Right behind the priority seating are two panels which make navigation incredibly challenging for most, and behind those are the courtesy seating. The sign for courtesy seating depicts a person getting up to offer a seat to a person with a cane, another that depicts a person getting up for a pregnant lady, and the final one depicts a person getting up for a woman holding a child. To be fair, the gender of the person holding the child really shouldn’t matter. Fathers and children get just as exhausted. Aside from the sign depicting the pregnant lady, gender does not matter when it comes to priority or courtesy seating. That being said, my husband remembers the time when the priority and courtesy seats were occupied by a group of teenaged girls. When he, a man with visual and physical problems, and also old enough to be a father to these girls, asked for a seat, they informed him loudly that they didn’t get to get up because they were girls. Now hear this, ladies. Being female is not a disability! As humans we should not give or take seats, based on gender. If I need a seat it’s because I live with the same challenges a man can live with, and not because I have two X chromosomes.
Because of the issue with strollers being large, a lot of parents and other guardians of small children choose to use the priority seating. Today I saw something incredible. Twice I observed parents with strollers navigating between the two panels, and using the courtesy seating. The first time it was a small foldable stroller. I was happy to see the mother pass by the priority seating, and seek a courtesy seat. She moved so efficiently that no one had time to jump out of their priority seat.
The second time I saw a mother and father board the bus with a baby in a standard stroller, not a more portable one like the first. They too, passed right by the priority seating, and perfectly navigated their stroller between the two panels. now that I have seen this, no one can ever tell me a standard stroller won’t fit in the courtesy section. All that happened was that I got my toes run over. I have large feet, and I pull them in, but due to a lack of room and people on both sides having feet, that’s going to happen. I think there is probably less room between facing rows of feet placed responsibly, than there are between the two panels. I laughed and assured the mother that it was no problem, as I don’t leave home without my steel toed boots. I would never ride Guelph Transit wearing flip-flops.
The actions of the people in these two situations impressed me immensely! It was a great relief to know that those strollers fit where they need to fit.
In the past I’ve occupied my rightful place in a priority seat, and people with strollers have asked me to stand up and move, so they can fit in there. I once asked a bus driver what the correct protocol was. She told me that priority goes to wheelchairs, those with mobility aids who can still walk, strollers, and the otherwise unchallenged, in that order too. Strollers do not take priority over wheelchairs or those with physical disabilities. Unfortunately the bus drivers aren’t allowed to mediate these situations, like I wish they were. There are a number of reasons for this, including invisible disabilities, and whatever other liabilities come with trying to enforce order in this day and age.
A few years ago I actually witnessed two total stereotypes fighting over priority seating, and it ended in one of them throwing a milkshake at the other. In one corner we had an entitled millennial mother, and in the other corner, we had a early baby-boomer lady. Again, these two people represented the worst stereotypes about their demographic. I am not saying they represent all boomers and millennials. I don’t remember the older lady having a cane. She was trying to argue the mother out of the front seat because she was a senior, and the mother was going to stand her ground, and be equally argumentative. I had my headphones on when it started, so i don’t know who threw the first verbal arrow. All I can honestly say is that by the end they were both wrong, and thats when the drinks started flying, one arrived at her stop, and the other was kicked off.
My goal is to clear up the difference between priority and courtesy seating once and for all. Priority is for those with physical issues, courtesy seating is for those carrying a little extra, and with the exception of pregnant woman, there is no reason for gender to take priority.