A group of 15 Maple Ridge seniors travelled from the Haney Place Exchange to Waterfront Station, downtown Vancouver, to get more comfortable taking public transportation. (Contributed)

Teaching transit 101

Showing seniors public transportation is not as intimidating as it seems

Taking transit can be confusing and intimidating for a lot of people, seniors in particular.

But an Oct. 11 excursion to downtown Vancouver introduced a group of 15 seniors from Maple Ridge to the different modes of public transport including community shuttles, the West Coast Express, Skytrain and the bus.

TravelSmart for seniors was first held at the library at the beginning of September hosted by the Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Katzie, Seniors Network and the City of Maple Ridge, part of the Age Friendly Community Task Group.

At the event a representative from TransLink talked about all things transit including how to access it and how to purchase Compass cards.

Then the trip was planned as a way to get interested people more comfortable taking public transportation. But, also with a critical eye, to relay information back to TransLink about how to improve transit for the older population or those with disabilities.

Petra Frederick with the City of Maple Ridge, Kim McLennan with Fraser Health and Heather Treleaven with the Seniors Network, accompanied the seniors on the excursion.

Frederick said that the field trip was aimed at taking a look at the community level and see how can transit be better improved, to bring it to more people.

“It really was to introduce the use of TransLink. Using the buses. Knowing that we can get out of our community and not have to be so isolated in Maple Ridge. We can access Skytrain. We can use the West Coast Express,” explained Frederick.

“A lot of people said they weren’t comfortable striking out on their own. But then we went and tried it together and that made it a lot easier,” said Treleaven.

First the group had to get from the Haney Place Exchange to Waterfront Station. However, they did not choose the quickest route in order to teach the participants how to transfer onto the different modes of transportation.

They travelled from the exchange at Edge Street and McIntosh Avenue to Coquitlam station where they transferred onto the Skytrain. They took the Skytrain to Lougheed Mall where they transferred platforms and then took the train all the way to Waterfront Station. The trip took almost two hours.

On the way back they took a direct route, catching the West Coast Express all the way to Port Haney station and then the community shuttle back to the Haney Place Exchange. Coming back took only 45 minutes.

Trevleaven said the group noticed some interesting things along their journey.

“The bus has a reader. So if you have a hearing impairment, you can see what stop is coming up,” said Treleaven.

“That’s not true with the Skytrain we were on,” she added.

Frederick noted that the West Coast Express only has auditory announcements with nothing visual telling those who are hard of hearing what stop is coming up.

There was also the issue of washroom access.

“The washroom issue was really interesting because we ran into some very fabulous attendants along the way and they actually opened up their private washrooms for our folks to go,” said Frederick, which she said was really comforting to the group knowing they could ask if they ventured out on their own.

The most significant issue the group had was getting off the West Coast Express at Port Haney and getting up the hill to where the community shuttles were waiting.

Everyone at this point were anxious to get up to the buses and they were also tired after their long day. However the ramp to get to the buses was at the other end of the platform.

“So when I looked there were two people with their walkers heading up a narrow dirt path and they got stuck and almost fell over,” said Treleaven about those that decided to take the most direct route instead of the long walk to the ramp.

The location of elevators at Skytrain stations was an issue for the group as well.

“Elevators are at one side of the platform. So, (you) have to walk in the opposite direction and then back again,” explained Frederick.

Marilyn Christian and her husband Dudley went on the excursion together.

Recently Dudley had to turn in his drivers licence due to medical issues, meaning Marilyn now has to do a majority of the driving, especially since Dudley’s appointments can be as far away as UBC.

Normally Marilyn becomes stressed when driving. She is hard of hearing and reads lips to communicate.

“When I went on the TransLink trip it was so relaxing because I could talk with people and I was going places,” said Marilyn.

“It was like a holiday for me,” she said.

However, Marilyn said TransLink has to work on their signage for elevators and they need to assist people with mobility issues more.

At one point she said the group made it to an elevator and the more able bodied people had to carry up the walkers instead of walking all the way back to the elevator.

“We didn’t know where the elevator was,” she said.

Taking transit had been more intimidating for Marilyn before this excursion because she found the route finder on TransLink’s website confusing. She thinks the website itself needs improvement.

Frederick agreed with Marilyn that trip planning is probably the most intimidating aspect of public transportation.

“It’s really understanding where do you get on and where do you get off,” said Frederick.

“Even though transit has an app for it and they have a website for it and you can use Google maps for it, not everybody carries one of these around. Not everybody knows how to use one of these,” she said indicating her cell phone.

Funding for the event was through a $1,200 grant from TravelSmart, TransLink’s Transportation Demand Management Program. The program allows TransLink to connect with customers on a personal level through a combination of face-to-face outreach, tools, resources, and strategic partnerships. It highlights travel solutions that work within an individual’s lifestyle and aims to change the way that customers view transportation and how they utilize it in their daily lives.

TransLink also provided the group with Compass cards for everyone loaded with a day pass and a few extra dollars.

Ultimately the group had a lot of fun and they are hoping to do the trip again.

“What we heard from folks that were on the trip is that they would really like to do more of this. That this was a great introductory and that they would love to feel more comfortable taking transit on a regular basis on their own or with their friends,” said Frederick.

For more information about the Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Katzie, Seniors Network go to seniorsnetworkca.wordpress.com or call at 604-786-7404.

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