Two senior citizens were trampled by a snow removal truck on Sherbrooke E. in front of Notre Dame Hospital last Tuesday. A 72-year-old man died at the scene, while his 71-year-old wife died later in hospital. This accident reinforced many seniors’ fears of heading outdoors in conditions that make it difficult to move around the city.
Emma Barken, coordinator at the Yellow Door Elderly Project, a Montreal organization that supports elderly residents in maintaining viable lifestyles in order to prevent premature institutionalization, explained that dangerous weather conditions confine seniors to their homes.
“Our experience is that when the weather is bad a lot of seniors just don’t go out,” said Barken. “Other than volunteers from the Yellow Door, our clients don’t see a lot of people because they are afraid to head out, which furthers the isolation experienced by many seniors living in the city.”
Sixty-nine-year-old Barbara Jarnes, who receives support from the Yellow Door, pointed to poor access to public transport as a limiting factor.
“During snowy weather, the entrance areas to busses are poorly cleared. In metros, the escalators are not always working, and for seniors with wheelchairs, walkers, and canes it is very difficult to go up and down. And they never leave the doors in the metro cars open long enough,” said Jarnes, recalling a time when a friend was caught in the metro doors and thrown across the train, breaking her shoulder and collarbone.
While Jarnes continues to take public transport, she prefers to make use of alternative transportation offered by the city, such as Transport Adapté, which she has used since 1997.
Transport Adapté is a door-to-door public transportation service coordinated by Société de transport de Montréal (STM), which provides eligible seniors – those with physical and mental disabilities – with minibus and taxi service. Rides are contracted with advance reservation, at the cost of a bus fare.
The city has also made efforts to improve public transit accessibility for seniors, like launching bus line 252 Montreal-Nord in August 2008, with 26 stops which serve senior citizens’ residences, recreation, cultural, and community centres, as well as libraries and businesses.
Jarnes, however, believes that many seniors remain unaware of the options available to them. While some can afford costly taxis, many seniors on limited incomes and small pensions are forced to stay home.
While the systemic transit problems facing seniors are difficult to overcome, Jarnes suggested improved transport manners as a simple measure that would immediately improve senior citizens’ public transport experiences.
“I rarely take the bus because I know I can’t get a seat. There are many people who will not offer me a seat, and when they do it is usually an adult, never students or young people,” said Jarnes. “I know people coming home from work, students coming back from class are very tired. That’s understandable. But I believe that what the world needs today is a just a little more courtesy.”