News | Montreal Council of Women holds year’s first general meeting

Focus on need for accessible transportation for elders

In anticipation of their 120th anniversary in November, the Montreal Council of Women (MCW) held their first General Meeting of the year on September 12. The MCW is a non-partisan coalition aimed at improving social conditions for women within the city. Consisting of 70 organizations and more than 80 members, the meeting stressed a need to connect with the younger generation of Montreal on the subject of accessible transportation.

Maya Cerda, the Convener of Transportation for the Council, explained that one issue facing the Montreal’s elderly population involves the lack of mobility-oriented services. Cerda highlighted challenges such as the lack of benches at bus stops, a shortage of senior shuttles, and the short timespan of traffic lights.

“We need to increase the safety and security of public transportation for our more vulnerable populations,” Cerda said at the panel. “Some bus stops have benches, but most do not. Some metros have elevators, but most do not.”

According to Cerda, this year has seen a 7 per cent increase in demand for the STM’s adapted transportation services. Adapted transportation, or paratransit, offers public transit service by reservation for those considered “a person with a deficiency caused by a significant and persistent disability (impairment), who is liable to encounter barriers in performing everyday activities,” according to the STM website.

“Despite this increase in demand for the service, we see at the same time an unprecedented 25 per cent increase of cases refused,” said Cerda.

Road crossings were also brought up at the panel, where often the time allotted to crossing does not bode well for senior citizens with limited mobility.

“We need longer red lights, especially at major intersections and better management of circulation around crossings,” said Cerda. “Even pavement in the middle of a large artery can made a difference.”

The council brings its concerns to municipal candidates in Montreal, but report having seen little results. One of the issues brought up at the meeting was the disconnect between young councillors and the aging population.

“We want municipal candidates to be educated on some of the priority issues of seniors,” said Karen Urtnowski, the council’s community organizer. “Still, we have a disappointing response from borough politicians. Over and over again I see how many of our city councillors are young and oblivious of what it is like to be old, or have back problems, or arthritis in your hands.”

Some members recounted their experiences with public transportation, particularly the challenge of bus seating.

“A very common problem with taking the bus is the lack of seating near the entrance. A common fear for elderly people is of falling when the bus lurches forward and you haven’t had the chance to sit down yet,” explained Urtnowski.

The MCW hopes the barrier of understanding between younger city councillors and seniors will be reduced once Montreal’s youth and elderly population begin to work together to improve conditions of accessibility.

“Accessibility isn’t just about wheelchairs and wheelchair ramps,” Urtnowski said. “We have a long way to go before public transportation is truly accessible.”

The next council meeting will be held October 3 and will discuss upcoming initiatives for women’s history month.