Disabled LRT riders share pros, cons of new Confederation Line

When it comes to accessibility, the early reviews for Ottawa's new LRT system are mixed. 

Ellen Lougheed took her wheelchair onto the Confederation Line Saturday, the first day the 13-station, $2.1-billion network was open to the public.

She said the card reader at Tunney's Pasture station for passes and tickets was too high, and she needed someone to help her through the gates.

"The gentlemen at the gate just opened it for me, but I don't know if they're going to be around forever to do that," said Lougheed.

"It's just frustrating because I'm a very independent person," she added. "I like the feeling [of being] able to go out and do things myself, but it's frustrating when I come across silly little things like not being able to put my own pass through."

Steep curbs, no mirrors

Lougheed said the card readers could be placed lower or on both sides of the fare gates, instead of just one. 

She was also concerned about the lack of mirrors in the elevators, as she couldn't see if someone was behind her while backing out — or where the elevator platform ends if she backs in.

Then, there's a steep curb near the Scott Street entrance to Tunney's Pasture that doesn't have any warnings to warn people, Lougheed said.

"The sidewalk had no yellow mark along the edge along the edge to differentiate. It was about a six-or-eight-inch drop," said Lougheed.

"I have no peripheral vision. I could have easily driven over that and not seen it. And people with low vision or who are blind could have easily fallen over it."

Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC

'I was very happy'

Ryan Lythall, on the other hand, was impressed when he rode the line this weekend.

He said he found the elevators a decent size and pretty fast. He also said the public washrooms were large enough to fit his power chair. 

"I was very happy," said Lythall. "I was very surprised."

Lythall said it wasn't too hard traversing the gap between the platform and the train, although he did see someone in a manual wheelchair have a hard time getting on board.

Lythall has someone to help him get around, so the card readers weren't a problem like they were for Lougheed.

Wheelchair user Bob Brown said he approved of the raised markings on the floors of the LRT stations, which guide people who are visually impaired.

However, he's concerned about how far it is to transfer between buses and trains at some stations, especially in winter. He also said he'd like to see larger buttons on the elevators.

"Some people with dexterity problems like myself, you have to be kind of right on," Brown said. "Some people may have trouble with that."

Andrew Lee/CBC

'Ambassadors' offering help

In a written response, the City of Ottawa said fare gates have been designed to accommodate people with mobility issues, with wider gates having two card readers at different heights so that riders can choose the one that's best.

Visual and audio feedback will let customers know their fare was successfully accepted, the statement said. 

The city also said Sunday that "O-Train ambassadors" are at all LRT stations to help riders access the line. Staff are also available to help show disabled riders how to best use LRT, and "support persons" can accompany them on-board for free as long as they've applied for the proper pass.

The city said it's currently assessing feedback from riders, and encouraged people to share concerns or questions with on-site staff.