UVic student with homemade mobility device refused service by some bus drivers

Sports | Lifestyle

When Leslie Sharpe fractured her ankle while bouldering at Crag X Indoor Climbing Centre almost two months ago, the fourth-year psychology student resigned herself to the bruises and half-speed hobble familiar to anyone stuck using crutches. After two pieces of bone were found in her joint and doctors said she would need surgery to remove them, Sharpe was frustrated by the idea of getting to and from class on crutches for an additional four to six weeks.

Any alternative forms of transportation would be pricey: she rented a knee walker, a kick scooter with a stool on which to rest one leg, on a trip to visit her brother in California over reading break. The knee walker made getting around quick and easy, but the devices cost several hundred dollars to buy and ship to Victoria. Sharpe decided to take things into her own hands.

“I did a lot of research and found these little kick bikes with handle brakes,” says Sharpe. “They’re pretty small, about the same size as the knee walker that I rented [in California], but bigger than a normal scooter. It has all-terrain wheels, and I actually got the kid version and just hiked up the handle bars.”

Sharpe’s boyfriend, Matt Barker, installed a padded stool on the scooter’s platform for Sharpe to rest her injured ankle on while she rode around campus. She was pleased with how well the homemade mobility device worked.

“It’s way faster and it’s way more stable,” says Sharpe. “Even if I’m going at a walking pace, it’s more stable than a knee walker because it has these big, cushy wheels, so if I go over a bump, I don’t even notice, which is awesome. It’s also lighter than a knee walker, so I could pick it up easily, and the brakes actually work really, really well.”

Despite its ingenuity, Sharpe’s homemade knee scooter was not celebrated by everyone. Though some bus drivers allowed her to travel with the scooter, four B.C. Transit bus drivers refused to allow Sharpe on board over the three weeks she used her modified device. She says the drivers did not offer her an explanation as to why. Sharpe phoned B.C. Transit, and the company sent her a letter confirming that her scooter is allowed on buses; however, B.C. Transit misunderstood that the device was homemade and was unsure how closely Sharpe’s device resembled a certified scooter.

“When we had an understanding and a visual on what this homemade device looked like, we certainly support our operators who have refused to allow the boarding of that particular device,” says Meribeth Burton, spokesperson for B.C. Transit.

B.C. Transit allows only Canadian Standards Association (CSA)-approved mobility devices on board, such as power scooters, wheelchairs, strollers and walkers, and mandates that a device’s dimensions be a maximum of 24 inches by 48 inches.

“It’s true to say that there’s often a judgment call that operators make, which may explain why the woman sometimes has no trouble boarding the bus and some times where there are issues with operators,” says Burton on whether or not B.C. Transit allows for exceptions like Sharpe’s modified, temporary-use mobility device.

Sharpe understands that hers is an odd case, but feels that her knee scooter should have been allowed on the bus as it’s within the maximum dimensions, has no sharp corners (and therefore poses no risk to other passengers) and fits in one seat space. Sharpe says bus drivers who didn’t allow her on board, or who told her to get off, were not transporting their full capacity of passengers. She also notes that other passengers would have likely moved seats for a girl with an injured ankle.

“They seem to have a very automatic response to say no,” says Sharpe. “Even the drivers who do let me on eventually will look at me and say no at first.”

Sharpe says that while many bus drivers were accommodating, she was frustrated with the inhospitable responses from several bus drivers and with the lack of consistency in whether she would be allowed on the bus or not.

“If she feels she was treated badly, we certainly apologize, because every passenger should be made to feel welcome,” says Burton.

Sharpe says she should be off crutches shortly and back to bouldering five times a week, a welcome relief from the one-footed, harnessed, indoor rock-climbing she’s been practising since her injury.