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Archived - To support Ottawa’s most vulnerable through the pandemic, Para Transpo operator training drives on

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April 20, 2020
Feature Stories

Para Transpo passengers include some of the city’s most vulnerable residents – people who need support now, during this crisis, more than ever. For anyone who relies on it, including the elderly and people with mobility issues, Para Transpo is a lifeline. Their operators connect riders to grocery stores, pharmacies, and important medical appointments, such as dialysis, that simply can’t be missed.

Para Transpo is a valuable service for those who are unable to take conventional transit. Teaching new operators the specialized skills they need is something that we need to continue. For Para Transpo driving instructor Raymundo Olivares, it’s not exactly business as usual, but classes are still in session. Ray took a few minutes to share how COVID-19 is impacting his work, and Para Transpo’s operations overall.

A man with glasses and a moustache sitting at a desk in front of a computer
COVID-19 means Ray Olivares and his Para Transpo colleagues are adapting to a new reality, but their core mission remains the same: support the Ottawa residents who rely on them to get where they need to go.

What impact has COVID-19 had on your work as an instructor?

When COVID-19 arrived in Ottawa, right away we knew we would have to make come changes.

Normally we have class sizes of four or five, but for the time being we are capping it at two, so we can follow physical distancing guidelines.

Helping passengers with mobility issues get in and out of the vehicle is a big part of the operator’s job. It makes physical distancing a major challenge, so in our training now we make sure to go over how to mitigate that.

I could see how physical distancing on a Para Transpo bus would be a challenge. What’s being done to keep passengers and drivers safe?

The vehicles are sanitized each day, and our operators have supplies on hand to sanitize touch points like wheelchair handles, buckles, etc. Our operators are also provided with disposable gloves, and many opt to wear a mask as well.

Ridership is low, since people are only going out when they absolutely have to. That means there’s enough room to make sure the passenger is seated far from the operator.

A male trainee in a grey hat and a safety vest practices securing a wheelchair on a Para Transpo bus.
Para Transpo operator training is still underway, but with changes to the curriculum due to COVID-19. While teaching trainees how to secure a wheelchair, like the trainee practicing above, instructors are also reviewing the touch points to be disinfected to reduce the chances of spreading the virus.

What are you hearing from the operators themselves?

I’m constantly amazed at what a dedicated and caring group of people our operators are. Working any frontline job these days is tough, but I haven’t heard anyone express misgivings about continuing to work. Many have been on the job for decades, and a lot of these operators get to know their regular passengers by name. I think for a lot of them, those connections are more meaningful than ever right now. Our operators understand better than anybody how much their passengers rely on them.

How can the public help to keep Para Transpo operators and passengers safe?

All frontline staff take on a degree of risk by going to work every day to keep the essential services operational during this time of crisis. I know it’s been a month and it’s getting tough, but we owe it to them and to our healthcare workers to do our part and stay home as much as possible.

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