Dylan Morin can get almost anywhere in Regina.
“I know the city like the back of my hand,” he said. “I know how to get to a lot of the stops.”
He’s been riding the city bus since high school, despite the challenges of an intellectual disability. On Thursday, he took the 18 from the University of Regina. Once the doors shut and the driver pulled away, Morin spoke in a soft, reassuring tone. Don’t be nervous, he offered, you’re not alone.
“There’s nothing to it,” he said. “As much as you need me, I’ll be there for you.”
Morin was showing how he teaches other people with disabilities how to ride the bus. He’ll be one of four transit trainers hired through a partnership between the city and Creative Options Regina, which are preparing to roll out a transit trainer pilot program this spring
“We’re the only transit system in Canada using this particular approach,” said Regina’s paratransit and accessibility manager, Lynette Griffin. “We’re utilizing people with disabilities, particularly people with intellectual disabilities, to do the training.”
She said the program will help Regina Paratransit users make the jump to conventional transit. It will also create paid employment for the trainers. The goal is to open up more flexible transit choices, all while saving the city money in the long run.
“If we can move some trips off, then we’ll have capacity in Paratransit to continue to meet our growing demand,” she said. “It will help Paratransit to manage our budget… for every trip on conventional transit, it’s a $20 saving.”
Those who learn to use buses won’t be barred from Paratransit. Griffin said she wants to avoid a “segregated system.” But she called conventional transit “a great second option” that can promote empowerment.
“It will give them the opportunity to travel through the community without having to book trips in advance,” she said. “You can come and go wherever you want, so there’s much more independence and flexibility.”
Creative Options Regina supports people with intellectual disabilities, and its CEO, Michael Lavis, is convinced that most of his clients would thrive on the bus. For many, only one thing stands in the way: Fear.
“People are nervous because they don’t know,” he said. “Sometimes people haven’t really been afforded the opportunity to learn.”
That’s why his staff looked for trainers like Morin, outgoing people with extensive bus-riding experience. They’re all part of the University of Regina’s Campus for All program. Lavis called them “champions of transit.”
“They know that transit system inside and out,” he said. “No fears, no apprehensions. They know where to go.”
Morin plans to use a staged process that will go from hands-on to hands-off as his students get the hang of the bus.
“It’s about getting individuals outside of their comfort zone,” he said.
At first, he’ll meet them at their home, walk them to the bus stop, show them how to read a transit map. He’ll sit right beside them as they look out for their stop. If all goes well, the next trip might be different.
“I wouldn’t sit with you on the bus like I did,” he explained. “I would give you a landmark to pull the bell at.”
By the end, Morin would be on standby, taking check-ins over the phone.
The program’s contract is still being finalized. But Lavis and Griffin are confident it will be up and running this spring. Griffin said all Paratransit users will be welcome to make use of the training, whether they have cognitive or mobility challenges.
Morin and his colleagues will be there to show them the way.
“They’re actually really excited about it and want to be champions for teaching others,” said Lavis. “That’s part of the magic.”