By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Port Hope can allow free parking for any resident in any available and suitable space who has official Ontario disabled-parking permit on display in their car – so why, Councillor Adam Bureau wonders, can’t Cobourg follow suit?
Bureau’s motion at this week’s council meeting that would have allowed such a privilege to the disabled in Cobourg was swept aside when Mayor Lucas Cleveland’s amendment was passed that defers any further consideration to Sept. 5, when a staff report is expected on a more generalized report on a more comprehensive resident parking-pass system.
Cleveland explained his rationale by saying the “parking dilemma” in Cobourg is the result of too many piecemeal solutions having been made instead of taking the time for a more unified approach that takes all considerations into account.
The motion to defer was supported by all councillors except Bureau and Aaron Burchat. But that was later in the meeting, after council also heard about the lived experiences of two residents who struggle with parking.
Chantalle Fish wrote of her mother’s struggles following a stroke with both physical and cognitive impairment that make it impossible to run simple errands downtown without her daughter’s help to feed the meter, unload the scooter, navigate to and from her rounds, monitor how much time is left – all after running a marathon to get her mother out of the car and her scooter unloaded in the first place.
A personal presentation from Accessibility Advisory Committee Chair Carole Bell-Smith recounted similar challenges, as well as a new one. It’s a meaner world these days, Bell-Smith said, and she was recently jeered at and threatened as she attempted to park in a handicapped space.
She also informed council of their duty under the Ontario Human Rights Code and to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities who are adversely affected by a requirement, rule or standard to the point of undue hardship. She believes snow regularly piled around meters, pay-and-display machines that are completely inaccessible to those with disabilities, and unplowed sidewalks, curb cuts and access points meet that criterion.
Both Fish and Bell-Smith referred to councillors who had asserted that disabled people want to pay their own way. Many of these disabled people are on Ontario Works stipends they are expected to stretch to cover rent, food and other needs as well as the occasional hit like a $120,000 wheelchair – a break on parking passes means a lot, Bell-Smith stated.
Cleveland mentioned the parking pass available to residents for $30 a month. To someone on Ontario Works, Bell-Smith said, that works out to $360 a year, and that’s a lot.
Bureau pointed out that about one-third of Cobourg’s population is aged 65 and over, and an untallied number of residents are living with a disability. To put a number on how many need this free-parking consideration is not possible, he said, but the need itself is undeniable.
Councillor Brian Darling said that there are other remedies – if you struggle to afford parking, for instance, there’s transit.
“They can go to social services at the county and apply for free transit passes,” Darling pointed out, expressing his hope that the county might consider similar assistance with parking passes.
“I love all those suggestions, I really do, except nobody ever brought this up before at the county level or any other kind of level,” Bureau replied.
“Some citizens DO want to pay. Nothing is stopping them from paying.”
Then there’s the technological side. Not just anybody can operate the Honk mobile app, he pointed out, and the pay-and-display machines aren’t always working – imagine making your way to a broken pay-and-display machine, then having to cross the street to find one on the other side, then having to return to put the slip in your car.
And not being able to get out among others leads to the kind of isolation that takes a toll, Bureau continued – recalling his time as a volunteer Meals On Wheels driver, when an elderly man he delivered to said that such visits were the only times he ever saw anyone.
“We say, ‘Come down to events,’ ‘Come down to the waterfront.’ We always preach bringing our community together. This is just one example, an easy way we can do this,” Bureau said.
“It’s not hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s about doing the right thing.”
“We don’t know what we are asking,” Darling retorted.
“How many spots? How many people in town? How many passes are we talking about. Are we giving away thousands of free parking passes or 50?”
Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty mentioned another potential downside – the risk of stigmatizing those who would rely on the free-parking policy. Bureau said that somebody not having a lot of money was quite a different thing from someone not having a lot of money and living with a disability on top of that.
“To me, it just makes sense. Port Hope does it,” he said, referring to the town just next door to Cobourg that is one of 25 other municipalities who take the Ontario disabled-parking pass as sufficient to allow parking for its holder in any suitable and available space.
“How are our neighbours able to do it and we have to say, ‘Wait for a study.’”
The report to come back Sept. 5 is an analysis, not a study, Deputy Mayor Beatty corrected.