Abandoned on a dark sidewalk on Commissioner Street

Inter-city public transport returns to LeBreton Flats! Since January, FlixBus has been offering regular service to Kingston, Toronto, and Windsor from its new “terminus” at 200 Commissioner, across from the Ādisōke construction site. Buses arrive at 5:15 a.m., with the last departure at 11:59 p.m. It’s a busy spot! (Ed McKenna/The BUZZ)
Since January, FlixBus has been offering regular service to Kingston, Toronto, and Windsor from its new “terminus” at 200 Commissioner, across from the Ādisōke construction site. Buses arrive at 5:15 a.m., with the last departure at 11:59 p.m. (Ed McKenna/The BUZZ)

Since January 6, the inter-city bus service Flixbus has been dropping off and picking up passengers on Commissioner Street, beside the construction site for the new main library.

As you have previously read in The BUZZ, residents had already raised concerns about noise, lack of facilities, and safety at this spot. But last week, BUZZ contributor Ed McKenna directly encountered a disabled person quite possibly abandoned by Flixbus. Read Ed’s first-person story below.

The BUZZ emailed the Flixbus press office with a series of questions, including about its policies re safety, disabled passengers, and drop-off/pick-up locations. Despite repeated requests by email and phone, we had not received any answers by press time.

We will post any reply we do get on centretownbuzz.ca.

Ed McKenna

I first saw Antonio Diaz on the morning of Monday, May 6. Cindy and I, with our small dog Yoko, were making our way, single file, along the crumbling sidewalk on Commissioner Street, walking up to Centretown.

It was odd to see Antonio there among the throng of young travellers, heads over their phones, leaning on their rolling suitcases, waiting for the next inter-city bus – Flixbus – to arrive.

Antonio wasn’t young. He had a greying beard, wore multiple layers of dark clothing, and was slumped in a four-wheeled transport chair, a frayed black ball cap pulled down on his forehead. Four grocery bags, hanging from the handles of his chair, were brimming with his possessions. He didn’t look up, and we went on our way.

The next day, while walking home through the Garden of the Provinces, we encountered Antonio again. He was at the west end of the footpath, near the Commissioner sidewalk. He was still in his chair, head hanging. Again, we passed him by.

By nightfall, my conscience got the better of me. I walked back, crossing Pooley’s Bridge to see if Antonio was still there on the sidewalk. He was.

I spoke to him. He responded weakly, saying he needed money for food. Someone had given him something to eat the previous day, but he’d had nothing since.

A few questions from me: Where are you from? Hamilton. Did you come on the bus? Nods. When? Saturday. Three days ago? Yes.

Have you been here on this street since then? Yes. And where were you going? I think he said “Ottawa,” but it could have been “Oshawa.” What’s your name? Antonio Diaz. Can you spell that? D-I-A-Z.

I don’t carry cash, and there are no stores in this dark corner of the city anyway. I called Cindy to come over and bring some water and something to eat. Then I tried calling an emergency service for help. I knew the Salvation Army operated a street outreach program in our neighbourhood. After some fumbling on the phone, and several failed calls, I reached them through 3-1-1.

It took some time, but eventually the street outreach people found us. I stood in the middle of the street, waving in the darkness so I could be seen in the headlights of their van.

They pulled over to the curb, stopped, and two very young people got out. They had a bottle of water and a sandwich for Antonio. They were immediately helpful and reassuring. They would take Antonio to the shelter on George Street, if he agreed. He did, readily.

I turned to walk home. Antonio called to me and held out his hand. His handshake was surprising firm. What’s your name? he said. I gave him my name, in full. He thanked me. Then I went home.

A view from above of inter-city buses waiting on Commissioner Street beside the library construction site. There are no passenger facilities at this site. (Claude Lachance/The BUZZ)
A view from above of inter-city buses waiting on Commissioner Street beside the library construction site. There are no passenger facilities at this site. (Claude Lachance/The BUZZ)

What needs to change

OK, this is an “op-ed,” so here’s my opinion.

I don’t think this situation would have occurred if even minimal infrastructure was provided for this new inter-city bus service. The bus company, as you can see on their website, operates through an app, like Uber. There’s the bus and a driver, and that’s it.

By infrastructure I mean better street-lighting, signage (including emergency services contact information), wayfinding information (even the street signs for Commissioner, Brickhill and Empress have been removed on the north side of Albert during construction of Ādisōke, the new central library) and a simple bus shelter.

More than this is desirable, of course, including finding a better, safer location for the terminus itself. But action can be taken immediately to ensure passenger safety with simple, low-cost improvements on Commissioner.

I won’t know whether Antonio’s story is more than partially true. But I do know that the situation he found himself in was precarious, if not life-threatening.

And I know in our city, like any city, we need safe and welcoming civic space for our travellers. And it has to be more than a dark sidewalk on Commissioner.

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