Barula Rodrigues says she can't understand why she's been banned from taking Montreal's paratransit service and can no longer ride alongside her husband who suffers from Parkinson's disease.
The caregiver has travelled next to Francisco Antonio Rodrigues for several years now, who relies on the service to get to his appointments, church or to get some fresh air at the garden she tends to.
She got the news from Montreal's public transit authority (STM) on Friday.
"I didn't have a chance to explain, but he wouldn't take my explanation anyway," she said when describing the conversation she had with an STM employee. "He tried to scold me and tell me that I was using the transport for my benefit."
She provides around-the-clock care for her husband and says he can never be left alone, especially since he's not able to speak.
In a statement, Amélie Régis, a spokesperson for the STM, neither confirmed nor denied that Rodrigues would no longer be allowed to ride along with her husband. Régis said the STM is no longer accepting extra passengers because of the shortage of drivers in the taxi industry. Children under 14 and those who need a constant caregiver, such as those who are paraplegic, are supposed to be exempt.
"I do everything for him," she said, saying the change will be devastating for her husband.
"I can go out but my husband cannot go out," she said. "If he goes to the doctor I have to tell them everything."
The caregiver said the STM employee she spoke with told her drivers will be able to drop him off and pick him up outside when he's ready to return home, but that will leave him isolated and vulnerable, she said.
She said she could always try to get to his drop off point by bus or taxi to help him get into his clinic or the church they attend, but doubts she'll manage to get there on time each time.
Rodrigues has asked their doctor to help her prove to the STM her husband always needs her by his side.
"It is going to be very traumatic for him and for me not being able to go out together," Rodrigues said. "If they send a taxi why can't I go in the same taxi?"
'It's discrimination 101'
Due to the shortages in the taxi industry, the STM also said it will be reducing the number of bookings available per day. The largest impact will be on those looking to travel at their peak hours.
The ban on extra passengers — which comes into effect Monday — will be a temporary measure, the STM said.
"It's discrimination 101 once again," said Steven Laperrière, the general manager of the Regroupement des activistes pour l'inclusion au Québec (RAPLIQ), an accessibility rights group.
"[These people] need to go to the washroom, they need help to move, they need help to get fed, they need help for everything," he said.
In its statement, the STM's also said that it's encouraging the use of regular transit, noting in its statement the 21 metro stations with elevators and the many buses adapted for wheelchairs.
But those accessibility services aren't always reliable, Laperrière said. He points to the elevator at the Côte-Vertu metro station, a major transit hub for those in Montreal's West Island and the city's Saint-Laurent borough, which has been out for weeks.
"You can never be sure that you'll get to the point where you need to go, and when you're undergoing treatment or chemotherapy you don't need those kinds of hassles," he said.
Laperrière says the STM has exacerbated the shortage by refusing to raise wages as drivers cope with rising gas prices. The para-transit drivers took part in a week-long strike last month, with exemptions for those needing urgent medical care.
The caregiver hopes the ban will end by time the winter comes around.
"Have some sort of compassion," she said.