Published on May 29, 2011
SYDNEY — An advocate for accessible transportation is calling on the Cape Breton regional council to take another look at implementing a transit subsidy
into the general tax rate.
Marcie Shwery-Stanley, chair of the Society for the Improvement of Accessible Transportation, said she views the Handi-Trans accessible buses as a social service where all taxpayers should have to pay.
As the province marks Access Awareness Week, she said council must be more inclusive in its thinking with one in five Nova Scotians have some form of a disability, and the province has the largest percentage of senior citizens over age 65 at 15.6 per cent.
“Every day people with disabilities go out their front door and go into struggle mode,” Shwery-Stanley said in an interview Friday.
“It’s difficult for people with disabilities to advocate because every day they’re struggling with other things.”
Two weeks ago during CBRM budget talks, discussion focused on transit — how to pay for it, and how to increase its ridership.
The majority of council was reluctant or completely against the idea of subsidizing Transit Cape Breton and the Handi-Trans service through the general
tax rate rather than the service area rates, which charges residents a transit rate for living within 2,500 feet of a bus route.
Only councillors Kim Desveaux, Derek Mombourquette, Ray Paruch and Clarence Prince were in favour of switching transit to the general tax rate.
“We just have to think about other people in the community,” said Shwery-Stanley.
“The United Nations declaration on the rights of persons with disabilities was ratified March 11, 2010, which says the purpose of the convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons with disabilities. So, we’re soon going to be looking at some legal implications from that.”
CBRM council voted to create a Handi-Trans advisory committee to seek ways to improve the service, which has a current operating budget of $400,000.
Transit Cape Breton manager Mike MacKeigan told council the committee could recommend anything from an expansion of the service, a different fee structure, or modify the current level of service.
“I certainly hope to come back to council with a recommendation from that group that’s based on a lot more input relative to that issue,” he said.
A transit study by Ontario-based firm HDR-iTrans, which was reviewed by council in March, suggested an operating budget of $700,000 a year for Handi-Trans.
“Is that exactly what we need? I can’t say it is. It reflects their view, their opinion,” MacKeigan said.
“In this particular case, I suggest this is too rich for our blood. We have to look at something different.”
Sitting on the committee overseeing that transit study, Shwery-Stanley was adamant Handi-Trans should have had its own report, instead of being an add-on to the review of the general transit system in the CBRM.
She would like to see an increase in corporate advertising on Transit Cape Breton buses as one way to increase revenue, and increase ridership by changing operating hours to later at night on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
A report on the number of people refused the Handi-Trans service because of its inability to accommodate its riders could be presented to council monthly, she added.
However, Shwery-Stanley says any change in the system will be slow to happen.
“I’m not sure the will is there,” she said. “I think the will has to be there before anything will change. The councillors have to buy into the fact that
this is important.”