Report Recommends Upgrading Transit System for the Disabled

Published Tuesday December 7th, 2010

An Ontario consultant who studied the city’s Dial-a-Bus system for the disabled is recommending a five-year expansion of the service because the system isn’t meeting public demand.

Dennis Fletcher, director of transit solutions with Genivar Consulting in Markham, told city councillors Monday night that it would cost $520,850 by Year
5 of a five-year plan to enhance the service to add three more low-floor buses, add one to two more drivers and improve the services, operations, policies and procedures.

The consultant is recommending hiring an additional dispatcher, computerizing the booking service and suggesting the city look at contracting out passenger overflow to the wheelchair accessible Bat Mobile taxi service.

Fletcher is also recommending that city council make better use of the low-floor buses it has in its regular transit fleet by adding wheelchair tie-downs.

That would allow individuals with mobility impairments to ride the regular public transit service.

The timing of the $46,000 paratransit services report couldn’t have been worse from a budget point of view, as city councillors are intent on beating down
costs to avoid a tax rate hike in their 2011 general fund budget.

Deputy mayor Dan Keenan said the report makes it clear that there’s huge demand for the service and it’s outstripping the city’s service.

The city has two buses that run Monday to Saturday within city limits providing an appointment-based service. It has a third bus for backup. The service
makes 12,500 trips annually. The operating expenses are $230,000, and at a $3 a fare, the service only brings in $27,000 in revenue, leaving taxpayers
to fund the $203,000 annual deficit.

“It’s something we need to look at as we look forward,” Keenan said. “We just received the report this evening. It will take some time to digest some of
the things that are in the report and have staff’s input on some of the implications.”

Keenan said it would be tough to implement much of the report’s recommendations in the 2011 budget year.

“It’s going to be tough … I think the most important thing we can do is accept the report and have staff review it and get their input and start to move
forward as we can. If we don’t assign resources to it in the coming year, maybe we start to develop the plan to assign resources. There’s many things that we can do,” Keenan said.

“I would agree adding resources to this year’s budget at this late date would be a difficult thing to do.”

There are suggestions in the report that can be tackled over the short term. For example, ways to better utilize and manage the existing services, Keenan said.

“The productivity is fairly low right now just because there are so few resources. They’re not large enough to be efficient,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said growing the service would triple ridership. So while costs would increase 225 per cent. Ridership would increase to about 280 per cent for
a total of 35,000 trips.

Fletcher knew his report would be a tough sell to the city at budget time, but he said it’s a service that communities across the country provide.

“It’s a really difficult thing to say we can’t afford to treat people fairly and there’s a segment of the population in the city as there are in all cities
that need this service and need it to get around to meet their basic daily requirements of what they need to live,” Fletcher said. “That’s our argument.”

The Dial-a-Bus operates weekdays from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m.

Fletcher is also recommending the service mimic the schedule of Fredericton Transit’s regular bus schedule, which runs from 6:05 a.m. until 11:40 p.m. daily Monday to Saturday.

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