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Accessible transit report sparks dialogue, debate on service

By Candice-Rose Gagnon [1] and Joseph Quigley [2]

BELLEVILLE – A new report on Belleville’s accessible transit system says that the city’s manual dispatching system for mobility buses is out of date, and that important statistical information on the service is lacking.

The report was done for city by WSP [3], an engineering firm. It was presented to the public at a meeting on Wednesday.

Accessibility advisory committee [4] member Karen Kitchen, who uses a wheelchair, said that the report was a necessity.

“We’ve needed a transit review for a very long time. (Accessible transit) is not where it should be. The city I know is limited with what they can do but there’s definitely room for improvement in all areas,” she said.

The report’s project manager, Eric Peissel, said that gathering additional statistics is key to determining precisely where the issues with accessibility transit lie.

“A lot of information was missing because it had never been collected. Adding more statistics (such as) wait times for calls, time for dispatching, service standards and on-time performance will allow the system to continually improve,” he said.

The report advises the city to upgrade current dispatching procedures and technology, collect more data on accessible transit services and develop a clear set of policies on these services.

The report also advises the replacement of the city’s current mobility bus fleet, which keeps two buses operating and one in reserve. This has been allotted $300,000 in this year’s Capital Budget Plan. [5]Another $100,000 has been allotted in the budget for increasing accessibility in standard transit service by improving bus stops to help individuals with mobility impairments get on buses more easily.

However, increasing the number of buses operating or the availability of service is not currently on the table. At the meeting, city councillor Jack Miller said that improving the current system is a needed step to determine if additional service is really necessary.

“There’s two ways of looking at the expansion. Adding more buses is the obvious one. The other is making sure the one we’re currently looking is being used to it full extent. Right now, it is not by any stretch of the imagination because of the number of (trips with single riders) that we are running,” he said.

The new computerized system is something that Millar said he expects would help.

“As far as efficiency is concerned, a computerized system would at least allow us to take a look at what we got, make it more efficient (and) carry more people within the system we currently have. The expansion of the system (is something) council will have to deal with at the appropriate time. This is just the first step.”

Members of the city’s disabled community voiced their concerns about other issues regarding accessible transit. A couple of riders in attendance complained about negative experiences with drivers. A therapist with Quinte Health Care, Karen Voth, said that this is a not a new problem.

“This same issue has been going on for at least three to four years. And our drivers need some proper accessibility training. Because they’re not locking in the wheelchairs properly on the bus, and that type of thing has been an ongoing issue. But it has to be addressed because we’re at a crucial point where more and more people are using the services,” Voth said.

But councillors and transit representatives in attendance repeatedly said that issues such as these need be reported more directly to the city when they happen.

“We have the facilities here at city hall, so you can call. We need to know if there’s an issue such as that. By all means, let us know. We are very sensitive to complaints,” said Miller.

Transit supervisor Mel Handley said that drivers “have been trained, and have received recent training” with regards to accessibility.

Kitchen said that some people may feel afraid to raise concerns.

“This is a very difficult subject to deal with. And it’s hard for people to express how they feel. They want things but they’re afraid of how they’re going to be treated when they ask. If both sides keep the communication lines is open, then anything is possible,” she said after the meeting.

Kitchen said she expects changes to start being put in place over the next year and a half. She said she’s happy with the measures the city is taking towards improving accessible transit.

“It’ll go in stages. I know that the people that were talking today are extremely passionate and the city of Belleville is extremely passionate about this issue.”