Halifax Transit may seek accessible private taxis to fill gaps in its Access-a-Bus service, which drives people with disabilities door-to-door.

Halifax's transportation committee voted Thursday to support a staff report recommending the transit authority seek expressions of interest to explore the pitch. 

More than 6,000 requests for Access-a-Bus service were wait-listed in the last year, meaning no vehicle was able to accommodate a person when they needed transport. People were getting wait-listed about 30 per cent more frequently last year than in 2012, according to the report the committee approved

"Demand has outstripped supply," accessible transit manager Ahmad Kidwai wrote in the report.

"In pursuit of a solution, additional staff and para-transit vehicles will not necessarily address the challenge."

Clients have complained as well about a lack of service to rural parts of the municipality, not far from the urban core. 

Access-A-Bus

Councillor Waye Mason asked for a report last year about Access-A-Bus after demand increased drastically. (CBC)

'Surprised they didn't consult'

Accessible taxi advocate Gerry Post, who himself uses a wheelchair, said he believes the plan will save the government money and improve wait times. 

"I was surprised they didn't consult with the taxi industry and the community in general before going out with an expression of interest," he said after the meeting. 

That consultation would have helped municipal staff flesh out plans before asking for pitches, especially considering the variety of models around the world, he said.

"You've got to have a business model in mind," Post said. "Let's settle on that first before going out with any types of expressions of interest and do it collaboratively."

The committee agreed to do some consultation in the future on the issue. 

William and Harriet Fagan

William and Harriet Fagan, who live in East Preston, say they struggle to make appointments with inconsistent bus services. (CBC)

'Modern city'

Supplementing public transit with private taxi operators is a system used in other Canadian places. 

"If you want to be a modern city, that's where you need to move," Post said.

For example, Ottawa, Calgary and Gatineau, Que., all outsource around half of their accessible taxi service, Kidwai's report said

Post said he'd like to see Halifax Transit better outfit conventional buses to accommodate wheelchairs, and mandate all new taxi licenses be given to drivers who have accessible vehicles. Mandating even a portion of the licenses was rejected last fall

With files from Pam Berman