Halifax to spend $3.9M on Access-A-Bus fleet, but some say shortcomings remain
'I think people feel a little disempowered by it to be honest,' says advocate
Halifax regional council has decided to spend $3.9 million to expand and replace part of the municipality's Access-A-Bus fleet, but some say it doesn't go far enough to fix problems with the service.
Last week, council approved a contract that will see Crestline Coach Ltd. deliver up to 40 of the buses over the next three years. They include six new buses and three replacements this fiscal year.
The Access-A-Bus program is a shared-ride service for people who are not able to use Halifax Transit because of mobility or visual impairment or cognitive disability.
There are currently 41 buses. There are now about 4,000 registered Access-A-Bus users, a jump of more than 40 per cent since January 2017.
"The service is always increasing," said Bill Cutler, the acting manager of bus maintenance. "It's a popular service and the expansion is driven from the amount of calls that we get and the kilometres travelled."
But even with the expansion, there are concerns surrounding some of the restrictions on the service.
Access-A-Bus only serves areas within 1,000 metres of a conventional bus stop; trips are booked on first-come-first-served basis with no priority given for the purpose of the trip; and same-day bookings are only considered once users on a waiting list are offered the service.
Ruth Strubank, executive director for the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living, said new buses are a great thing, but barriers to the service being fully accessible remain.
The non-profit works with individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families. Part of its programming trains clients how to book their own buses, but Strubank said it's not as simple as teaching people to show up at a bus stop.
"I think people feel a little disempowered by it, to be honest, because there are so many rules that they have to follow in order to take the Access-A-Bus," said Strubank.
Strubank said even the Access-A-Bus website can be a barrier to people with intellectual disabilities.
"The information on the website, it's very detailed and it's not very accessible to the population that we serve. There's a lot of language, there's a lot of information that's not easy to follow."
Bus stop boundaries
Adam Stewart, who lives in the Montague Gold Mines area outside Dartmouth, is about 1,200 metres away from a bus stop. Due to the Access-a-Bus boundaries, he has to meet it outside a home closer to a stop.
He said the distance is only about a 30-second drive from his house, but the regulations prevent drivers from going to his door.
Stewart uses a crutch and has to walk uphill to get to his pickup location. It can take anywhere from 10 minutes on a good day to 30 minutes in bad conditions.
"They do say door-to-door, so I really think they should consider changing their boundaries," he said.
Steve Craig, a municipal councillor for Lower Sackville, said Halifax Transit has worked to improve transit scheduling and accessibility. However, he admits there is still a way to go.
"I'm not going to discount the Access-A-Bus service because it does fill a need," he said. "But the need is much bigger than the need they're filling."
Less accessible taxis
Craig said the big gap in accessible transit exists in the accessible-taxi industry.
"A couple of years ago there were an excess of 50 accessible taxis, today there are about 20. We're going in the wrong direction," he said.
Paul Vienneau, an artist and disability advocate, said solving the problem can't stop at buying more accessible buses. There are too few accessible taxis, he said, and they are often difficult to book.
Having more in service would allow for more last-minute and off-hours trips. Vienneau thinks one solution is for Halifax Transit to buy a fleet of accessible vans.
"You like to have some spontaneity in your life and to feel even the illusion of having some control over what and when you get to do stuff," he said.
Vienneau said he is currently working on a formal proposal for Halifax Transit to purchase more accessible taxis.