Para Transpo gearing up to widen eligibility for riders

Ottawa city staff are recommending that Para Transpo service be extended to people with non-physical disabilities for the first time in the 36-year history of the accessible transit service.

Larger buses, accessible taxi subsidy expected to offset any ridership increase, staff say

Ottawa city staff are recommending that Para Transpo service be extended to people with non-physical disabilities for the first time in the 36-year history of the accessible transit service.

It's perhaps the most significant recommendation on a list of proposed changes resulting from a year-long review of who should be eligible to ride Para Transpo, and how riders should book their trips.

The report will be considered at the June 27 meeting of Ottawa's transit commission.

"It's a review to make sure the people using Para Transpo are the ones who really need it," said Coun. Michael Qaqish, vice-chair of the commission.

"A hundred per cent of the normal bus fleet is accessible now, so it may be that people who in the past needed to use Para Transpo don't need it now."

Staff said the service should be able to accommodate riders with intellectual disabilities or mental health issues without incurring extra costs.

Staff said they built input from community members into their recommendations, but noted some Para Transpo users worried that expanding eligibility could increase demand, and make rides harder to come by.

Staff said any extra demand will be offset by a new model of minibus which can carry more passengers, and by a new contract that makes it more cost-effective for OC Transpo to pick up part of the fare for passengers who purchase coupons to take accessible taxis.

 City staff recommend:

  • "All persons whose disabilities preclude them from using conventional transit" should be eligible to ride Para Transpo.
  • "Full," "temporary" and "conditional" categories for eligible riders. The categories would apply to passengers unable to use traditional transit, those who require temporary Para Transpo service — after surgery, for instance — and those who need Para Transpo on an ongoing basis, but only under specific circumstances such as inclement weather.
  • Door-to-door Para Transpo service should continue.
  • A pilot program allowing Para Transpo riders to purchase coupons for accessible taxis be made permanent. The rider pays 60 per cent of the fare while the city subsidises the rest.
  • Qualified health care professionals should review a person's application to ride Para Transpo. Right now, no in-person interview or assessment is required.
  • An appeals process should be created for those who are denied eligibility to ride Para Transpo. A new review panel would hear appeals.
  • Para Transpo riders would need to renew their eligibility every three years. Currently, those classified as permanent riders keep that status indefinitely.
  • Para Transpo customers should be allowed to cancel rides up to three hours in advance.

If approved by full council, OC Transpo said it expects to have all the recommendations implemented by the spring of 2017.