A first step, with flaws

James
James McLeod
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Disabled community reacts to para-transit review

Theresa Head had to spend the night in the St. John's Airport. x Flying home for a visit from British Columbia where she now lives, Head was supposed to get a ride from the para-transit system from the airport, since she has spina bifida and uses a powered wheelchair.

Her flight was delayed in Toronto due to a thunder storm and she didn't get in until after midnight. Para-transit stops providing service at 11:30 p.m.

Theresa Head had to spend the night in the St. John's Airport. x Flying home for a visit from British Columbia where she now lives, Head was supposed to get a ride from the para-transit system from the airport, since she has spina bifida and uses a powered wheelchair.

Her flight was delayed in Toronto due to a thunder storm and she didn't get in until after midnight. Para-transit stops providing service at 11:30 p.m.

With no accessible taxi cabs, and no options, she had to wait in the airport until 7:30 a.m. just to get a ride into town.

Head told her story Tuesday night at a public meeting dealing with a comprehensive review of the para-transit system. The meeting was an opportunity for members of the disabled community to provide input on a draft report released to the public in mid-July. The reaction was not especially positive.

"I saw issues in there that were very negative and very concerning for people with disabilities," said former deputy mayor Marie White, who is a disabled person.

"For us it's about access as a right, so it isn't something to be dithered about."

The para-transit review was ordered last fall after service and funding issues came to a head, with riders complaining that Eastern Health was using too much of the service for medical transportation.

The report lays out a plan over the next five years to fix a highly dysfunctional and undefended system. And while nearly all of the roughly 50 people at the meeting felt it was a good starting point, there were some major concerns.

Chief among them is an idea to appoint someone - a so-called "gatekeeper" - to make the decision of who gets access to the para-transit system based on how severe their disability is. Most users prefer a system where an individual's doctor makes that call.

"The idea of a gatekeeper is kind of casting that in a pejorative light, but the basic principle that I think the report points out, which is valid, is that the service has to be focused on the people that qualify for it," said Charles Fitzsimmons, the consultant who authored the report.

Another major concern raised is that para transit is contracted out to a private company - Wheelway - and should, instead, be administered directly by the city under the umbrella of Metrobus.

Philosophically, most members of the disabled community see the para-transit system as an accessible right for people who cannot use Metrobus.

There was some confusion as to whether the report everyone had read was a draft, or the final version.

Up until Tuesday night's meeting, everyone had been told written submissions and input at the public meeting would be used to revise the report, but Fitzsimmons seemed to indicate otherwise.

"It may be that we send the existing document to council and then we put in this round of comments as an addendum," he said. "I'm not sure at this point that I've heard anything that would really invalidate the document in general."

But a group of disability organizations have already drawn up a seven-page rebuttal to the report, opposing the "gatekeeper" idea, and also arguing against the idea of using a gas tax to fund the system.

Deputy Mayor Ron Ellsworth said that, in some way, the report would be revised to incorporate the concerns, but acknowledged that everything needs to be done by mid-September, before the municipal elections.

"The report was meant to be a starting point of how we move forward to create a better para-transit system," he said. "The eligibility requirements, we've heard very clearly tonight, there's concerns around that and we need to make sure we get that right."

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Organizations: St. John's Airport

Geographic location: British Columbia, Toronto, Para

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Recent comments

  • Stan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    i think there is no question that we should be better suited to transport people who are physically disable.

  • Driver
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    City Wide Taxi has the Airport contract,maybe with some of the vast revenues they get from this contract they could have an accessible van available.Of course they are too busy bullying and verbally abusing other cab companies (who have actually been called by clients who have the right to do so) to worry about accommodating their own clients.

  • Margo
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    What's wrong with it being contracted out to a private company? Doesn't the private sector do everything better? Our recycling program is done by private companies and look how far we are ahead of the rest of the country. And our privatized provincial parks are another shining beacon (just not on weekends). *smirk*

  • Stan
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    i think there is no question that we should be better suited to transport people who are physically disable.

  • Driver
    July 01, 2010 - 20:10

    City Wide Taxi has the Airport contract,maybe with some of the vast revenues they get from this contract they could have an accessible van available.Of course they are too busy bullying and verbally abusing other cab companies (who have actually been called by clients who have the right to do so) to worry about accommodating their own clients.

  • Margo
    July 01, 2010 - 19:52

    What's wrong with it being contracted out to a private company? Doesn't the private sector do everything better? Our recycling program is done by private companies and look how far we are ahead of the rest of the country. And our privatized provincial parks are another shining beacon (just not on weekends). *smirk*