System rolling along better

James
James McLeod
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

'Transition year' leads to significant cleanup of para-transit system

A year after deep problems were laid bare in the city's disability public transit system, para-transit seems to have turned the corner.

Fares for users are down, but the system is able to provide more rides, and broader service to users.

Driver Bill Densmore helps Bethany Roberts on a Wheelway bus recently. File photo by Steve Bartlett/The Telegram

A year after deep problems were laid bare in the city's disability public transit system, para-transit seems to have turned the corner.

Fares for users are down, but the system is able to provide more rides, and broader service to users.

The internal structure of the system has also changed, with a para transit co-ordinator in City Hall who can field complaints, and work better with users.

In the fall of 2008, a funding squabble between St. John's and the province blew up. In the first half of 2009, a review of the system revealed the problems were worse than just a lack of money.

Riders complained about spotty service and rude operators - including "intimidation and harassment" according to one person.

The para-transit system - operated by private contractor Wheelway - is meant to be a public transit service similar to Metrobus, except for people with disabilities.

It is also used by the provincial government for some hospital-to-hospital transfers when there's no ambulance available; the funding squabble flowed from the fact that the province wasn't paying enough to fund the system, proportional to how much they were using it.

Cecil Whitten, chair of the para transit committee, said that in the past year, the system has been getting more attention. The system has also received a sizeable influx of cash.

"This past year has been a transition year," he said. "The first step was the report, now that they have the report, we identified several immediate steps that would be taken, and that's what we're in the process of doing now."

The changes in the past year have ranged from small-but-meaningful to large and systemic.

The fare for para transit has been dropped from $2.50 to $2.25, bringing it in line with Metrobus rates. Service was expanded to include Christmas and New Year's Eve.

Extra funding allowed Wheelway to do about 100,000 more rides per year than it used to, and added phone lines improved their dispatch system.

The city also removed a representative from Wheelway off of the para transit committee, instead, getting all complaints routed to a newly hired para transit co-ordinator.

"That helps a lot, actually," said Danny Allured, the manager at Wheelway. "That'll give somebody other than us that they can address their concerns to, and their concerns then go to us."

Former deputy mayor Ron Ellsworth was very active on the para transit file while he was on council, and after he lost in the 2009 election, he was re-appointed as a community representative on the para transit committee.

"I'm not a user," he said, "(but) I'm not hearing complaints from people like I did last year, and certainly a lot less than I was hearing two and three years ago."

Ellsworth said that the city council has been very supportive of the recommendations in the report, and coming up with money when it's needed.

The next step in the process will be for the city to buy tracking software, so they can get a detailed sense of who exactly is using the para transit system, and how to optimize it accordingly.

The software will also settle how much exactly the province is using, and how much they should be paying.

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Geographic location: St. John's

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments