Para transit buys pivotal software

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James McLeod
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New tracking system should improve service, settle funding disputes: committee

The city is on track to buy a $300,000 software package for its disability transportation system, one of the most important steps in reforming and modernizing the system.

The software will also provide a detailed breakdown of who exactly is using the system, finally solving a longstanding funding dispute between the city and the province which left the system gutted and underfunded for many years.

Para transit committee member Bill Westcott gets lifted into an accessible bus Wednesday afternoon. The para transit committee voted to buy tracking software which is supposed to improve the system. Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

The city is on track to buy a $300,000 software package for its disability transportation system, one of the most important steps in reforming and modernizing the system.

The software will also provide a detailed breakdown of who exactly is using the system, finally solving a longstanding funding dispute between the city and the province which left the system gutted and underfunded for many years.

"I think the software is an essential piece of a para transit system as a whole," said Susan Ralph, para transit co-ordinator for the City of St. John's.

"We need to know what our para transit system is being used for. We need to be able to understand who owes what costs."

The recommendation to buy Route Match - purpose-built software for para transit systems - will now go to St. John's city council for approval.

Mount Pearl and the provincial government, which also use the para transit system, are expected to shoulder part of the cost.

It will take several years to implement the full system, but the first stage is expected to be in place by the end of this year.

The para transit system is designed to be a parallel public transit system for people with disabilities - akin to Metrobus. Users pay the same fare of $2.25, but it's heavily subsidized to the tune of about $10.50 per ride.

The system is also used by the provincial government for institution to institution transfers, especially for transporting people from long-term care homes to hospitals for medical appointments.

While the province was using about 20 per cent of the service, it was only paying seven per cent of the cost. The underfunding made the system suffer, and in the fall of 2008 the city issued an ultimatum to the provincial government: pay your share, or don't use the system.

The province came up with a short-term funding increase of $176,000, on the condition that there would be a comprehensive review of the system and measures would be put in place to figure out exactly what everyone's share is.

At a meeting on the system Wednesday, Eastern Health representative Kathy Turner seemed excited by the level of detail the new software tracking system will allow.

Between April and July, a total of 54 new users have signed up for para transit - exactly half of them live in long-term care homes.

However, some of the long-term care homes are government owned and some are private. And not all trips from long-term care homes will will be on the province's dime; if a resident is going to the Avalon Mall for shopping, it's up to the city to subsidize that run, the same way it subsidizes a Metrobus route.

The Route Match software should allow administrators to track which government should be subsidizing each ride, so they all pay their fair share.

Beyond the backroom funding formulas, the new system is expected to improve service for users by optimizing routes and decreasing wait times.

During the comprehensive review of the system, users complained about long waits on hold when they called, trying to book rides and not being able to get trips when they wanted them.

"There were all kinds of problems with booking, and getting availability on the para transit system," said Coun. Tom Hann, who sits on the Para Transit Committee. "It needs a major fix, and I think this is the first step in making sure that it runs smoothly and efficiently."

As part of Wednesday's meeting, the committee voted to extend Wheelway's contract as the para transit service provider.

The plan was to have enough data about the system collected so that the city can develop a request for proposals, and really re-work the para transit contract as need be.

Former deputy mayor Ron Ellsworth, who sits on the committee as a community representative, said he doesn't expect major changes to be made, but they won't know that until the system is up and running, and they start collecting data.

"I'd change it 100 per cent if required. Our riders out there deserve a quality service, and if that means we have to tear apart what we have and build a good system for them to use, we'll do that," Ellsworth said. "But I don't anticipate that, I anticipate seeing the current system being enhanced - small changes made."

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Para Transit Committee

Geographic location: Para, St. John's, Mount Pearl

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Recent comments

  • I will not be a victim
    July 20, 2010 - 13:03

    That $300K could have been spent much more wisely by buying a few more buses.The ones they drive are deathtraps,but at least you can't see how bad they look after you are blinded by all the blue smoke billowing out of them.

  • Helen
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Where are all the buses that were on the road years ago: Children's Rehab.. Seniors Home buses - we don't see any of this transport type vehicles around any more. Instead Wheelway is fitted with small seats, etc. for kids travelling hither and yon and patients from the hospitals being transported from one place to another. No wonder we can't get a ride when we need it. You call today to put a ride in place for two weeks to a month's time. Not good enough.

    This Soft Ware Package- what an expense. We just need a few resourceful people who know what they're doing.

    Helen Traverse

  • M
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    It may be designed to be parallel to the public Metrobus system but it is not. The cost is $2.50 one way, not $2.25 and that does not include special holidays like Christmas day. On Christmas day that fees is 10 times the cost, $25.00 for ONE WAY. Nice price gouging for ppl on limited/fixed incomes. Charge them 10 times the price if they want to visit their families for Christmas. Yes, it's $50.00 for a round trip.

    I hope this system works to provide proof to the provincial government that it is taking WAY more than it is giving back. There isn't enough space on this page for me to type all the things that are lacking with handicap care.

  • C
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    WOW! $300,000 is a ton of money for software IMO.

    Surely there is other software that can be used for less money. There must be higher priority things this program needs the money for that would directly benefit users.

  • robroy
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Why is it that long term care doesn't have its own transport system for its resdents? I am sure it would be cost efficent to have their own ambulance type transportation as well as their on wheelway type system