A local association for people with disabilities is welcoming new buses to Metrobus’s fleet but says more needs to be done to make city transportation completely accessible.
Metrobus officials on Thursday afternoon cut the ribbon on nine new kneeling buses that will join the 23 already in service. The new buses — Metrobus has an option to buy 21 more by 2017 — have wheelchair ramps and other equipment designed to allow people with physical disabilities to ride.
Michelle Murdoch, president of the Coalition for People with Disabilities Newfoundland and Labrador, said although kneeling buses are a good step, it takes more than just a special bus to make a route accessible.
“You have to be parallel to the sidewalk, so that if they’re pulled in at a bit of an angle downtown, that won’t work,” she said.
“So what we were saying to Metrobus was before we can fully implement the whole idea — and they say this to us as well, and we agree — there’s a whole lot of things that have to be worked out. You have to educate people who are parking and not leaving enough space, and things like that, and why these buses need to be made directly parallel to the parking.”
“For them to be implemented in the winter will be very difficult as well, with the snowclearing,” Murdoch said.
Nevertheless, she said the coalition is pleased by the new buses and are awaiting their implementation. Although some of the new buses could be on the streets as early as today, drivers still need to be trained to use the new equipment and Metrobus expects to phase in its accessible routes over the next several months.
“We’re excited they’re happening, but it’s not happening right away,” she said. “And that’s because there has to be other education pieces and other public awareness pieces that go with the kneeling buses. And you need kneeling buses in enough routes. You don’t want to go into Mount Pearl and then not get a link to somewhere else you want to go. People have to be very aware of what buses are going to be fully accessible, because the whole fleet is not.”
Making Metrobus’s entire system accessible is the goal, said St. John’s councillor Tom Hann, chairman of the city’s transportation commission Thursday afternoon.
“While providing a disability service is a long way off, because we’ve only got nine buses, but by the time we replenish the fleet and have 30 buses, new, by 2017, the commission has been supportive of the fact that some time ago we made the decision that in future, every bus that we purchase would be totally accessible,” he said. “So these buses will be put into service (on accessible routes) at some time in the future. It’s a long way to go. We need a lot more than nine before we can provide a total accessible service, and we also have to make sure that our personnel are trained to operate the ramps and that kind of thing as well.”
Both Hann and Metrobus general manager Judy Powell acknowledged it will take several years to make the fleet completely accessible. If by 2017 all 30 kneeling buses have been bought, that would represent just over half of Metrobus’s fleet, and Powell said it could take as much as 10 years past that to make the entire system accessible.
“It’s going to take a while to integrate the new buses into the system before we can provide total accessibility in the city,” said Hann. “I think mainly what will happen is if we get 10 to 15 buses that are totally accessible, we can choose some of the busiest routes and make those routes accessible and eventually we’ll have a total system.”
Metrobus general manager Judy Powell said the buses, purchased as part of Metrobus’s six-year fleet replacement plan, will allow Metrobus to retire buses that have been in use since 1987.
“This is the largest purchase at any one time since the early 1980s. The units that we will be retiring today are 1987 units. They are 25 years old, and certainly that is an accomplishment in our climate and terrain here in Newfoundland, and certainly speaks to the quality of our preventative maintenance program,” she said.
The buses cost $420,000 each. Future purchases under the tender will see that price go up according to the consumer price index, said Powell, who noted that the Nova LFS “Smart Bus” technology can improve fuel economy up to 18 per cent, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Murdoch said the purchase of the buses is a big step on the way to complete accessibility.
“It will be one more option for people with disabilities. Not everybody wants to use GoBus, and this will be an opportunity for people to have another choice,” she said. “The next thing we’re looking for is accessible cabs.”