By: Darren MacDonald – Sudbury Northern Life
Jan 06, 2016
A name change and a more flexible policy when it comes to people with brain injuries are among some of the recommendations in a consultant’s report on the city’s Handi-Transit bus service.
Says term ‘handicapped’ has become offensive to many people
The report, which is headed to the operations committee Jan. 12, gives city council an outline of how the service has changed from pre-amalgamation to the present day. It also reviews current policies and suggests changes.
The review was conducted by transportation consultants Nelson\Nygaard, and was prompted by eligibility screening riders had to complete to take Handi-Transit. While the screening was brought in two years ago to try and stem soaring costs, it sparked complaints among users who had taken the bus for years and were now being required to requalify.
There are currently 22 people who were rejected and are appealing that decision, the report says. They can ride Handi-Transit until those appeals are heard.
Handi Transit ridership has grown from 40,000 people a year in 2001 to 135,000 in 2014. The projected budget for 2016 is $2.9 million.
Demand for the service has exceeded the number of available buses in recent years, the report found, with 65 new users being registered every month, on average.
“There have been 1,559 un-accommodated trips in 2014 and 1,260 (January to October) in 2015 as a result of capacity issues,” the report says. “Capacity issues are prominent during fall and winter months.”
Users are required to book their trips well in advance, since there are only 15 buses in operation, along with two spare ones. Those buses serve 2,760 total registered users, who took a total of 135,000 trips in 2014.
The report prepared for the operations committee makes a series of recommendations for changing the system, with an eye on encouraging more users to take regular transit buses when possible, as well as to allow more flexibility in allowing people with cognitive challenges to use the system.
Among them is to ensure users know the importance of letting transit know well in advance when they have to cancel a scheduled trip.
“The Handi-Transit no-show policy should be clarified and strengthened, with unequivocal language and quantitative measures for when sanctions will be applied,” the report says. “These should include the number of no-shows and late cancellations in a month that would trigger each step in the tiered approach to sanctions.”
The report calls for considering changing the name of the service, since the origins of the word “handicapped” is offensive to some.
“This term is a relic from a bygone era in England when the primary occupation available to people with disabilities was to beg with their ‘hand in’ their caps,” the report says. “It is considered oppressive by many in the disability community and has been replaced by many communities. The service name should be changed to a more common name such as Para Transit or Specialized Transit.”
The report also calls for mobility training, which “has been proven to be helpful for introducing public transit to people with disabilities, and older adults who are hesitant to try taking transit on their own.
“Along with an efficient in-person application and conditional eligibility process, mobility training has been a successful program in many municipalities, reducing the number of active registrants on the specialized transit system.”
Reducing the length of time users can book in advance would also lower the number of no-shows, the report says. Currently, trips can be booked one month ahead of time, with the report recommending reducing that to two weeks or seven days.
A more flexible policy regarding people with cognitive disabilities is also recommended. The report says the city should “start with those who may not have an attendant available for a conventional transit trip but can travel on Handi-Transit unattended, with hand-offs required on each end of the trip.
“This category of eligibility can be expanded based upon increased guidance from the province with regard to the definitions in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act,” the report said.