Parry Sound North Star
By Stephannie Johnson
PARRY SOUND – With just a handful of days remaining before the end of the public transit system, a Bracebridge man showed town council a successful alternative.
Cameron Hoffman of Bracebridge Taxi talked about the on-demand accessible transportation service he started two years ago for those with disabilities.
The Town of Parry Sound cut the $111,883 from its budget last month, ending its bus service on March 31.
“Our community is not much different than yours, in terms of demographic and geographic very spread out and diverse in mobility of seniors with a lot of obstacles and barriers to overcome,” Hoffman told council during its March 17 meeting. “We partnered with Community Living South Muskoka to devise this formula. We purchased an MV1 and ran a pilot project. Within the first month we recognized the need within our community and accelerated our business plan and adapted to the general public beyond community living members.”
Community Living South Muskoka has about 400 individuals with developmental or physical disabilities, Hoffman said.
Hoffman said the MV1, a fully accessible Canadian-made vehicle, is an alternative to a bus or fixed route or destination oriented pickup process.
Hoffman purchased the MV1 himself. The vehicles run anywhere between $50,000 and $60,000 and while he uses the regular taxi services he also offers to subsidize the accessible service he provides and to purchase additional MV1 vehicles.
“We’ve grown exponentially since we implemented the first unit. We now have four units and we are on-demand 24/7. I could have brought letters upon letters of acclamations from the individuals who use the service and our drivers that support the service,” he said. “Bus services on a fixed route have obstacles to get to that pick-up point. These are point-to-point pick-up services that have been adapted to the need of the individual. We devised a plan and collaborated with Community Living South Muskoka and provided the service on sort of an as-needed basis. They could call on demand or book the vehicle and go to any destination they wanted. We were very well prepared with this type of transportation it is a learning curve; there is a lot to adapt to and understand the limitations. The first barrier for anybody is getting to the destination they want to go to.”
Although not “cheap,” Hoffman said the service is less expensive than a regular bus service.
“Your commitment to one unit, you’re into the six figures category, then there’s the training of a driver, and insurance they are not cheap but they are cheap as an alternative to a bus. They can be utilized more than just wheelchair transportation. We’ve utilized them for people in walkers and scooters as well,” he said.
Coun. Brad Horne asked what the Town of Bracebridge’s role is with Hoffman’s venture.
“There really is no role at the town level, other than the first unit started out as an accessible taxi,” Hoffman said. “Under the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) if you currently have a sitting accessibility committee then they have to review the need to the community, whether it needed to be provided through an accessible taxi. We provided that service through the accessibility licensing just to bring it to the forefront and carve it out. There is no handbook, there isn’t another municipality that has done this, we’ve sort of pioneered it. I’m very proud of what we’ve done and I don’t see why other communities can’t benefit from it.
“Obviously we’ve done this with no funding, so when we need another unit funding is of utmost concern to me, because I’ve stuck my personal neck on the line and my reputation to make this work. After two years we’ve learned a lot, we’ve got a good grasp on this.”