Parry Sound North Star
By Stephannie Johnson
PARRY SOUND Although it wont be in compliance, the town intends to continue its public transportation service.
After lengthy discussion at its October 7 meeting, council agreed to keep the service beyond the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) compliance deadline of November 17, while it works on implementing a compliant service.
A new plan will be worked out in partnership with the town and Belvedere Heights Home for the Ageds Community Transportation Program.
A letter will also be sent to Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Ontario Small Urban Municipalities and Federation of Canadian Municipalities alerting the organizations of the towns intention to become AODA compliant.
In 2011 the province passed legislation regulating public transportation with the AODA that affects both conventional municipal transit and special transit systems.
The towns current system is not in compliance with the AODA, nor is it financially feasible to make it compliant, town staff says.
The town had intended to stop all public transportation at the end of this year, until it could be in compliance.
Currently the towns public transportation system operates on Tuesdays and Fridays and follows a fixed route.
Parry Sound does not have the population density to justify and therefore support a conventional urban transportation system using a fix route, said Peter Brown, town director of public works in his report to council. Our public transit system can only target a fraction of the communitys population resulting in the delivery of a service that is not cost efficient or effective.
The cost of the current system is $80,000.
Even though the fixed route system was primarily designed to maximize coverage geographically, there is still a huge service delivery gap. Due to the current schedule set-up, and the transportation contractors availability, the public transit system does not and cannot accommodate the needs of high school or college students or the majority of working-class individuals, wrote Brown.
On October 7, Brown and bylaw enforcement officer Tammy Purdy presented three options to council.
Staff recommended the first option that would have the town working in partnership with Belvederes existing Community Volunteer Transportation Program.
(Belvederes current) program serves individuals over the age of 18 years who have an acute or chronic illness or other special need. According to 2013 statistics, the program provided 700 trips annually to fewer than 100 riders. The (program) is an on-demand responsive system that requires individual application approval and reservations, Brown said.
The recommended transportation model would consist of a municipally-owned accessible bus or van that would operate as a Demand Responsive Transit (DRT), Dial-A-Bus Transit (regular transit), as well as an accessible taxi.
The DRT is a transit service with no formal designated routes or schedules; the Dial-A-Bus would be available to anyone within town boundaries with criteria to ensure no conflict with local taxi companies.
During discussions, council wanted to know the cost associated with staffs recommendation.
Long story short, the cost to implement this particular proposal is an estimated cost, because there are still some variables involved, Brown said. Weve estimated the cost to be approximately $120,000, but again, I want to emphasize thats an approximate cost. Its not including the purchase of a municipal, accessible bus, which is what was identified in the report. As all council knows, we currently have access to gas tax funds as well as we have a reserve fund to possibly utilize to put towards buying an accessible bus.
Although more than the cost of the current system, the new program would operate five days a week, instead of two, Purdy said.
The more users you have as my understanding of the Gas Tax the more funding you could receive as well. The system could cost us the same, but we get more, more users. Its just unsure at this time, said Purdy.
Mens said putting the new system in place would take time; at least several months and would require the hiring of a coordinator, because there isnt enough staffing to take on a project of this size.
Council has passed a resolution to terminate the existing system as of December 31. It is not physically possible to have a new system up and running by January 1 of next year, Mens said. I dont think its unrealistic to hope that we will have a new system in place by June (2015); I think that might even be somewhat optimistic. It depends on approval processes (of MTO funding) and a lot of logistics to implement this new system because it is software driven- its just the reality of where we are.
Mens went on to say councils decision to terminate the service was because they didnt want to be out of compliance any longer than they have to be.
I would be okay with extending (the transit service beyond November 17), if we canto allow us to firm up these numbers, said Coun. Paul Borneman. There are a whole lot of unknowns here. I think its clear that we support the principle and the idea of other transportation, but at the same time I dont think we can run it like we have.
Purdy reminded council that if the town is out of AODA compliance, it can be charged.
Will the province charge a municipality, probably not. I think its really important that we do recognize that date and we provide the province with a detailed plan of exactly what we plan on doing before compliance because we do not know how theyre going to respond, Purdy said.
Mayor Jamie McGarvey suggested writing a letter to the necessary organizations, letting them know of the towns intentions to become AODA complaint.
I would rather continue providing that transportation to residents of Parry Sound, said Coun. Brad Horne. If we can show them the plan were moving towards and take six months to do it, absolutely theyre going to support that. There is no way the province is going to come down and fine municipalities for this. I think we move ahead with the plan, the direction the report is fantastic