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Mobility Transit Draws Fire

February 01, 2010 08:11 AM
Riders complain about vehicles, penalties
By Sean Pearce

It takes a lot to get Aurora’s Tyler Barker upset, but York Region Transit’s Mobility Plus service has been making a pretty good go of it lately, he says.

Mr. Barker, who relies on a wheelchair to get around, said he has had his issues with YRT’s accessible transit service for people with disabilities since he started using the service to get from home to school at Seneca College’s Newnham campus in Toronto in September.

With classes every Monday, Thursday and Friday during his first semester, Mr. Barker, a first-year human resources management student, took the subscription ride option but quickly learned the rules are rigid and customer service staff are quick to penalize those who do not give enough notice prior to cancelling
a trip.

He says it’s time the transit service make changes to better serve the region’s growing population of disabled residents.

And Mr. Barker is by no means the first to raise concerns about how Mobility Plus operates.

Some seniors at the Aurora Resthaven long-term care facility have expressed dissatisfaction at the lack of vehicles capable of transporting more than five wheelchair-bound passengers.

Foremost for Mr. Barker is the service’s demerit system.

A trip not cancelled by noon the previous day leads to demerit points and potential loss of service, Mr. Barker said, adding the penalization scheme is something unique to Mobility Plus that’s just not fair.

“I’ve already gotten a letter from them saying ‘If (the cancelled rides) continue, it could lead to a loss of service,'” the soft-spoken 23-year-old says.

“I’m speaking up about this for all of the people who don’t have a voice.”

Due to health issues, it can be difficult to provide 24-hours notice before cancelling a ride, Mr. Barker says.

Mobility Plus manager Sharon Doyle said she couldn’t speak to the experiences of specific individuals, but noted the demerit point system is in place for a reason.

At one time, the system was dealing with an epidemic of scheduled trips being cancelled at the last minute and it quickly become clear action was needed, she said, adding the options were to either charge riders for missed trips or issue demerit points as a deterrent. After looking at how other systems handled
the issue, YRT opted for the latter.

At six points, a letter is issued informing a passenger of their missed or late cancellations, while 12 points results in a loss of service for two days.

A total of 18 demerit points keeps you off Mobility Plus for a week, while 24 nets a 30-day ban, plus a meeting with a manager.

At 36 points, the person is barred from riding Mobility Plus for 90 days.

The demerit point system was not put in place with the intention of penalizing people, Ms Doyle said.

“We recognize that circumstances do arise, that unplanned events happen and that snow events occur, but we just ask passengers to communicate that to the staff.”

While Mr. Barker says he has tried to keep transit staff in the loop, he has found them to be less than understanding.

He brought his concerns about the service to Aurora councillors last week.

The politicians have directed town staff to invite representatives from the region to attend a meeting of the town’s accessibility advisory community to discuss Mr. Barker’s concerns.

“(Mr. Barker) is just a wonderful advocate and I know (Mobility Plus) is aware of this resolution,” Mayor Phyllis Morris said.

“I think we need to get them down here as quickly as possible (and) I’d like to get a discussion going.”

Mobility Plus staff receive Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and other training, Ms Doyle said.

Another central issue for Mr. Barker is the availability of the one rear-loading Mobility Plus vehicle in the region.

Having to rely on it makes travel difficult to plan and leads to wait times of a week or more when trying to book rides outside the subscription service.

The need for more such vehicles needs addressing, especially given the more common side-loading vehicles can’t load his wheelchair.

According to Ms Doyle, any one of the 17 26-foot side-loading vans should be able to accommodate a wheelchair such as that used by Mr. Barker.

His need for a rear-loader seems more based on preference than necessity, she said.

But Mr. Barker said it was one of Mobility Plus’ own inspectors who told him he couldn’t use the side-loading vans.

“That needs to be clarified,” he said, adding he has tried to meet with Ms Doyle for some time.

In any event, Mr. Barker said he aims to keep up the fight and would like to see the demerit point system done away with and for the system to permit more flexibility for its users.

Extending the hours for which the rear-loading vehicle is available would be a good start, he said, as would making the five-minute departure window a little longer. None of the changes he’s seeking are unreasonable, he added.

Apart from support from Aurora councillors, Mr. Barker said he’s also being hailed by the Ontario March of Dimes and has received offers of help from local minister and Progressive Canadian federal candidate Dorian Baxter.

He also plans to meet with Newmarket-Aurora MPP Frank Klees next month.

With a little luck and a lot of help, change could be on the horizon, he said.

“I hope the service, as it is today, isn’t in place four years from now, because this region is growing and it seems like Mobility Plus isn’t seeing that,” Mr. Barker said, adding the fact the population is aging should be taken into account as well.

“This service is called Mobility Plus, but sometimes I think it ought to be called Mobility Minus, because it’s not helpful at all.”

Now in his second semester at Seneca, Mr. Barker, who says his GPA is 4.0, remains committed to his studies, but has frequently started looking elsewhere for transit assistance.

Dignity Transportation has a great service, he said, but, at $65 per one-way trip, it’s much more expensive than Mobility Plus.

Ms Doyle said Mobility Plus welcomes the criticism and looks at any and all complaints as an opportunity to improve its service.

“We welcome feedback and any time we can clear up misconceptions, that’s a good thing,” she said. “We can only improve the system if we hear from our users.”

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