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Specialized Transportation Service and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

Posted on June 18, 2012
by Karen McCall

In a recent flurry of activity in the County of Brant over the specialized transportation service which has been operating without a contract for about a year, several issues related to the Integrated Accessibility Standards Part IV – Transportation came to light.

The specialized transportation service in the County of Brant is taxi-based. The municipality is too small in population for a fixed route transit system and the municipality covers a large distance. Taxi-based Para Transit or specialized transportation service is more cost-effective, or at least it was.

As with most municipalities, the specialized transportation service is made up of two parts:

  • Wheelchair accessible taxi-based vehicles
  • A subsidized fare system for people with disabilities and seniors who qualify for the specialized transportation service.

The County attempted to restrict access to the specialized transportation service for people with disabilities and seniors based on a reaction to the contractor stating that they would not respect the contract which had expired, and instead would move to metered billing of the County. The rates for the specialized transportation service have been climbing over the life of the contract and the contractor has been without a contract for approximately one year.

Under the old contract, people with disabilities and seniors paid $6.00 then $7.00 per ride within the County of Brant and the County paid the contractor an additional $20.00 per ride no matter where in the County the person went. Local trips can cost as little as $6.00 per ride while going into Brantford (where most of the health, employment, educational and recreational activities are) can cost a minimum of $20.00 (from Paris Ontario to the VIA station in Brantford).

At first it would appear that adhering to metered rates would be part of fare parity identified in Section 66 of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Integrated Accessibility Standards, and Part IV – Transportation.

However it is not clear from the statement in the minutes of the County Council meeting of June 5, 2012 whether the County would be billed the metered rate in addition to the $7.00 fare paid by the person with a disability or whether the County would be billed for the difference. It seems that true fare parity would indicate that the County would be billed for the difference instead of the full metered fare and that if the fare were less than the $7.00 paid by the person with a disability, that the person with a disability would be charged the lesser amount.

The other issue that arises is one based on the needs of people with disabilities and seniors in terms of vehicle needed. Other municipalities are also looking at whether every person with a disability requires a wheelchair accessible taxi (for the taxi-based specialized transportation services) or whether a sedan vehicle would be more appropriate. For example, some people with disabilities and seniors who use canes and walkers might find it difficult to get into a wheelchair accessible taxi due to the height of the step. The person with a disability or the senior should be able to identify the type of vehicle needed based on their needs. It is the specialized transportation service that they are accessing and as such, the service should meet their needs.

The advantages to integrating sedan vehicles as part of a taxi-based specialized transportation service are that the specialized taxi-based transportation service provider would not need as many more expensive wheelchair accessible vehicles and more drivers could be used for the specialized transportation service as they would not require additional licensing for the wheelchair accessible vehicles; and, as stated, this approach would better meet the needs of people with disabilities and seniors.

These are important issues for those municipalities in Ontario, and Canada, where a fixed route specialized transportation service is not practical due to the distances covered within the municipal boundaries. In those municipalities, a fixed route specialized transportation service would not meet the needs of people with disabilities as they do not live in clusters or specific areas of the municipality and any attempt to create fixed route specialized transportation services at this point in time would waste more finances than it would solve any problems.

In municipalities where the specialized transportation service is taxi-based it is critical that the taxi-based specialized transportation services have access to using the “gas tax” money that municipalities can access for transit services. There is a contract, there is a specialized transportation service system in place and it is serving the people with disabilities and seniors in the municipality.

Specialized transportation services, whether they are fixed route or taxi-based also need to be recognized by the provincial governments as an integral part of any “Aging at Home Strategy.” Providing funding for and showcasing health care options for seniors is only one part of being able to stay in one’s home as long as possible. Another critical component is the ability to travel around one’s community and be independently mobile. If specialized transportation services are not part of an “aging at Home Strategy” then seniors will merely trade one confined environment for another and be trapped in their homes, isolated from their communities.

Reproduced from http://www.karlencommunications.com/Blog/

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