Despite Another Plea, Para Transit Plan Proceeds

Author of the article:Ronald Zajac
Published Oct 18, 2023

Despite a last-minute plea for a U-turn from one para transit rider, Brockville councillors this week took another step toward taking over the service.

Council’s general committee on Tuesday recommended the full council approve the purchase of one accessible minivan and one accessible commercial van as city hall moves from contracting out the transit service for people with disabilities, to running it.

The full council is expected to vote next week on the motion, which would see the city buy one Custom Toyota Sienna Hybrid with a side-deploying access ramp, and one Custom Ram 2500 Promaster with a side-deploying access lift.

The purchase, from Toronto-based dealer Universal Motion, comes at a total cost of $186,785, to be funded by debenture.

Council’s decision to bring the para transit service in-house has met with resistance from users, many of whom are uneasy about trading buses for vans, and parting ways with familiar para transit drivers they have come to treat as family.

One of those users, Stan Marshall, appeared before the general committee on Tuesday urging council to reverse its decision.

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” he asked.

Marshall said council’s decision was motivated by a desire to save money, not the interest of people with disabilities or seniors such as himself.

He cited what he considers a number of safety concerns surrounding the use of vans as opposed to buses.

Marshall said wheelchairs in the new vans will block the passengers sitting behind them, cutting off a means of egress in an emergency. He added buses are better equipped to withstand major vehicular impact than vans.

“Vans are made to carry parcels. They are not made to carry people,” said Marshall.

And Marshall echoed the sentiment of other users who worry about losing their current drivers.

“It’s like a family. We know them by first name,” he said.

The decision last month to bring para transit in-house came after the current contractor, Voyago, indicated it needs both a multi-year commitment and a cost increase of up to 10 per cent to continue with its current service model.

A staff report noted that, were council to stick to private-sector contracts, the 2024 budget estimate for para transit would be $508,068. The 2023 para transit cost is around $461,000, representing roughly $39 or $40 per ride.

The report added having the city take over para transit would lead to projected annual cost savings of $78,832.

Councillors on the general committee, however, said Tuesday the decision to take over para transit was not motivated by money, but by the benefits of integrating para transit into the broader city transit service.

Mayor Matt Wren told Marshall that, under the system of private sector contracts, there would be a repeated “period of disruption” as the city routinely goes to tender for the best provider.

“It will avoid this every three or five years” by going in-house, said Wren.

Coun. Jane Fullarton, the general committee chairwoman, said changing council’s mind at this point would require a two-thirds-majority motion for reconsideration.

“The decision really has been taken,” she added.

When discussing the motion to buy the two vans, Coun. Louise Severson, council’s representative on the Brockville Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee (BMAAC), sought to make good on a promise to BMAAC members to favour larger vans over minivans. She introduced an amendment striking the purchase of a Toyota Sienna in favour of getting two of the bigger Promasters.

The rest of the committee would not have it, arguing the minivan purchase fulfils another commitment to favour hybrid vehicles for the betterment of the environment.

Fullarton noted staff ensured both vehicles are certified for use to transport people with disabilities, and rejected accusations of sacrificing safety for savings.

“We’ve all probably been transporting our families in a minivan at some point, and it’s not because we thought of our kids as boxes,” she said.

“We considered a lot more than just cost when we looked at this.”

Coun. Katie Hobbs agreed, adding council “didn’t just dream this up out of nowhere.”

Hobbs said other municipalities have been using minivans for para transit, including Toronto.

“If they’re driving around Toronto and it’s OK for Toronto, I think our streets are a little bit safer,” she said.

Fullarton said the two different vans will give riders and the city a chance to compare rides.

“We’re trying to figure it out and we’re trying to get it right,” she added.

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