By CECILIA NASMITH, NORTHUMBERLAND TODAY
Posted January 26, 2011
COBOURG — It’s amazing how a simple change in Cobourg’s Wheels accessible-transportation service has relegated more than 300 people who rely on the system to second-class status.
More than a dozen citizens, many in motorized wheelchairs or accompanied by therapy dogs, filled council chambers Monday evening in support of Jerry Ford, who explained the situation to council in a committee-of-the-whole session.
To ensure those with mobility issues (such as frail seniors and persons with disabilities) have accessible transit any time the municipal transit system
is running, Van Air Taxi has been engaged to make its accessible vans available on an as-booked basis during hours when the municipal transit is running but the Wheels service is not.
A subsidy for these trips ensures that these Van Air Taxi users also pay the same as any user of municipal transit.
The problem is with the booking process.
Until December, Van Air Taxi would take these bookings directly. Now subsidized Van Air Taxi trips must be booked through Coach Canada, which runs the town’s municipal system.
Coach Canada only answers the phone during business hours — between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays.
This severely curtails the freedom of movement of some 350 registered users, Ford argued.
Unless they are able to book a weekend or Monday-morning trip before closing time Friday, they’re out of luck.
While anyone else can catch a bus to take a spur-of-the-moment shopping trip on a weekend, for example, a person with mobility issues must plan as much as 60 hours ahead to ensure transportation is booked.
“Why must frail seniors and persons with disabilities know exactly where they want to go on a weekend and the following Monday morning by Friday at 5 p.m., 60 hours in advance? Does anyone live like that?” Ford asked.
“Why are persons with disabilities denied the ability to act spontaneously, thereby being forced into a significantly more restrictive lifestyle than the
Van Air Taxi does offer accessible taxis 24 hours a day, Ford said, and he has used them as a private citizen. But when a trip is booked through proper
channels and takes place during a time when the town’s transit system is also running, it’s the difference between a subsidized $2 trip and a taxi fare
of $5 to $20.
Asked how the situation ever arose, manager of engineering Teresa Behan said she had spoken with Coach Canada about it and come up blank.
“Nobody knows where that (direct-booking arrangement) came from, whether it was Van Air Taxi that asked riders to call directly or it was Coach Canada.
It certainly didn’t come from the town,” Behan said.
The system of booking through Van Air Taxi could not be allowed to continue because of the havoc it played on record keeping, she said.
The town bills for its funding for the service through Coach Canada. Ensuring trips booked directly through Van Air Taxi were properly reported to the town, in the end, proved confusing and unwieldy. Clear, easily auditable records are crucial to getting the funding, Behan said.
Told of meetings planned on this issue, Ford said, “This is the first I have heard of this meeting. My only suggestion is we be included in a consultative
Council voted unanimously to refer the matter to the engineering department for a report, and Behan committed to bringing it back in two weeks.
Reproduced from http://www.northumberlandtoday.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2946731