Whitehorse Transit may replace its Handy Bus service with taxi scrips.
This was one of the suggestions made in the city’s new transit master plan, presented to council at the standing committees meeting on June 18.
The plan was put together by Whitehorse Transit and Stantec Consulting, which has in the past assisted Translink, B.C. Transit, and the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).
The 103-page document says the city’s Handy Bus service is convenient, but expensive, with a cost-per-trip that’s 94 per cent higher than its peer agencies.
“Stantec is concerned for the financial sustainability of the Handy Bus program in its current state,” reads the plan. “Although Whitehorse Transit is not legislated to provide accessible transit for persons with disabilities, Stantec advocates for barrier-free access to transit for all citizens and believes that Whitehorse Transit must take steps to provide a sustainable solution.”
The plan also suggests reducing the wait-time policy from 10 minutes to five minutes, and incorporating Handy Bus services into the agency’s master brand in an effort to curb feelings of marginalization among riders.
Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu is the council representative for the Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee (PDAC). She said taxi scrip service is something PDAC has been supportive of for years.
She said reasons for this include convenience and flexibility. While the Handy Bus service is only available during regular hours of operation for Whitehorse Transit, taxi scrip service would be available any time taxis are operating.
Curteanu said there’s also greater responsiveness with taxis. The city only has one Handy Bus, so if it’s serving someone in Riverdale and someone in Porter Creek calls for a ride, there’s an extended wait time. Under the current vehicle-for-hire bylaw, “every vehicle for hire company shall have a minimum of one accessible vehicle available for hire during all hours that the company is in operation.”
That would double the number of available accessible vehicles, said Tom Wyers, bylaw services supervisor with the City of Whitehorse.
Wyers told the News that, as of May 2018, each of the cab companies in town had an accessible vehicle, or an agreement in place with another company to provide an accessible vehicle. He couldn’t say how many accessible cabs are actually on the road.
Finally, said Curteanu, a scrip service is more cost-effective. She said the per person cost to operate the Handy Bus is $55 per ride. Taxi service will be cheaper for the city, which will continue to subsidize rides so they only cost riders $2.50 per trip.
David Lepofsky, a Toronto lawyer, told the News on June 19 that there are a few things to consider in making the switch from Handy Bus to taxi.
Lepofsky, who is blind, has won two human rights cases against the TTC since 2005. Those cases have led to the TTC announcing all bus, streetcar and subway stops on all routes — a practice that was not in place before Lepofsky highlighted the issue.
“It’s not a simple ‘yeah, that’s worse or better,’” he said of the switch to taxi scrips. “The question is first, will there be more vehicles and second, are the vehicles accessible?
“Will there be sufficient driver training (of taxi drivers)?” he asked. “When you run a transit system, that’s what people are trained to do.”
An amendment to the vehicle-for-hire bylaw is currently before council. That amendment includes mandatory training for taxi drivers. Training would focus on road safety and service standards, but also on access and inclusion for those with disabilities. It’s expected to be offered in fall 2018.
Lepofsky also said there’s a difference between dedicated vehicles for people with disabilities and accessible vehicles. Accessible vehicles can pick up other passengers, which means, in a small town, on a busy night, they may all be in use.
However, he echoed Curteanu’s point that a taxi scrip service could potentially lead to an increase in the number of accessible vehicles, if there’s more demand for them than companies can provide.
The transit master plan can be found online at whitehorse.ca/transitplanning. Council will vote on the plan in the coming weeks.
Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny @yukon-news.com