A local resident is calling for improvements to the City of Whitehorse’s handy bus service.
The service provides on-demand transportation for those unable to use the standard transit system. While the city provides the service, it is funded through an agreement with the Yukon government.
At Whitehorse city council’s Oct. 4 meeting, Matthew Lien addressed council, recalling his mother’s recent 90th birthday when she was unable to use the service to get to her birthday celebration.
As Lien told the city, his mother is wheelchair-bound and her birthday celebration was planned at a friend’s more accessible home. Sunday was the only day possible for the event with some family in town briefly for her birthday.
Contacting the city to reserve the handy bus, Lien soon learned the service didn’t operate on Sundays. He was informed cabs are required to provide accessible van service as a backup when the handy bus isn’t available, such as in this case.
Two days before the party, he called a number of cab companies to make arrangements.
“They were all, at first, uncertain if they could provide wheelchair service, or outright stated their inability to provide the service,” Lien said.
“Two of these companies said they needed a manager to call me back, which did not happen. When I called again, they again said someone would call back. When I did receive the call-backs, one manager said they could not provide the service, and the other said they could not provide the service until the following week.”
When Lien took to social media, he learned such situations are not uncommon in the city. Many noted only one company provides the service, but there was again confusion over the reservation with that company and it was only through his social media contacts that Lien was able to find someone who had their own wheelchair accessible van and helped.
Lien argued the situation is one that impacts the entire community.
“I do not raise this matter out of concern for my mother,” he said. “I don’t plan to take her out often, as it is quite exhausting for her. But as a member of our Whitehorse community, I’m appalled by this situation and consider it a crisis in need of prompt attention.”
He argued the quickest solution would be to provide handy bus service seven days a week, suggesting that perhaps Sunday service could be on a standby basis.
He noted he’s also reached out to the city’s bylaw department, the Yukon government and outgoing Yukon MP Larry Bagnell about it.
While council had no follow up questions for Lien after his presentation, later in the meeting members raised the issue with administration.
Both acting city manager Jeff O’Farrell and bylaw manager Doug Spencer confirmed that taxi companies in town are required to have an accessible vehicle for hire (those who don’t have one can work with another company to provide the service) with priority service going to those who need accessible transportation. Spencer said there are currently three accessible cabs in town.
Spencer went on to inform council that a follow-up investigation into Lien’s situation saw three companies fined a total of $750 each for failure to provide the priority service that’s required and failure to provide the vehicle for hire accessible service.
“Bylaw takes this seriously,” Spencer said.
Mike Gau, the city’s director of development services, also noted the city is currently in negotiations with the Yukon government on the next agreement for handy bus services. He said there are preliminary discussions around the possibility of Sunday service, though it will depend on budgeting.
Informed of the discussion, Lien said he’s pleased to hear discussions are underway and he’ll be encouraging others to contact their MLAs and show their support for funding of Sunday service.
“That’s pretty good news,” he said.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com