Transit services still inaccessible to many disabled in Red Deer: report

Red Deer is the largest Alberta city without a lower-cost transit pass for disabled people on fixed incomes — and that’s causing major mobility problems, states a new report.

Red Deer is the largest Alberta city without a lower-cost transit pass for disabled people on fixed incomes — and that’s causing major mobility problems, states a new report.

“For people with disabilities, accessible public transportation provides the critical link (to) employment, education, health care, recreation, community support and social networks . . . yet for many . . . public transportation remains inaccessible,” states a transportation equality study. It was done as a community project for the Leadership Centre of Central Alberta.

Edmonton and Calgary offer more affordable transit passes for residents living on disability pensions — so does Strathcona County. Grande Prairie allows those on AISH (Assured Income for the Severely Disabled) to ride city buses for free.

According to the study, many other communities across the country, including Saskatoon, Regina, and the Ontario cities of Sudbury, Timmins and Hamilton, offer subsidized passes for low-income people, those on social assistance or disability insurance.

While Red Deer has nearly 2,000 people living on AISH, there’s no local initiative being undertaken to look at providing reduced-fee passes for persons with disabilities.

The stakeholder agencies that were consulted for the study stated that a low-cost pass would increase mobility for their clients, many of whom can’t afford to ride the city transit buses.

But the Red Deer city councillors who were consulted either indicated no strong desire to move forward with a low-cost pass or that more studying should be done on environmental, cultural and social benefits.

Red Deer Transit does offer low-floor buses, which make boarding easier for people with mobility issues. One attendant per disabled person is also allowed to ride for free.

The city also has 18 Action Buses, which serve 2,000 seniors and disabled people. But the study found usage problems, as the Action buses need to be booked two weeks in advance. Trips can also become costly, and the buses are very busy — some 350 requests per month must be turned away.

“Improving affordability and safety of public transit could encourage current Action Bus users to utilize public transit, thereby reducing the overall demand on the Action Bus,” the report concludes.

The study compiled by volunteers with the leadership centre made five recommendations, that:

l the city start a pilot project on introducing a subsidized pass for persons on AISH

l Action Bus service be enhanced to reduce gaps in service

l a steering committee of stakeholders be started to meet regularly with transit officials

l safety issues on transit buses be addressed, such as advertisements over windows that make it difficult for some people to see where their stop is

l bus drivers be educated to create greater awareness and sensitivity of various disabilities — especially “invisible” disabilities, such as people who are deaf or suffer from seizures.

Although there’s a potential for revenue losses from issuing low-cost passes, there’s also the chance for revenue gains, considering many people living on AISH now can’t afford to ride buses at all, according to the report. It was compiled by Curtis Martinek of the City of Red Deer, Diane Lester of the Golden Circle, Janice Besuijen of the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter, Dustin Snider of Earls restaurant, and Mohammed Vawda of Nova Chemicals.

The report was sponsored by the local Epilepsy Support Centre. Snider hopes it will be presented to city council for consideration.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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