By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
As a new year begins, Cobourg will hold off committing to a long-term extended-transit-services contract while it thrashes out the shortfalls the service is experiencing in relation to its customers who require accessibility enhancements.
Council voted Monday – with only Deputy Mayor Suzanne Seguin in opposition – to pre-approve $40,000 in the 2020 budget to engage BTS Network to operate extended-transit service until July 1 (and thereafter, if necessary, on a month-to-month basis until Dec. 31).
Councillor Emily Chorley wondered what other options the town is exploring – specifically whether they could expect an accessible taxi service any time soon.
The costs are prohibitive, Municipal Clerk Brent Larmer said, since these taxis are governed by the Highway Traffic Act to a certain standard and obligated to carry insurance that has its own stringent requirements.
The risks to vulnerable passengers was made clear last week, when Councillor Adam Bureau related a disturbing incident on the cold wintry night of the Christmas Magic launch. He encountered a woman in a motorized wheelchair who had no transportation home, and was fearful that her battery was not charged fully enough that she could get there herself. Though the incident was resolved safely and successfully through the intervention of Burchat and the Cobourg Police Service, it underlines the potential risks that must be addressed in the town’s transit system.
Chorley made an amendment – which she later withdrew – that BTS be required to provide door-to-door service that includes boarding and disembarking assistance when needed.
This can’t be done, Director of Public Works Laurie Wills said. She can’t approach a contractor who has been providing a certain level of service and say that more is now required.
Wills did say that their accessible vehicle has a lift, which will be far easier for users to negotiate than the ramp that has been in use.
As for door-to-door service, Councillor Brian Darling said, “we have to be careful of the terminology. If you live on the third floor of a six-storey apartment building, we don’t see you to your door.”
“It’s not that the driver can’t assist you to the front door, but how many stairs are they expected to lift you up, how much weight are they expected to push or pull or lift?” Wills said.
She likes the term “light assistance” – holding the door for a passenger, maybe holding a bag while a rider produces the fare.
Seguin differed. She had personally witnessed a driver in Brockville going the extra mile to ensure her mother got to a family event in spite of a broken leg. Other communities are offering services that ensure nobody has to miss out, she said.
“I agree,” Councillor Adam Bureau said.
“But if we don’t make a decision, we won’t have this service. This will be a wonderful opportunity for our accessibility committee to come back with recommendations to council on how to improve this service.”