Changes and Challenges with Access-A-Bus in HRM
The government of Canada and the Halifax Regional Municipality have announced they are each investing $940,000 toward the purchase of new para transit buses for Metro Transit. This is good news for Access-A-Bus users in HRM.
NSACL board president, Stephanie Carver, spoke with Access-A-Bus users, and people who support them to learn about their experiences and shared what she learned on the Todd Veinott show on Talk Radio 95.7 on Saturday, July 20.
Users and their supporters are happy to hear of these upcoming service improvements, but shared the challenges they face accessing this bus service.
Before you can become an Access-A-Bus user, you have to apply and be accepted. There are varying levels of eligibility depending on your assessed needs, permanent, temporary, seasonal or conditional and if you use a wheelchair or electric scooter, there are limits on the size and weight of equipment that can be accommodated.
Once your application has been approved, you can begin using the service, within the conditions that you have been assigned. When you require transportation, you can call to book your trip. For specialist medical appointment you can do this up to 90 days in advance, for all other travel you can book anytime within the 7 days prior to your trip. Access-A-Bus users and their supporters shared with Stephanie that in order to book a trip for the appropriate time, it is important to call seven days in advance, early in the morning, as soon as the booking line opens. Once you are speaking to an agent, you indicate your preferred time and your pick up and drop off locations. There is not always a bus available at your time. For many people, this could mean being unable to get to where you need to be at the appointed time.
We all understand that travel can be affected by traffic and other factors, so when users book a trip, they are provided with a 30 minute window of when the bus could arrive to pick them up. Users are required to be ready, and if being picked up from an apartment building, in the lobby for the entirety of this window.
For most bus users, if you run late in a meeting or appointment and miss your bus, you can catch the next bus. For Access-A-Bus users, if you miss your bus, there is not another, you have to find another way to get to your destination. This can be very stressful, and can mean deciding between staying to see your doctor who is running late and finding another way home, or catching your bus and foregoing the appointment. If you do have an alternative, and choose to stay for your appointment, your file at Access-A-Bus will indicate a no show, or a late cancellation. No shows and late cancellations can result in consequences ranging from an advisory letter to suspension or removal of service.
Some approved service users who require at least 3 regular trips per week can qualify as a subscription user. This is of great benefit, as this eliminates the need to call for each booking required, however, the number of subscription users is limited.
Despite these challenges, we recognize the improvements that have been made to our accessible transit system since the Access-A-Bus system was developed in 1981. We look forward to the improvements that were announced this month.