REGINA – There will be two new Paratransit buses on Regina streets early next year, but local advocates say that isn’t nearly enough to satisfy a growing need for the service.
The REALM Foundation, an organization that works to help people with high-need physical disabilities reach out for help with medical and daily living issues, is asking Regina city council to make Paratransit a greater priority in the city.
“People who have a need aren’t able to get buses,” said Amanda Lewis, REALM’s executive director. “Without those buses, they’re staying at home.”
Paratransit is a service that provides transportation to people with disabilities who are unable to use other transit services.
“You can do everything under the sun to make buildings accessible … but if people can’t get there, it’s a waste of time.”
City council gave final approval Monday evening to purchase the two vehicles, which are expected to increase Paratransit service hours by 4,000. The provincial government is picking up just over half of the $210,000 bill.
It will cost an additional $200,000 to operate the buses annually; $25,000 of that total will come from the Saskatchewan-Transit Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Program (TAPD).
The city says provincial contributions to Regina’s overall Paratransit budget are on the decline, however. According to Ward 3 councillor Shawn Fraser, the Saskatchewan government only covers 26 per cent of the program – compared to 46 per cent in 2000.
“I’m sure there’s nothing more frustrating than when governments point fingers at each other,” Fraser said, adding that the city had expected a 50-50 funding arrangement.
Frasier called it a case of the provincial government “talking the talk … but dropping the ball when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is.”
Paratransit’s 5.3 per cent “rate of refusal” on the current fleet of 31 buses is well above the standard Canadian rate of one-to-two per cent.
It averages out to 26 rides that couldn’t be accommodated daily, which Lewis says is unacceptable.
“If it’s our goal as a city to be inclusive we have to figure out a way to make it inclusive,” she said. “You can do everything under the sun to make buildings accessible, to make programming accessible, but if people can’t get there, it’s a waste of time.”