In the wake of lengthy wait lists, missed appointments and a slew of customer complaints, Halifax Transit has promised dramatic improvements to its accessible service system.
Most of them target Access-A-Bus, an on-call, door-to-door transportation service available to riders with cognitive or mobility challenges. As it stands, users are required to book the buses seven days in advance – a wait time transit operations manager Mike Spicer hopes to change.
Earlier this month, he confirmed that Halifax Transit has updated its Access-A-Bus scheduling software, and that its goals for 2019 include a smartphone app with live updates and same-day booking service. He’ll propose the improvement package to the city’s transportation committee in January, he said in an interview.
“We’ve spent some time going through and actually diving deep into why some of these things are happening,” said Spicer of user complaints.
“And we did let our passengers down, we have let our customers down. And so by putting in the right policy, by putting in the right scheduling… we will have more success moving forward as we look at what accessible transit here in Halifax really means.”
Part of the vision, said Spicer, is a streamlined network of accessible services that includes regular buses, Access-A-Buses and the ferries. He reminded all users that the regular buses are already accessible to those with mobility devices, but said the municipality can improve the way it delivers that information.
The changes would be covered under the existing funding envelope, he added, and no additional budgeting would be required.
Carrie Gilbert, a Halifax resident with cerebral palsy, said the improvements can’t come soon enough. She has often found herself working around low Access-A-Bus availability, and cancelling appointments when she can’t find a ride back through the transit service.
It’s “frustrating” and “stressful,” and it really shouldn’t be, she told Global News.
“They have wait times of a half-hour and that’s just super inconvenient to expect someone to sit and wait as you wait for that long, stand outside, and it needs to be more equal to regular transit in my opinion, because everyone deserves equal opportunity for transportation,” said Gilbert.
Around 2,000 people use Access-A-Bus regularly, and Gilbert said the service gets worse in the winter months when weather causes extra delays. Same-day service would make their lives a whole lot easier, she added, but she isn’t holding her breath.
“I’d like to believe it, but until I see it, I don’t really want to get my hopes up too high,” she said.
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