June 24, 2019 7:34 pm
Updated: June 24, 2019 9:25 pm

DATS improvements to come in August, Edmonton councillors told

March 12: Some Edmontonians rely on DATS to get to work and run errands but many say the transit service is getting worse, despite a funding boost, citing delays and consistency issues. Fletcher Kent reports.

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Edmonton Transit is going to bring in improvements to the transit system that serves people with disabilities later this summer. The idea is to add more flexibility to scheduling.

“We have a new contract that goes into effect starting in August,” said para-transit manager, Paul Schmold, as additional vehicles similar to accessible taxis will be added to the ride inventory. The goal is to eventually make it possible for a DATS customer to call on the same day they need a ride instead of booking a couple of days ahead of time.

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“It’ll take some time to integrate our systems to make sure everything’s seamless but within a year I suspect we’ll be seeing that level of service, more flexibility on day-of service, so that’s a big improvement.”

City council’s executive committee reviewed an update on DATS service Monday that also listed other ways to improve service. Those suggestions included more automated computer plans that take into account distance-based time estimates for the length of time the vehicles would be tied up.

READ MORE: DATS users claim Edmonton transit service is getting worse: ‘I feel like we’re second class citizens’

Other improvements include dispatchers calling with a five-minute warning so passengers don’t have to wait curbside the entire time.

Lack of communication is something that frustrates user Chris Ryan, who doesn’t like the hit-and-miss way it is when trying to figure out when his ride will arrive to pick him up.

“Do you ever use Skip the Dishes?” he asked Mayor Don Iveson. “I can watch my cheeseburger drive across town but I have no idea when my DATS is going to get here.”

The report also proposed a shorter pick-up window for passengers, giving them a 20-minute time frame, instead of the current half an hour. However, councillors held off on adopting that recommendation, waiting to see more details in a cost-benefit analysis that DATS staff are working on. The change could cost as much as $3 million.

Councillor Andrew Knack asked about the handful of clients who only use DATS during our winter months. He believes there’s a more cost-effective way of providing service to them, like a bus.

“The report showed we spent $140,000 last year to provide a little over 4,000 trips for 91 people who normally would take the standard ETS bus (the rest of the year). When you break that down, that’s about $30 per trip.”

READ MORE: Edmonton city councillor concerned that DATS report doesn’t tell whole story

Knack’s suggestion is to hire special crews to do snow clearing on the public sidewalk at those specific locations.

“You might actually save more money having a special contract for those 91 individuals to make sure the sidewalk is clear from their home to their nearest bus stop.”

Deputy city manager Gord Cebryk said crews with snow shovels in hand is something being considered.

“One of the things we’ve been looking at is our ability to service sidewalks; not just at the location of these folks but in general, how can we look at improving snow-and-ice control on residential walkways throughout the city. We have conducted a sidewalk symposium with the EFCL and will be bringing that work back on Wednesday.”

Proactive snow-clearing on sidewalks outside of seniors centres is also something on the city’s radar. However ETS branch manager Eddie Robar was very quick to warn city councillors it definitely won’t be something that’s city-wide.

“The approach wouldn’t be: ‘Let’s just do it for everyone,’ and pay $17 million or something like that,” Robar told the committee, “when we could look at nuances in the program approach and make sure we’re balancing that for the taxpayer.”

Council’s community services committee will look at targeted sidewalk snow clearing when it reviews the ice and snow policy Wednesday, ahead of a fuller study in August.

Executive committee was also told Monday that eventually the enhanced DATS service will be looked at in how it can also merge with the “first kilometre, last kilometre” program that’s being considered for the new ETS service delivery.

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