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TTC gently integrates Wheel-Trans

Seniors and disabled are encouraged to try increasingly accessible conventional transit

Nov 16, 2007 04:30 AM
Tess Kalinowski
Transportation reporter

An aging population is fuelling the growth of the TTC’s most vulnerable and costliest clientele: Wheel-Trans riders.

Now the city’s transit system is gently but radically altering how it serves the swelling ranks of paratransit users by integrating more of their trips into conventional transit.

The move will capitalize on the growing accessibility of the TTC, which is supposed to be fully accessible above and below ground by 2020, and help contain the cost of Wheel-Trans.

Ridership is expected to rise 6 to 7 per cent annually, from 2.2. million rides this year - about twice the rate of the record-setting growth on the rest of the TTC.

Paratransit users, many of whom suffer from arthritis, heart disease, cancer and diabetes as well as handicaps, pay the regular fare. But the TTC contributes a subsidy of $30.72 on each Wheel-Trans ride.

“By the end of next year, 75 per cent of the bus fleet will be accessible. We have to take a step back and take that into account,” said TTC superintendent Bob Thacker, who runs Wheel-Trans.

The customer intake process is already being altered. Starting in 2008, anybody registering for Wheel-Trans will be applying for a service period, Thacker said. The customer’s needs will be assessed to determine how they could be integrated into regular transit.

Even with integrated service, rising ridership will mean the cost of running Wheel-Trans continues to grow by about 10 per cent a year, TTC chair Adam Giambrone warned at a Wednesday meeting. The commission approved a proposed Wheel-Trans budget for next year of about $70 million, a $4.6 million increase over this year.

The TTC is also developing a hub system for paratransit, piloted this year with Variety Village. In the past, accessible subway stations have been used as depots for Wheel-Trans users. Now the TTC is developing pick-up and drop-off points near hospitals and rehabilitation centres that will be linked to conventional bus service.

The commission’s Advisory Committee on Accessible Transportation is developing a volunteer training program to help new Wheel-Trans users, many of them seniors who hadn’t previously relied on transit, learn to use the system.

While Thacker admits the new system could make some Wheel-Trans customer trips longer, committee chair Howard Wax says that most of the time it will be the opposite.

“It means I don’t have to wait for a Wheel-Trans bus and I don’t have to share that vehicle, which is also going door-to-door with other people,” Wax said.

Door-to-door pick-up and delivery won’t be eliminated entirely, says Thacker.




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