October 22nd, 2020

CIC discusses Transit efficiency and eligibility standards for Access-A-Ride


By Lethbridge Herald on April 28, 2020.

Herald photo by Ian Martens - The City's KPMG operational report suggests Access-A-Ride is over-subscribed compared to other similar sized cities who offer both regular accessible transit on city buses and the additional handi-bus service. @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski
Lethbridge Herald
tkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com
Transit-on-demand and more stringent standards for who might be allowed to use Access-A-Ride were both up for discussion at Monday’s Community Issues Committee meeting at city hall.
The conversation around these subjects was sparked by Phase One of the KPMG operational report submitted to council back in November, which identified that the way transit service is currently offered in the city is expensive, and only recouperates about $3 million from fares and advertising revenue on a $13 million operating cost.
The same report also suggested Access-A-Ride in Lethbridge is over-subscribed compared to other similar sized cities who offer both regular accessible transit on city buses and the additional handi-bus service.
On the subject of the former, a report presented to the CIC by Scott Grieco, transit operations manager for the City of Lethbridge, showed the key to better service and lower costs could be to increase route efficiency and increase transit ridership by adopting a transit-on-demand system and a city link plan which streamlines and shortens existing routes.
The proposed system is both similar and not similar to the current transit-by-reservation service operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Transit-by-reservation is a lot different than transit-on-demand technology,” he explained to reporters after his presentation to council. “The transit-on-demand is an app-based technology that gets buses in real time to get their schedules to take orders (for service).
“Right now with transit-by-reservation,” he added, “we can’t book rides right away. We have to take phone calls, we have to take emails, compile all that; so it takes a significant amount of resources to put that together. And with the (transit-on-demand) technology, what that does is really take the administrative reduncies of accepting bookings, accepting schedules and amalgamating that. The other thing the technology does is it runs an algorithm where it takes the most efficient route which accommodates the right amount of people to the right place at the right time.”
Where it is similar is in the convenience it offers to riders who won’t have to wait and wonder when the next bus will come, Grieco said, and that allows buses to better compete with personalized pick up and drop off apps like Uber.
The biggest benefit you would have, explained Grieco, is you could eliminate regular routing through areas of the city that don’t have a high demand for transit service by replacing those regular routes with transit-on-demand.
Other cost-saving ideas presented to council were the option to drop the number of buses operating at any given time in the city, which would also increase wait times for passengers and reduce service, and also to potentially consider stopping transit service at 10 p.m at night, which would have repercussions for those who need to use transit for their evening jobs or night shifts.
Deputy Mayor Belinda Crowson reminded her council colleagues that transit service does recoup about 23 per cent of its operating costs, and noted that roads built in the city recouped none. Thus, transit service was technically more efficient on a cost-recovery basis than building infrastructure for single-vehicle use, she stated.
Coun. Joe Mauro supported by Coun. Blaine Hyggen wondered if staff had ever considered the possibility of privatizing public transit in Lethbridge.
City of Lethbridge transit manager Kevin Ponech confirmed his staff had not done so because it was not given any directive from council to do so. He said whether private or public, when a municipality offers any kind of transit service for its residents, it always comes with costs and trade-offs.
“Everybody’s viewpoint within the privatization within the services of the City of Lethbridge is we are always looking at the most efficient way to do business,” he stated. “When you do (privatize) there are a lot of trade-offs. You trade-off some control. You trade-off some flexibility, and everything has a price or a number.”
On the topic of Access-A-Ride over-subscription, City of Lethbridge transit system operations supervisor Michelle Loxton told council the reason Lethbridge saw higher numbers and costs is some riders who were using Access-A-Ride shouldn’t be using Access-A-Ride, which is supposed to only be for those who cannot use the City’s regular bus system.
She pointed out the City’s regular bus fleet was all categorized as “accessible,” and could accommodate most people with disabilities, including those in wheelchairs.
“There are more trips being done in not the right way … because all of Lethbridge Transit is accessible,” she said. “So changing our focus to ensure the people who are riding Access-A-Ride truly require Access-A-Ride, where their challenges are perhaps a little more severe, and they cannot ride our normal accessible transit on their own.”
To ensure only those using Access-A-Ride truly need it, Loxton proposed much stricter criteria on the types of disabilities which would be accommodated, which would mean interviewing current users to see what their needs are. The City could use an occupational therapist, she said, to determine on a case by case basis who should be using Access-A-Ride and who shouldn’t. That same occupational therapist could also train individuals who really should be using regular transit to transition them toward the regular bus service and away from Access-A-Ride.
Loxton was asked if hiring such an occupational therapist wouldn’t add to the City’s costs? And if she was worried about potential Charter or legal challenges if an individual was told they are just not “handicapped enough” to use Access-A-Ride?
“We haven’t said we would contract anybody full time by any means,” she responded. “This would be sort of a pilot project, but through our research–we have researched 21 properties throughout this operational review. And 67 per cent of them are already doing this. Their trips per capita or rides per capita are certainly lower than ours, and they do have more riders shifting off to their (regular) accessible transit system.”
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Citi Zen

Access-a-ride in Lethbridge is poorly managed and hugely inefficient. Seldom do they have more than one passenger.
I had occassion to ask the Access-a-Ride driver at the hospital to take a child in a wheelchair home from the hospital following surgery, as we didn’t have a wheelchair accessible vehicle. “Nope, you need to reserve 24 hours in advance” was the response, as he drove away with one passenger on board.
Why on earth do they need a huge bus for this minimal service, when the taxpayer would be happy to buy and maintain a van instead? Or perhaps they should make some common sense changes to their procedures.
This is one service that would be best if privatized.

biff

i suppose as long as it remains easier and far more convenient to use one’s own vehicle than it is to use a most cumbersome public system, a city with the population size of lethbridge cannot have a worthy public system (nor private). put another way, if everyone was dependent on public transit, it would be able to be efficient and cost effective as they are in centers that have large numbers of dependent users.

PapaDirk

there are many reasons we need a public transit system in Lethbridge
1) a lot of the kids going to University and College live off campus and take the transit back and forth to school.
a) this would impact on who could use our schools ie foreign students or those who could not afford a car.
b) this would impact on rental properties outside of campus.
2) Lethbridge is a center in southern Alberta for those who need support in daily life.
a) I see many support staff who take people who need help on the transit system to swimming and other events.
3) People who cant afford to have a car on the road or for health reasons cant drive.
a) This would further isolate those in the community who don’t want to be centered out or put in a position for begging for rides just to do daily things.
You will force people from the west side they will need to be in walking distance of facilities and trust me I live on west side and walking to some food stores is hard even with the transit try pulling a bundle buggy across grass mud ice or snow.
People who take transit leave a smaller carbon footprint do not contribute congestion or traffic.
You will force some to move to a larger centers were there is transit.
I am sure if you looked at loss income to schools, rentals and support workers for people who need them. the cost of supporting a proper transit system would look different.
I think under the smoke screen of this pandemic the city is cutting corners for whos actual benefit.
just some thoughts