October 24th, 2020

Plans to reduce Access-A-Ride use could prove costly in several ways


By Jensen, Randy on June 4, 2020.

An operational review indicated the City’s Access-A-Ride service is over-subscribed and comparatively costly, but proposes provisions intended to reduce the use of the service could prove problematic. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald

tkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

Provisions intended to reduce the use of Access-A-Ride in the city might be costly to implement and potentially problematic from a human rights perspective.

Council heard from City staff on the issue at Monday’s regular council meeting.

For background on the subject, Lethbridge Transit system operations supervisor Michelle Loxton first proposed the City consider contracting an occupational therapist to identify which Access-A-Ride users should be using regular transit and which should not at the Community Issues Committee meeting of city council on April 27.

As KPMG reported in Phase One of its operational review, the City’s Access-A-Ride service, which currently has between 1,500 and 1,600 individual users, is over-subscribed and more costly to operate when compared to other jurisdictions in Canada which offer the same service.

Others in the community who regularly use the service have also complained to The Herald in the past that it is difficult to book rides during certain periods in the day because there are so many others wanting to use the service.

Loxton’s proposal in April was an attempt to deal with both the user pressures Access-A-Ride is facing and also to address the budgetary concerns raised in the KPMG report. But when The Herald asked her how much it would cost to pay an occupational therapist to assess all clients, and if there were concerns about any human rights issues if ultimately the occupational therapist determined someone was “just not handicapped enough” to use Access-A-Ride, Loxton said those concerns would be addressed at a later time. She also insisted, however, it had worked in other jurisdictions.

“We haven’t said we would contract anybody full time by any means,” she responded to The Herald back in April. “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.”

During Monday’s council meeting presentation on the subject Transit manager Kevin Ponech finally put some meat on the bones of the proposal first put forth by Loxton.

According to the report presented to council by Ponech, to contract an occupational therapist to assess all of Access-A-Ride’s current 1,500-plus clients for eligibility would cost approximately $360,000 at a price of $240 per assessment.

Transit also estimated it would need to continue to do about 500 assessments per year after that at the same $240 per assessment cost, which would amount to about $120,000 per year.

On the question of legal liability, Ponech was asked by Coun. Blaine Hyggen how Transit would deal with a situation where a client is ruled ineligible to use Access-A-Ride by an occupational therapist because they could use regular transit, but had a doctor’s note which contradicted the occupational therapist’s assessment.

Ponech replied Transit would take the assessment of the occupational therapist as superseding the doctor’s note because most physicians would have no expertise with, or knowledge of, the accessibility features available on all regular City buses, which can accommodate most mobility issues.

Hyggen later told The Herald when asked about the doctor’s note discussion that he still wanted a much more detailed analysis done on that question, particularly, before he would even consider these new costs and changes to Access-A-Ride as being feasible.

“If we say ‘no’ to someone, that’s someone’s brother, someone’s uncle, someone’s parent, someone’s grandparent that is getting pulled from Access-A-Ride because this occupational therapist had looked at it and decided ‘no,’ although that person had a doctor’s note, that concerns me,” confirmed Hyggen. “I am hoping on Sept. 1 when this comes back (to council) that those questions will be answered.”

As for the cost, Hyggen said he is also concerned about that, but is keeping an open mind on the subject as City staff bring more information forward to the Sept. 1 meeting.

“That $360,000 to assess all these users, and then $120,000 going forward, for someone on contract, seemed pretty high to me,” he conceded.

Hyggen felt at the end of the day council’s intent with the Access-A-Ride and other Transit cost reviews was to encourage policies which would create greater efficiency in the City’s transit service without unfairly impacting transit riders.

“Municipal services cost money, and obviously many of them are tax-supported; so my intent with Transit is to ensure we have efficiency, but not on the cost on the customer service side,” he stated.

Follow @TimKalHerald on Twitter

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