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City Transit Expected to be Totally Accessible by Year-End

Monday, April, 09, 2012pbell

Paul Oullette shows Nora Long and Dorthea Carvell how easily he can access the new city buses.
Remi Renaud secures Paul Ouellette’s wheelchair inside the bus

NORTH BAY – Freedom. That’s the word Dale Norton uses to describe the City’s commitment to providing totally accessible public transit by 2013 and the two new state-of-the-art buses about to hit North Bay streets.

Nora Long, chair of the Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee (MAAC), congratulated council on the purchase of the new accessible coaches during her presentation of the committee’s annual report at the March 26 committee of council meeting.

“North Bay is leading the way in accessible public transportation,” she said. “These new buses mean that our bus line is 87 per cent accessible. Our goal is to have 100 per cent of our buses accessible by the start of next year.”

City transit manager Dorthea Carvell says the accessible buses, “are good for the public, for the transit department and for the city. All municipalities will have to meet the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by 2025,” she said.

“While there are other things that the transit department will have to do in other areas to meet all the criteria, we are well ahead when it comes to our buses. If all stays on track, our buses will be completely accessible by the end of 2012.”

The two newest buses about to be added to the City’s fleet are Flyer Excelsiors with sleek 40-foot-long bodies and seating for 39 people.

“They feature a low floor with two secure wheelchair locations behind the driver and an accessible ramp for easy entry and exit,” said Long.

When the bus stops and accessible entrance is required, “it kneels down,” said transit supervisor Remi Renaud – his way of explaining how the body of the bus lowers allowing the driver to release the ramp level with the sidewalk.

“That allows for easy drive-on convenience for those in wheelchairs, with walkers or canes, or for those with visual impairments,” he said.

The seats immediately behind and across from the driver flip up against the wall to allow ample room for a wheelchair on both sides. Bus drivers attach the chairs to a front and rear anchor and a special seat belt is used to ensure the rider is secure in the chair seat.

“It only takes a matter of a minute or two to secure the chairs, and we have allowed time for that when we set out the bus schedules,” Renaud said.

North Bay has been providing transportation for those with disabilities for many years, starting with the Para Bus service operated by the Physically Handicapped Adults’ Rehabilitation Association (PHARA), under agreement with the City.

“We have six Para Buses, but you have to book them 48 hours in advance,” said Carvell. “They provide excellent transportation for those who can’t get to a regular bus, but they don’t allow for a lot of flexibility.

“There’s also a priority booking list for the Para Buses that means school, work and medical runs take precedent over a social requirements,” she said.

Norton says he “loves” the concept of being able to take public transit whenever he feels like it.

“I have been a Para Bus client and they offer a wonderful service, but you have to book in advance so you’re limited in when you can go out. The new buses, that’s freedom for people like me,” he said.

“It means I can be just like everybody else. If I decide to go out I don’t have to wait,” said Norton.

Paul Ouellette, a Para Bus dispatcher and a wheelchair user, says the accessibility is improving all the time as buses become increasingly sophisticated.

“These new buses are really good,” he said. “The ramps aren’t as steep as some of the older ones and getting on and off is really easy. I think our riders will be really pleased.”

Carvell advises those who need an accessible bus make a quick call to the bus depot to ensure their route is covered the day they are going out.

“At the moment, 18 of our 24 buses are accessible,” she said, “and we have 16 buses on the road at any time, so until all our buses are accessible it’s just wise to call ahead rather than be disappointed.”

The new buses came with a price tag of $500,000 each, but Carvell says the city has excellent purchasing power through a joint procurement agreement with Metrolinx. “That gives a small city like North Bay both the buying power and expertise of the larger systems.”

Coun. Sean Lawlor, chair of the Community Services Committee said, “For a city of our size, you wouldn’t expect us to be a leader in accessible public transit, but it’s an important service for our residents. The buses have no steps and makes it easier for everyone to get on and off, and the automatic ramps mean many people who were confined to Para Buses or private handicap transportation can now go out whenever they want to.”

“I have always tried to live an independent life,” said Norton. “I feel that I have been blessed in many ways. I’m always ready to go out and do things and I live in a good place that has provided me with a way to do that.”

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