Living Life In A Wheelchair

Ideas For Improving The Local Transit
[ Wednesday February 12th 2020 at 4:29 pm ]

Last week I sent an idea to the transit manager of the city where I live. It is to setup a system where family members and friends of whose with physical disabilities could pay for bus tickets and monthly passes. The idea is that when you don't live in the same city as someone with a physical disability you can feel helpful or powerless to help. This is one way to give support and make a meaningful difference.

I was asked if I had other ideas. I did have 6 others floating around in my head. I just sent the following to the transit manager to consider:

  • Compared to Toronto's TTC "WheelTrans" and "Kingston Access Bus" I am surprised at the lack of "car pooling" within the Mobility Bus.

    There have only been (2) instances where I've been on the Mobility Bus with a 2nd person. Both were not planned.

    • My power wheelchair broke down requiring me to be rescued
    • VIA Rail trains going East and West arrived at the Belleville train station almost at the same time presenting an opportunity to join 2 trips together. It was planned that the Mobility Bus would drive me home and then go back to train station for the other passenger.

    I am not out to be critical. I realize I haven't used the service a whole lot. I figure the service you offer runs ~$60 an hour by the time you pay staff (driver and office), vehicle maintenance and insurance. I am all to aware of the limits on funding for social activities. I would suggest you be very intentional to "milk" the most possible for the money being spent.

    For the size of our community I figure this might amount to spending an extra 10 - 15 minutes on the bus. I don't think this is unreasonable to "car pool" as long as it doesn't interfere with the underlying medical condition that lead to the approval. (For example with the chronic pain I experience there are times when I need to get home to the equipment I have to manage my physical needs; Other times an extra 10 - 15 minutes of being out would be morale boosting because it is good to be a part of the community where I live.)

    Since you are making fundamental changes to how the service operates I'd be talking to the drivers who presently fulfill the Mobility Bus service for their input on the types of car pooling options available.

  • Creating an app and web option to delay the trip (ie a re-booking option)

    I think there is some wisdom in checking with the end users for medical related trips if their appointment will be completed on time and in turn allow the individual to be available for the return trip home. It seems to me there needs to be an option to delay / rebook the return trip home either by logging in or clicking something in a dedicated app.

  • I objectively think you need to offer the ability to apply for an (low) income tested monthly pass

    Before my dad died I didn't have the financial means to afford a monthly Belleville Transit pass. It was even a stretch to buy tickets for given rides. The Ontario Disability Support Program benefit rate hasn't kept up with the actual cost of living. In 2019 there was no annual increase. What's at stake is sacrificing health because of financial stress and a compromised diet due to low income.

    I am not saying you should just be giving bus passes away except under exceptional circumstances. Doing so robs a person of their dignity. I am suggesting you think about those who are vulnerable within the community and what they could actually afford to pay. If you did move forward with this idea I'd highly suggest you co-ordinated this with the crisis division of Belleville General Hospital, Quinte Rehab Inc front line employees, Three Oaks battered women's shelter, home care agencies (such as VON), thrift stores, Grace Inn homeless shelter, doctors, nurses, etc. I say this in the context of the relationships that are built on trust while services are being rendered and could identify a legitimate need.

    What makes sense to me is that you gave these agencies the ability to login to a Belleville Transit web interface and create a temporary pro-bono pass. The person could print and show this to driver for maybe a 2 week period (whatever time it would reasonably take to assess their ability to pay a monthly fee for a transit pass). I frame this in 2 scenarios that come to mind around this:

    • If someone has suffered a health crisis that person needs to be able to attend their appointments. It makes sense to me that they use Belleville Transit and this becomes a vital link in their treatment plan.
    • If you are trying to help someone who is homeless they need transportation to reintegrate into the community.

    I realize there is a fine line to where this becomes enabling and trying to balance this when a front line worker sees there is a valid need and is able to use their discretion to offer this with follow up by Belleville Transit.

  • Making educational videos about Belleville Transit

    I am seeing funding for social assistance programs getting cut back by the Ontario Government. Then my thoughts go to "who / what becomes the safety net"? If this is a family member or well meaning friend they may not have a working knowledge of what's available, how it works and what to expect in order to teach this to the person in need. I think it would be time well spent making a few educational videos to equip those who are trying to help.

  • Co-ordinating with other City of Belleville supports

    Each year I apply for the City of Belleville - Ontario Disability Support Program - Property Tax Rebate. I tend to think when an approval letter comes out for this program it should mention the other programs the City offers that are the same target audience. Another thought is about the Quinte Sports & Wellness Centre low income screening approval. It bothers me to no end that there are helps available that legitimately would make life easier but the people who need them don't know about it. I think there is some merit in brain storming how the City presents what is on offer in a relevant way. I receive periodic e-mail updates for the TTC WheelTrans on account of medical treatment I had in Toronto. I think it is worth offering similar for the Mobility Bus.

  • How can the Mobility Bus effectively co-ordinate with similar services in the surrounding communities?

    I am honestly not out to open up a "can of worms". I am wondering if there may be some merit as a long term goal trying to unify the similar services in the communities that surround Belleville. I see Belleville as a hub. If someone is in Belleville and has more than 1 chore that could be done that day could the person be passed onto Mobility Bus / Belleville Transit for a given ride before returning to their home outside of town? I am thinking in terms of "packages" (if I can reference this in terms of the hotel industry.) Could trust be established that paying a bit extra to Quinte Access would provide Belleville Transit access for the day? I was thinking in terms of making life as easy as possible. In terms of Belleville Transit I think it would be easier to receive one cheque from the originating transit service than counting the coins paid to use the bus. I tend to think if Belleville keeps growing you will want to have a relationships with the transit services in the neighboring cities. This may be a way to start this. Then there is a communication between the services that you can focus on how to best serve the people who use this and change / evolve depending on the needs in the future.