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July 28, 2013

Dear Mayor Savage

Intern Kelly McKenna writes a compelling letter to Halifax's Mayor:

Dear Mayor Savage,

Whether you live in a metropolis or a small town, the presence of public transportation is an integral part of many people's daily lives. No car? No problem! Call up a taxi and it'll be there in 10 minutes or less! Trying to save those hard-earned bucks? Not to worry either - there's most likely a bus coming your way soon.

But what if such common modes of transportation were unavailable to you, or needed 24 hours notice to come collect you? Cancel that date, tell your boss you can't attend that important board meeting, and start waiting. These scenarios may seem ludicrous, but for individuals with disabilities, they are everyday obstacles to full participation in the life of the city.

Over the past weeks, we have been researching the state of public transportation within Halifax, focusing on buses and taxis. What we found was that this city has a long way to go in order for things to be equitable.

We wrote Mr. Robar, director of Metro Transit and learned:
  • The new bridge terminal in Dartmouth is accessible, as all new construction is required to be.
  • Access-a-Bus, with improvements in scheduling lead times, is apparently here to stay.
  • 68% of bus routes are accessible
  • 52% of bus stops are fully accessible.
  • Although we asked specifically, apparently Metro Transit did not follow the 2011 recommendation of the Access-a-Bus review to experiment with taxi vouchers
We have 3 major concerns:
  1. 38% of our bus routes are inaccessible.  This is an unacceptable number.  We asked Mr. Robar to tell us the schedule for completion, but got no response.
  2. Access-a-Bus, which should be in the business of going out of business, seems to be a permanent fixture.
  3. Although Toronto is re-examining its taxi legislation and Ottawa has over 200 accessible cabs, Halifax doesn't seem to have any, or even a plan to get some, leaving people with disabilities limited options
Says Royson James, in the Toronto Star: 
"This is a goal worth achieving — not just to move athletes around during the 2015 Pan Am Games, but to move citizens with mobility challenges during the Games and, more importantly, afterwards. 
With only 85 of 4,849 taxis [in Toronto] currently accessible, citizens with disabilities have to plan far in advance to engage in life’s simple pleasures. 
“They have to plan two days ahead to be ‘spontaneous,’” says Councillor Adam Vaughan, adroitly summing up the conundrum. “People with disabilities fall in love, too. They want to go on a date on short notice, or take their nephew to the Blue Jays game on the spur of the moment.” 
For people like me to "engage in life's simple pleasures", Halifax needs to re-think its plans and  get serious about accessible transport.  I'm only 21, so I'm impatient with the future - can this be done soon, please?  

Yours truly, 

Kelly McKenna

Find our working paper on public transportation for people with disabilities here.

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