Transit services may expand 

ParaTransit in long-term municipal plan; small caged pets in short-term trial period

People who have a hard time getting to Whistler bus stops may have door-to-door service in the future as the municipality explores a ParaTransit system as part of its long-term plans.

The system would be primarily for disabled people who have difficulty getting to bus stops along the conventional routes, but it may also service people who live in areas like Whistler Highlands or at the top of Emerald Estates, which are not accessible with regular buses in the fleet.

"The model in my head would be people with disabilities would have first priority and then everyone else could access it," said Emma DalSanto, transportation demand management co-ordinator with the RMOW.

She hastens to add that the municipality will not study the ParaTransit system for another couple of years but they will be looking at it as an option down the line.

"The demand wasn’t there for the immediate (planning) but we were able to put it into long-term planning," she said.

The system would work along the lines of a dial-a-ride system where people could be picked up at their doorstep and dropped off at their destination.

It would not be a taxi service and DalSanto said they would have to study ways to prevent abuse of the system.

The service would likely be more expensive than the cost of the regular public transit system, possibly double the cost, and would use smaller vehicles than regular buses.

But these are all details that will be studied in the coming years she said.

Other communities have made the move towards more accessible public transportation, like the HandyDart system in Vancouver.

HandyDart is a door-to-door system which is only available for people with disabilities.

BC Transit shoulders 66.69 per cent of the costs of the HandyDart system and the remaining 33.31 per cent is carried locally.

The ParaTransit system is a blended system of door-to-door and fixed route travel and so the funding formula may be based on the percentages of each.

"The funding for a ParaTransit system would be looked at as part of the feasibility study defining what type of system we could have as well as afford," said DalSanto.

Currently about half the Whistler bus fleet is wheelchair accessible.

There are still 10 of the original buses, with stairs, in operation and these will most likely be phased out by 2009.

"It’s not a perfect system but we’re moving in the right direction," said DalSanto.

A transit bus has a life span of roughly 20 years. In Whistler that life span may be a little shorter because of the elements and terrain.

"Things might be sped up as well if we get the Paralympics," she said.

The biggest problem for disabled people using the transit system is actually getting to the bus stops, especially through the snow in the winter, DalSanto said.

A wheelchair-accessible bus wouldn’t solve that problem but a ParaTransit system would provide the solution.

"This was all thought of independently of the Olympics," said DalSanto.

"This is something that is just necessary for us as a community."

In response to another community need, WAVE transit will begin a six-month trial period that will allow the transportation of small pets on buses.

Only small fur-bearing and feathered pets will be allowed onboard and they must be in hand-held cages which are small enough to fit on a lap.

Bus drivers can refuse transportation during busy times.

"The carriage of pets is geared to have minimal impact on transit drivers and other passengers," said Councillor Kristi Wells, chair of the Transit Management Committee.

"The conditions are very specific and based on experience from other transit systems."

The pilot program, which begins on Monday, Sept. 23, will be assessed at the end of six months to determine if the service will continue in the community.

Guide dogs and avalanche dogs will continue to be allowed on the transit buses.

The guidelines for pet travel on transit will be available on the buses and in flyers throughout Whistler, on the Web at www.busonline.ca or at the WAVE Transit Information line at 604-932-4020.

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