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Part II. Methods of achieving accessibility

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The following sections will provide background information about common forms of accommodation in transit services.

There are two basic strategies for meeting the duty to accommodate and achieving accessible transit services. The first relates to the creation of a parallel or segregated system for persons who are unable to use the conventional transit system. The second is to enhance the accessibility of the conventional transit system. Transit services require both strategies to address accessibility effectively.

Making the conventional system more accessible to persons with disabilities is a way of "integrating" the system. This is a very attractive strategy for a number of reasons. First, it is a general principle that integrating persons with disabilities is preferable to segregation. Second, there is a growing population of older persons and a growing demand on paratransit. There is limited capacity in the paratransit systems to meet these demands because of their high expense. Practically speaking, a more integrated conventional system can significantly reduce demand on the paratransit system.[22]

Integration is also much more cost effective than building parallel systems, although it is inevitable that there will be times when parallel or paratransit services are the only option.

2.1 Community buses and service routes

First implemented in Boras, Sweden in 1983, service routes bring fixed-route transit as close as possible to the residences and destinations of passengers.  Designed by combining conventional fixed-routes and the most often traveled paratransit routes, service routes employ smaller vehicles in order to access narrower streets.  These routes minimize walking to and from bus stops.  In addition, many transit systems allow patrons to flag down buses along the route and/or allow departing passengers to request small diversions. Bus schedules are designed to meet community needs and include driver-assistance time.[23]

2.2 Low floor buses

Low floor buses enable passengers with disabilities as well as the elderly and parents with small children, who might otherwise have difficulty boarding conventional-height transit, to have access to fixed-route service.  Low floor buses have maximum floor heights of 12.6 to 14 inches (reducible to 3 to 5 inches with a kneeling feature) from the front to back doors.  The 40-foot low floor buses found in many parts of North America have a 3-step walk-up beyond the backdoor that rises to between 30 and 35 inches above the street to accommodate the rear axle and engine. [24] ‘True’ low floors have uniform heights throughout their length.

Depending on the particular model, low floor buses can accommodate up to two wheelchairs and/or scooters.

Low floor buses have been found to increase transit use.  The Calgary Transit Advisory Committee tested 22-passenger low floors down a shuttle route and observed a 19 percent increase in ridership.[25] However, according to the Toronto Transit Commission, additional passenger weight on low floors during peak-hours of operation reduces their floor heights to dangerously low levels above the street.  Low floors are also criticized because they reduce seating capacity from approximately 40 to 28 passengers and can manage approach and departure angles of just 9° as compared to 10°-11°, making their use on high-traffic, unevenly graded routes difficult.[26]

2.3 Accessible subway systems

In cities with a subway, the accessibility of the subway system is fundamental to the accessibility of the transit system overall.  Accommodations required for accessibility depend first and foremost on accessible subway stations and cars.

Full accessibility for stations means elevator access between subway, bus and street level platforms. Basic accessibility for subway cars means that wheelchairs and other mobility devices can move safely and independently from the platform to the car. Additional accessibility features appear on the TTC's "T-1 cars", namely wider doors, tie-downs and special seating areas.  It should be noted that accessibility needs will differ for the ambulatory as opposed to the non-ambulatory disabled. For example, functioning escalators, moving in both directions, will often be crucial for ambulatory disabled passengers.

2.4 Paratransit services

Paratransit differs from the “integrated approach” used in some countries where all conventional transit buses have been equipped with wheelchair lifts in order to accommodate disabled customers.[27] Paratransit is a segregated system for the sole or principal use of patrons with mobility disabilities. While segregated systems are generally not a preferred option, it is recognized that some patrons will be unable to use even a well-integrated conventional system and that some form of paratransit service is necessary.

Paratransit services are provided by specialized, wheelchair accessible vans or mini-buses on a pre-booked basis. These services are sometimes provided or supplemented by subcontractors such as taxis and not-for-profit organizations that provide pre-booked trips on wheelchair accessible vehicles.

Paratransit services are generally restricted to patrons who need door-to-door service and are unable to use conventional transit systems. Access is therefore restricted by eligibility criteria related to mobility, e.g., functional ability to move in the community. In Ontario, these criteria differ somewhat across the province. They are usually established by advisory or other committees working with transit service providers and communities. Many impose registration and additional fees per ride in order to generate revenues to finance operations and to meet growing demand and costs.

[22] Ottawa-Carleton’s OC Transpo estimates that an integrated low floor bus fleet with improved routing will alleviate about 30% of passenger demand on the paratransit system. 
[23] Transportation Research Board, National Research Council, Transit Operation for Individuals with Disabilities (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1995), p. 43.
[24] Ibid. at p. 32.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Report of The Hamilton Street Railway Company, to the Ontario Human Rights Commission  (5 August  1999).


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