At Tuesday’s meeting, City Council voted to waive the usual Audit and Finance Committee requirements and authorize spending $1,880,000 to buy 15 discontinued Access-a-Buses from GM Canada. On page 5 of the staff report, signed by Dave Reage and Jaques Dube is the following heading:
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT There was no community engagement associated with this report.
The community is engaged, HRM isn't. Hundreds of Haligonians are poorly served by this expensive and ineffective service. Users have presented a much cheaper alternative, only to be ignored repeatedly.
- Access-a-Bus is a separate and unequal service.
- With persistent and worsening problems
- It discriminates against people with disabilities contrary to the Charter.
- It is a textbook example of the near impossibility of effecting change in government.
- Taxpayers are poorly served by this arrangement
- The status quo best serves Metro Transit, not the public.
Compared to what?
The decision to buy the Access-a-Buses is not simple. The real questions are about how to maximize benefits and whether we should be driven by Federal grants. Do we lock ourselves into the wrong choice through a hasty analysis?
According to Halifax Transit the current size of vehicles is considered too large for the Access-a-Bus service "...with only one or two passengers onboard; this is not an optimal use for scarce resource of a relatively large capacity" (24 March 2016 Staff Report). Why would we purchase more of such vehicles?
Council has a new passion for evidence-based decision making. Let’s look at the evidence:
Metro Transit Reasoning:
Allegedly, a fortuitous alignment of the stars made 50% federal cost sharing available for once-in-a-lifetime pricing of the vans.
- The cost sharing isn’t exactly a certainty, but is practically a sure thing.
- The 15 vans became available when another customer backed out.
15 vans for $1.880m is $125,333 each. These are the chassis only, so the place where the people sit and the lift are extra. Let’s suppose GM is giving a 20% discount. Then the retail price is $2,350,000 and we save half the difference of $470,000 or $235,000. Shall we commit to a dubious course for $235,000?
The Access-a-Bus strategic plan of 2010, makes a sound economic argument for augmenting service with accessible cabs, recommending:
Metro Transit officials enter into discussion with local taxi companies to gauge the level of interest in the provision of supplemental service for Access-a-Bus;
Here’s a table from that 2010 report:
Updated figures are
- Average 2016 cost per Access-a-Bus trip is $36.95 (already 25% higher than predicted)
- Average distance per trip is 6.67km
- Same trip via accessible taxi is $14.51 - a savings of $22.44/ ride
- In 2009, Access-a-Bus made 115,000 trips
- Access-a-Bus is oversubscribed, 7 days advance booking required to hopefully get the appointment requested
- Access-a-Bus demand will grow with aging population - Stats Canada predicts a growth in disabled population from current 20% to over 30% in 2026
So purchasing 15 discontinued Access-a-Buses saves $235,000. To save that same amount via the cab supplement, we’d need to shift 10,472 rides from Access-a-Bus to Taxis. Less than 10% of rides.
The bottom line
15 vans at a 20% discount is a one-time saving of $235,000 for HRM taxpayers. We can save that same $235,000 by shifting just 10% of Access-a-Bus rides to taxis.
- Not once, but forever
- A course of action endorsed in the 2010 plan
Of course the alternative needs a thorough experiment. We’ll need to review costs, savings, logistics and eligibility. A properly conceived program ought to aspire to be cost neutral, meaning that incentives, discounts, management and secondary effects should sum to zero.
- Halifax Transit staff is to develop and execute a partnership with HRM accessible transportation service providers to support Halifax Transit Access-A-Bus service. The plan will be limited to 10,000 rides and commence in spring, 2017. Costs and benefits will be calculated and a progress report is to be filed by June, 2017.
- The purchase of discontinued vans be nullified
- Institute an affirmative employment policy for Access-a-Bus to hire people with disabilities for proposed positions such as additional schedulers and dispatchers.
Gerry PostWarren Reed