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Ontario Transportation Expo (OTE) Conference and Trade Show – A Summary of 4 CT Pilot Projects

Date: April 18, 2017

As part of the Ontario Transportation Expo (OTE) Conference and Trade Show, held in Toronto from April 9-12th 2017, there was a session on Community Transportation (CT) that highlighted four of the CT pilot projects currently funded by the Ministry of Transportation – Ontario (MTO). The OTE is a joint annual event organized by three partnering associations: the Ontario Public Transit Association (OPTA), the Ontario Motor Coach Association (OMCA) and the Ontario School Bus Association (OSBA). The conference and trade show brings people working in and around the bus industry together to share information, offers solutions to challenges, and provide services and products to improve customer service and competitiveness. Participants include a combination of drivers, administrators, operators and owners, as well as government representatives, consultants, funders, buyers and sellers from the bus transportation industry.

Approximately 50 people attended the CT session to hear presenters from the counties of Prescott-Russell, York, Peel and Waterloo regions. As Facilitator of the Ontario Community Transportation Network (OCTN), I was invited to moderate this session organized and hosted by MTO on the morning of April 12th. The program began with opening words by Tasneem Essaji, Manager at the Transit Policy Branch of MTO. She spoke about how the CT Program has been able to make a big difference to several communities within the province by using a comparatively small amount of money relative to the funding required to run transportation systems in larger urban centres. From my own experience as OCTN Facilitator, I can say that those currently receiving funds through the provincial CT Pilot Program would likely agree.

This was well evidenced by the first panelist, Dianne Kuipers, who spoke about the project taking place in Prescott-Russell. Dianne explained that there was a high rate of regular visits being made by residents to the local hospital emergency room(s), and that many of these visits were non-emergency related. Local EMS drivers were providing rides to these patients given that there was no other form of transportation available to them, and/or that there was no accessible vehicles other than an ambulance. There were also a high number of missed appointments with primary care physicians or medical specialists due to a lack of available transportation. This often later led to the need for emergency calls. Moreover, the length of stays in hospital were also longer given that transportation home was unavailable.

In response, the Champlain Region Community Transportation Collaborative applied to the MTO Community Transportation (CT) Pilot Grant Program in order to expand into Prescott-Russell. With the funds that they received they have been able to access: regional coordination and scheduling of transportation; a fleet of vehicles with both paid and volunteer drivers; and access to transportation services for a fee, with subsidies available. This has led to: a significant reduction in missed appointments; reduced non-emergency calls for EMS transportation; and more clients able to access dialysis, palliative day programs and other activities necessary to daily living. The project has not only increased local capacity to serve people with mobility issues, but it has also led to the ability to better serve local Francophone clients and has increased collaboration between existing agencies.

The second speakers from Peel Region, Lancia Choisilme and Jennifer Diaz from Canes Community Care and TransHelp respectively, talked about their project. TransHelp is the Region of Peel’s specialized transportation service, providing safe and reliable transportation for persons with disabilities. Many residents in the Region of Peel are patients at medical facilities in neighbouring municipalities where they have access to services that may not be available locally. TransHelp transports eligible residents to destinations within regional boundaries and shares transfer points with neighbouring municipalities.

Before their CT project, clients of TransHelp that were seeking medical treatment in other municipalities had to transfer to another accessible transportation provider in order to get to their destination. Bookings for such transportation had to be made a month ahead of time, but many clients did not even have their medical appointments booked a month in advance and so there were not enough rides to accommodate their needs and requests. Also, having to deal with and coordinate any last minute/unexpected changes and/or cancellations to appointments could prove to be frustrating.

The CT Pilot Grant Program presented an opportunity for TransHelp to partner with CANES transportation services to provide direct trips to medical appointments in Toronto. Seniors Ride Connect also partners with other service providers within the Etobicoke, Brampton, Malton and Woodbridge areas to provide clients with rides to medical and health related appointments, as well as to shopping and social events. This project has made it substantially easier for people with disabilities in Peel Region to access, book and pay for rides, as 50 clients now have access to approximately 45 direct one-way rides to/from medical appointments in Toronto each month.

Next up, Blair Allen, Supervisor of Transit Development at the Region of Waterloo spoke about the new service that created in Wilmot. The Township of Wilmot is a predominantly rural area located southwest of Kitchener, and has a population just over 20,000 (based on the 2016 census). Rapid growth in the region has led to an increased need for public transit. Prior to their CT project, there was no regular conventional transit service available in the area, only para-transit and limited by-request services were available and the existing capacity could not keep up with the demand. Not only were there increasing requests for service but there was also a mobility gap for those who didn't qualify for existing services. This was a quality of life issue for many in the area such as seniors and students.

The current service is being provided as a collaborative between several local partners under the umbrella of Grand River Transit (GRT). It takes people directly to, or provides greater access to, locations such as: the local recreation centre, a medical centre, grocery store and the library. The route also connects to several other existing bus routes within Waterloo region. Between May 2016 and March 2017 there were an average of 100 flex stops/boardings per month. Also, a large number of riders who responded to a survey said that they had never even used Grand River Transit before the route in Wilmot was introduced. Thanks to the success of the initiative, it is now transitioning from a pilot project to a permanent service as Regional Council approved a 2016 Budget Issue Paper proposing that the route become permanent following the pilot project's conclusion. With a one-year extension of the current MTO funding, GRT will be able to further promote this service and pilot additional services.

Finally, Transit Policy and Accessible Services Planner, Erin Straughan presented on York Region Transit’s Dial-a-Ride North pilot project. Erin had previously presented at the 2016 OT Expo where she talked about York Region Transit’s (YRT) VIVA services and how the Dial-a-Ride North initiative fits within the 2020 Strategic Plan. YRT/VIVA currently has 406 conventional vehicles, 123 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vehicles, and 101 Mobility Plus vehicles - of these eight are Dial-a-Ride. As part of promoting the newly created Dial-a-Ride North service to rural residents, a dynamic marketing and communications plan was launched which included a short promotional video. This video is worth watching if you are thinking of producing something similar - you can view the video at: www.octn.ca/presentations by scrolling down to “Videos” and clicking on the Dial-a-Ride North link.

For more information on these or the other 18 projects currently funded by the MTO CT Pilot Grant Program, please visit: www.octn.ca/ct-pilot-program. To learn more about the OT Expo, you can also visit: www.ote.ca.