Is DATS For You?

Some time ago, “universality” became the ‘in’ thing. It is a philosophical approach focused on accessibility in building, product, environmental and learning designs. The root objective of universality is that everything a person encounters should be usable to the greatest extent possible, regardless of that individual’s age, ability, or status.

A great example is the use of ramps or stairs on a building. Ramps enable everyone, regardless of their ability, to access a building – we do not need separate ‘accessible’ entrances if everything is accessible in the first place!

There’s a philosophical trend rising, and it is slowly but sur

This notion has filtered down to impact reviews of transit service across the globe, including right here in Edmonton. Edmonton Transit has worked hard to ensure that its entire fleet is accessible, with low-floor buses, communication tools, and a focus on universal design in infrastructure. The same can be said for ETS’s paratransit service, DATS, the Disabled Adult Transit Service. Stakeholders reviewed DATS service through the universality lens, and found that it is best as an accommodated solution – used only for those times and trips when fixed route transit services, despite their accessibility features, cannot be used by individuals. This conclusion is fully supported by national and international legislation, such as the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) of 1990, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2005, and most recently, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, signed in 2007.

With all this in mind, Edmonton Transit contracted the IBI Group to undertake a DATS Eligibility Review in 2002, which was shared with, and supported by, City Council. Key findings included:

  • DATS is best used only for those unable to use regular services for a particular trip or time; otherwise, accessible fixed route services are to be utilized whenever possible and appropriate;
  • DATS is not for those who find it difficult and are reluctant or unwilling to use an accessible public transit system;
  • The creation and maintenance of accessible infrastructure, including streetscape, services, and vehicles, is integral in containing demand and costs, and avoiding the overload of door-to-door paratransit services

Following up from that review, DATS sought feedback from peers in the paratransit industry through an APTA (American Public Transportation Association) Peer Review in 2010.  Transit leaders from Ottawa, Calgary, Seattle, and Dallas spent four days in Edmonton, reviewing DATS operations. They came up with recommendations on how to improve DATS for citizens:

  • Add an in-person interview to the registration process for all new applicants. The information garnered from this meeting is much more accurate than paper, especially regarding a person’s abilities, as well as providing an opportunity to share information about other transportation options with the customer;
  • Establish an ongoing and regularly scheduled DATS recertification process for eligibility; this will capture changes to the customer’s condition and the environment with ease;
  • Always include barriers in reaching bus stops as a consideration of eligibility determination.

Public stakeholders agreed with these suggestions in 2012, suggesting specific changes: in-person interviews for all new applicants and those recertifying, and set a five year recertification schedule for DATS registrants.

Throughout all of these reviews, DATS incorporated changes to match the sage advice. In 2002, DATS adopted “conditional eligibility”, matching when customers are approved to use DATS services to when fixed route transit services cannot be used – for example, in the winter time, or night time hours. As of 2009, all regular ETS services became accessible, that is, all buses are low-floor. They took it further in 2013, recruiting an occupational therapist (OT) to assess the functional capabilities and to develop an abilities-based application form. The suggestion to perform in-person interviews was also put into action for a majority of new applicants. At the beginning of 2014, DATS began to recertify existing registrants, with in-person interviews as well as a simplified paper information update.

We’re pleased with the outcomes from these reviews, and just how they have been implemented:

  • The in-person interviews ensures accurate information is collected about the conditions an individual can use regular transit
  • The recertification process (over the next five years) will help DATS to become an accommodated service only for those trips that cannot be completed on fixed route transit
  • With support from City Council, ETS infrastructure continues to become more and more accessible; for instance, transit centres and LRT stations have elevators and ramps, more accessible bus shelters, expanded curb cuts in sidewalks, etc.
  • We remain aware that the issue of the pedestrian environment, with missing sidewalks links remains a barrier to use of transit by people with disabilities
  • In the long term, there may be cost savings in para-transit services for the City, as more persons with disabilities choose to use bus and LRT, or have conditions applied on their paratransit registration to have certain trips completed with regular transit.

All of these suggestions and the resulting changes are rooted in that philosophy of universality. Paratransit is a necessary service, but ETS is working hard to ensure that fixed route transit is an option for as many Edmontonians as possible, and likewise, that they know just how accessible public transit is this our city.

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About the Author
Stephanie Leaf
Written by Stephanie Leaf, a summer student at DATS who headed up the Seniors on the Go outreach program. Stephanie has a Bachelors of Arts degree with an after degree in Education. After the summer, Stephanie accepted a teaching assignment overseas.
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