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Calgary HandiBus no more: Rising costs, more alternatives cited in decision to cease service by 2015

CALGARY Local advocacy groups are expressing alarm at Calgary HandiBus’s decision Friday to discontinue their accessible transit service, despite assurances by transit officials the move won’t significantly impact users.

Word of the closure troubles for Darrel Gregory, director of the Calgary chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, who said the loss of service would affect thousands.

“People who have MS are often underemployed, or unemployed, and rely on public transportation,” he said.

“This severely affects someone’s ability to be mobile.”

Unlike a conventional transit route, Calgary HandiBus provides riders door-to-door service — essential for those suffering from severe mobility issues.

It’s these riders. Gregory said, who have the most to lose from accessible transit cuts.

“It not only affects quality-of-life in terms of making appointments, but also just connecting to the outside world,” he said.

Transportation services for disabled riders is coordinated by Calgary Transit through their Access Calgary division.

Calgary Transit Director Doug Morgan said the closure of Calgary HandiBus won’t impact those who rely on the service.

“The first priority for us is to ensure uninterrupted service for Calgarians with disabilities,” said Calgary Transit Director Doug Morgan.

“We’re looking at solutions to fulfil the commitments we’ve made to those customers.”

In operation since 1974, Calgary HandiBus carries about a third of Access Calgary’s 15,000 customers.

The decision came out of a recent sustainability study that evaluated the not-for-profit’s ability to continue providing its services, said Jim Brown, Chairman of Calgary HandiBus.

“The study concluded the HandiBus model, as an independent entity providing this kind of service, is not sustainable going forward,” he said.

“The situation has changed in this city over the past 10 years — there are a number of other service providers that are now involved in the delivery of special needs transportation.”

Brown said he plans to work with Calgary Transit to ensure the needs of handicapped commuters continue to be met.

Calgary HandiBus will instead concentrate on advocacy and continue to raise funds to benefit special needs transportation, he said.

While no firm date has been set to discontinue service, Brown anticipates it won’t happen until at least the summer.

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