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Yellowknife bus fills wheel needs of disabled

Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 19/05) - A view of the world from the warmth of one's home during a blustery Yellowknife snowfall may not seem like such a bad idea.

But for Cor Van Dyke, that view increasingly becomes his only window to the world due to lack of mobility and accessibility.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Bus driver Melissa Scott helps a passenger onto the Yellowknife Accessibility Transit System (YATS) bus with the use of a hydraulic lift. - Dorothy Westerman/NNSL photo

"I'm pretty much bound to the house all winter long, simply because the sidewalks and curb cuts don't get cleared on a regular basis," Van Dyke said.

Confined to a wheelchair for more than five years because of multiple sclerosis, Van Dyke said spontaneity is virtually non-existent because anytime he wants to go some place, he has to first know if the destination building is accessible.

But travel around the city has been greatly improved for the disabled because of the new accessible transit bus system, he said.

"I think it's one of the most important services the city can offer to people with disabilities," he said.

"Without it, the disabled really have no way to get around town on their own."

Defining who's disabled isn't limited to people in wheelchairs. Anyone using a cane or walker, or simply has difficulty walking more than several metres, would be interested in the bus.

After pushing the city to make it happen, Carolyn MacKay, community liaison co-ordinator with the NWT Council of Persons with Disabilities, is very pleased the bus is running.

"They are making it easier for people with disabilities to take part in community life."

There were many awaiting the service. "We were getting calls on a weekly and daily basis from people with a disability unable to use the city bus," MacKay said.

There are currently 60 registered riders with more anticipated to sign up as winter deepens.

As for the cost associated with the transportation, MacKay said ideally everyone would be able to travel for free. But extra costs are associated with the bus because it is door-to-door and yet it still costs the same as the other bus service.

Operated by the City of Yellowknife, the bus, equipped with an hydraulic lift, has been providing pick up and delivery service since the end of August.

Melissa Scott is one of two bus drivers. Both are trained to help the disabled use the bus. She enjoys her new role and she has had a favourable response from those who use the service.

"People really like having the service up here," Scott said. "It's long overdue, from what everyone's told me."

Cardinal Coachlines holds the contract for the Yellowknife Accessible Transit System (YATS), which has an annual budget cost of $160,000, said Chris Greencorn, municipal works engineer for the City of Yellowknife.

The cost of $2.50 a ride covers the dedicated service, which operates on the same time schedule as the regular Yellowknife transit system.

Those wanting to use the bus must meet eligibility requirements, Greencorn said.

There is a two-wheelchair and six-passenger capacity, which he says is currently adequate, although expansion may be necessary.

Van Dyke has used the bus several times since its start-up.

"The people driving handled it well and knew what to do," he said.

Van Dyke said the city must realize there are many people with mobility difficulties. More could be done.

"Something like a simple ramp is so easy to construct and put in for access to a store or establishment," Van Dyke said.

While some businesses have the convenience of automatic door openers, he said it still can be difficult to get through a set of double doors, especially with only one hand to manoeuvre a wheelchair while warding off the doors with the other - and that's if the disabled person can use the second hand.

Even with one hand free, the other may be needed to drive a motorized wheelchair - if the person has that to use.

City Hall is one such example, Van Dyke said. "It's accessible, but it's not very user-friendly."

And if a person is able to get inside a store while in a wheelchair, then it is difficult to manoeuvre when the aisles are filled with merchandise.

"It's the little things like that (that are important)."