Real-time tracking promised for DATS shuttles gives riders hope for smoother service

An Edmonton Transit Service DATS bus turns the corner off 86 Street onto 57 Avenue on Oct. 12, 2018. Postmedia

A plan to add real-time tracking to transit shuttles used by disabled Edmontonians is part of a long overdue revamp of the system, some riders said Monday, as they described frustration over wait-times, missed appointments and the ability to even book a ride.

In an age where people can track a cheeseburger through apps like Skip the Dishes, those who use the Disabled Adult Transit Service (DATS) told a group of councillors it’s about time a high-tech overhaul allowed them to better plan their days.

“It’s 2019. We need to stop living in the stone age,” DATS user Bailey Coty said to council’s executive committee.

The city’s move to add GPS to DATS vehicles is part of a larger improvement plan for the service over the next three years. Officials started working on a new service model last October after residents’ frustrations over poor service came to a boiling point.

Edmonton Transit’s paratransit manager Paul Schmold said the new plan will include shorter ride times for shorter distances and appointment-based bookings, changes expected to cost $700,000 annually.

Currently, riders may be on a bus for up to 90 minutes — no matter how short the distance of their trip —as it picks up and drops off other passengers along the route.

Taxi vehicles also will be added to the fleet to improve same-day rides and fluctuations in demand, Schmold said.

“We’re understanding some of their major challenges and we have an action plan in place with a number of initiatives to address those challenges,” he said. “It’s a journey, it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Coty said this is a step in the right direction as she has never been able to book a same-day trip. For most trips, she needs to book the maximum three days in advance and even then she sometimes can’t get a trip during peak hours.

“I think there’s always room for improvement, but I like what I see,” said Coty, who uses an electric wheelchair. “People with mobility aids have lives … I go to school full-time, do a lot of advocacy work. These are time-sensitive things.”

As a student, Coty said booking a ride for Monday morning classes was almost impossible so she had to catch up from home. She hopes these changes will bring the service up to par with regular transit.

Since the latest round of DATS concerns were brought to council last October, Coty said she has noticed a slight improvement in the service’s pick-up and drop-off times.

But riders can still expect to wait up to 30 minutes for their vehicle to arrive, as the city decided to forgo a $3-million plan to cut down the window to 20 minutes. Councillors were keen on the idea and directed city officials to look into the pros and cons of moving forward with it and return in the fall.

Coty said she is pleased to see the city taking immediate action, but wants to see tangible results so people who have given up on the service might reconsider.

“They don’t go to school, they don’t do anything because they say DATS is so hard … and that’s never been me,” she said, noting that is why she is advocating for change. “I can’t stop even though it’s exhausting because there’s a hundred other people out there that stay in the shadows and I don’t want that.”


Frequent DATS user Bailey Coty said she is happy to see the city is moving forward with improvements to the service.

Dustin Cook

duscook@postmedia.com

twitter.com/dustin_cook3