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Buses may allow free access for disabled

Lisa Scott
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 29/05) - After waiting years for a more accessible transit system, people with disabilities may soon ride for free. A proposal to allow free transit for disabled persons on regular city buses was introduced at council Monday night.

In the same meeting, council passed a motion to hire Cardinal Coachlines to operate the new accessible transit system that starts August 29.

The bus will be able to load people in wheelchairs and will provide on-demand service as well as following regular routes.

The company operates similar systems in Calgary and other cities in Canada and was the only company in the running for the $160,000 annual contract.

The proposal for free rides came from legally blind Yellowknife resident Andy Barnet, and was backed up by the regional offices of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

"I would like to make use of the bus services, but am on income support and the cost of using the bus makes it difficult," he said in a letter.

Disabled persons can board city buses right now at $1.50 per trip.

Barnet's request was for blind individuals to use the buses for free, but councillors decided to include all people with disabilities.

Norma Jean Jarvis, regional manager for the CNIB says the move will help her clients get out of the house more and be independent.

"Access to public transit will have a really positive impact because a lot of my clients have a really difficult time getting around," she said.

National surveys show that many legally blind people in Canada live below the poverty level, something that is true in Yellowknife too, says Jarvis.

There are 24 legally blind persons in Yellowknife and about 10 of those would be able to use public transit.

Cecily Hewitt, executive director for the NWT Council for Persons with Disabilities, couldn't estimate how many people would be able to use the regular buses, though she says the news was good.

"I was pleased that they recognize that all people with disabilities face challenges," says Hewitt.