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Transit accessibility raised at City of Powell River meeting

Council receives suggestion for handyDART bus availability during Blackberry Festival
POLICY CHANGES: At the recent Blackberry Festival, public transit was provided from Town Centre mall to Marine Avenue, where the event was being held, but there was no service for people with accessibility issues. City resident Marg Hodgins wrote city council suggesting that there be handyDART service during events such as the festival.

City of Powell River staff will be looking at policy changes that will help ensure accessibility is a consideration for daily business in the city.

At the September 12 committee of the whole meeting, councillors reviewed correspondence from Marg Hodgins, who indicated there were accessibility barriers for people wanting to attend the Blackberry Festival street party.

“It’s commendable that a free shuttle service was provided for the blackberry street party from [Town Centre] mall to Marine Avenue for the event,” stated Hodgins. “But how many folks with disabilities would have liked to attend this wonderful event had there been a handyDART service available?

“We could have taken our son, who thrives on social outings, but lack of access meant we did not do so. Perhaps handyDART could have provided service from the mall to one end of the closed street to offload, then reload those who need this service to participate. The use of regular transit is not the answer for everyone.”

Deputy corporate officer Jessica Lefort said Blackberry Festival is not a city-run event and the city provided support requested by the event organizers. In this case, it was provision of a shuttle service and helping with street closures.

Lefort said for handyDART, the organizers of Blackberry Festival would have had to apply to BC Transit for special event shuttle use after hours, with prebooking required.

“A lot of pre-planning on their part would have been required,” said Lefort. “From a staff perspective, first and foremost, we are looking at policy changes for accessibility to be a consideration, which would include event planning.”

City councillor Cindy Elliott said she was curious about whether the concept could be put to a planning process that might look at how the city coordinates and works with event organizers to look after the public interest regarding accessibility. She said maybe that belongs with the newly formed accessibility committee.

“My thoughts are this is a very worthy idea,” said Elliott. “If we as a city standardized how we help events get organized and pay attention and ask questions about accessibility, we might have events across our city organized where we facilitate ensuring accessibility.”

Lefort said the accessibility committee is in the process of formulating a plan. She said a big piece of the plan is policy to ensure accessibility is standard practice.

Councillor Earl Almeida said he attended the festival for the first time this year and used transit.

“The one surprise as an able-bodied person was that the bus dropped us off at Duncan Street and Marine Avenue, which has an incline, where the bus stopped,” said Almeida. “It was fine for myself and my family, but I imagine that it could be difficult for anyone who might be a little bit challenged.”

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