Paratransit history

Adapted vehicle for disabled persons (1981)

After World War II, the Montreal Tramways Company adapted one of its buses to transport war veterans who were in wheelchairs. However, nothing further came of this initiative and it wasn’t until the 1970s that the idea of a paratransit service truly took hold. Confined to wheelchairs following a long illness, brothers Jacques and Jean-Marc Forest purchased the first adapted vehicle in 1972. The news spread quickly and to meet the resulting demand the brothers created the company Minibus Forest. By enabling handicapped people to leave their homes, Jacques and Jean-Marc Forest gave them the chance to fully participate in their community’s activities.

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Adapted bus for war veterans, 1953   Adapted bus for war veterans, 1953   Minibus Forest vehicle, circa 1975   Minibus Forest vehicle, circa 1975

In 1979, the 16 adapted vehicles operated by Minibus Forest logged nearly 70,000 trips. Although not insignificant, this was hardly sufficient to meet the needs of Montreal’s handicapped community. After years of courage, determination and hope, handicapped people won a major victory in 1980. On February 11, the Quebec government instructed the province’s public transit companies to begin providing service to the handicapped people in their respective territories, effective April 1. The Commission de transport de la Communauté urbaine de Montréal (CTCUM) took over from Minibus Forest and inherited its 16 vehicles.

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Paratransit vehicle, 1981   Paratransit vehicle, 1981   Paratransit vehicle, 1981   Paratransit vehicle, 1981

In April 1980, the paratransit service area comprised only the central part of the Island of Montreal, from the boundary of Montreal East to Connaught Avenue in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Starting in November 1981, service was extended to the entire territory, resulting in the purchase of 30 new minibuses equipped with hydraulic lifts. In 1983, the reservation system was computerized to meet the ever-growing demand. An Admissions Committee was also created with representatives from the handicapped community and the CTCUM. In 1984, the Commission initiated a pilot project for transporting handicapped people via taxi. In 1986, this transportation method was made permanent throughout the CTCUM territory.

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Paratransit vehicles, 1981   Paratransit vehicle, 1981   Paratransit vehicle, 1990   Paratransit vehicle, 1992

The new service remained very popular, with the number of trips increasing from135,000 in 1981 to 179,000 the following year—a 33% increase! And ridership continued to grow, exceeding one million trips yearly in 1994. This dizzying growth called for larger facilities. Initially operating out of the Bellechasse garage, the service moved to Place Crémazie in 1983 before finally settling at 3111 Jarry Street East in 1992. There were major changes to the paratransit service in 2003 with the introduction of the ACCÈS 5 reservation system, which allowed customers to dial a single number for all services: 514 280-8211.

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Paratransit vehicle, 2001   Paratransit vehicle, 2002   Paratransit vehicle, 2005   Paratransit vehicle, 2010

Today, STM’s paratransit service has over 26,000 regular customers and logs more than three million trips annually. The service has come a long way since its beginnings! The dream of Jacques Forest, who passed away in 1999, and his brother Jean-Marc, who left us in 2007, has continued, thanks to the dedicated work of hundreds of paratransit employees.

“A transit service for handicapped people is the key to freedom and independence” (Jacques Forest)

Brothers Jacques and Jean-Marc Forest (1988)

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