Transit Plus wait times ‘getting ridiculous’
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The wait to request a Winnipeg Transit Plus ride has skyrocketed, forcing some callers to sit in the queue for two hours or more.
“The wait times have been incredibly (long)… It’s just getting ridiculous,” said Lori Ross about booking transportation through the city’s accessible Transit service.
The downtown resident and wheelchair user, whose mobility is affected by polio, said she waited 90 minutes on Tuesday to book a Transit Plus ride. Other times, she has hung up in frustration due to the wait, which typically means cancelling her plans and staying home.
“It’s a reality that (I) could be stuck at home more (this winter)… I can’t go down the sidewalks because they’re not (often plowed),” said Ross.
Booking a ride requires extensive planning to avoid conflicts with home care appointments as the wait to place a request lingers on, she said.
Transit Plus user Terry McIntosh called the current delays horrible. He waited two hours to request a ride last week and 90 minutes to book a ride on Thursday.
She has been forced to reduce, and sometimes cancel, outings and appointments due to the wait, McIntosh said.
“I can’t have a social life because it’s (so unreliable) and the time sitting on hold waiting (isn’t always worth it),” she said.
McIntosh, who also relies on a wheelchair, said the wait times to request rides typically took 15 minutes in the past, which she deemed far more manageable.
Patrick Stewart, a consultant with the Independent Living Resource Centre, said he has received frequent complaints about delays over the past six months.
“Riders routinely have to wait between one and two hours to book their rides, which is unimaginably frustrating and makes it incredibly difficult for people, not just to get transportation, but to live their lives,” said Stewart.
Since the city also removed a ride subscription option, which allowed users to book repeated rides at the same time for daily commitments such as work, more people have been forced into the booking queue, he added.
Transit Plus should take quick action to add an online booking system, Stewart said.
“It’s the 21st century and the fact that somebody has to call and speak to a live call-taker and isn’t able to simply submit the addresses and the times through a website, through a mobile app, is kind of astounding,” he said.
In an online notice, Transit Plus blames staffing challenges for higher than normal call wait times.
“We are seeing customer call wait times of over two hours. Winnipeg Transit Plus currently has five customer service representative… vacancies out of a total staff complement of 22. These vacancies, paired with an increase in absenteeism, (are) significantly impacting our ability to answer calls in a timely manner,” the notice states.
The notice adds that Transit Plus is trying to recruit staff but doing so has been difficult due to labour shortages.
While customers can dial 204-986-5711 for self-serve options to cancel trips or make balance inquiries, rides can’t be booked through that option.
In an email, a Transit Plus spokeswoman said an online option is being set up for assessments to register for the service to help lessen the workload for call takers, which could be launched as early as this week.
“We have also reinstated subscription bookings for customers who are requesting the same trips week to week, and we are contacting customers who previously had subscriptions to ask if they wish to return to them. Subscription service was initially removed during the pandemic to allow for customer service representatives to screen customers for symptoms/exposure to COVID-19,” wrote Megan Benedictson.
Many customers may not be aware of the subscription option, since the city is gradually notifying riders who used it in the past, she said.
The statement noted a software provider was unable to deliver an online booking system for Transit Plus but the city is working to add one.
“We are actively planning to replace this system and expect to put out (a request for proposals) for a system that would allow for online booking soon,” wrote Benedictson.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.