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This article was published 8/1/2019 (375 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Handi-Transit should broaden its service eligibility criteria, revisit its approach to no-show charges, and improve the way it handles complaints, according to a 152-page report by the Manitoba ombudsman.
The ombudsman initiated its investigation three years ago, following a complaint filed by the Independent Living Resource Centre, a Winnipeg-based organization that supports people with disabilities.
The report contains 19 recommendations, including removing the Handi-Transit manager from an appeals panel. It also recommends Handi-Transit — which is changing its name to Transit Plus — produce a comprehensive user guide.
The service provides transportation for about 7,500 clients who are unable to use Winnipeg's fixed-route transit system because they are legally blind or have a physical disability that significantly impairs mobility.
"What we can say is we are cautiously optimistic," Marie-Lynn Hamilton of the ILRC said Tuesday, after the report's release.
"We are concerned about the timeline for implementation... The city has had some of the recommendations for six to eight months now."
Hamilton, who helped draft the 40-page written complaint which sparked the ombudsman's investigation in February 2016, said all of the recommendations — or a portion of each — were pushed by the ILRC during months of meetings with Handi-Transit. Those meetings went nowhere, she said.
"We're not entirely optimistic the city will implement the recommendations. To have to have the ombudsman make a recommendation about existing laws — that drivers not use cellphones while driving — speaks volumes how eroded the service is."
Acting ombudsman Marc Cormier agreed many of the recommendations the ILRC brought forward made their way into his office's recommendations.
Cormier said the office will be following up to make sure the recommendations are implemented.
The City of Winnipeg has agreed to change the makeup of its Handi-Transit appeal hearing panel, a forum for applicants determined to be ineligible for the service, by removing the Handi-Transit manager involved in the application process. The role will be filled by a member of the city's new human rights committee.
"None of the complaints are minor, but when we look at the big picture, the number of complaints are reasonable, but they can be better dealt with," Cormier said.
Coun. Brian Mayes, who has been advocate for extending Handi-Transit service to all areas of the city, said he was pleased the recommendations have been released.
"This complaint has been out there for years, and I’m just glad he’s finally moving on it."
Mayes (St. Vital) said some of the recommendations are straight-forward and he’s glad to see city hall agreeing to act on them. However, some are linked to Transit’s long-term planning initiative and a proper response won’t be available until the effort is complete, he said.
Josie Fernandes, Winnipeg Transit manager of client services, said no single recommendation will have the greatest impact on improving Handi-Transit. "We’ve already implemented a variety of (initiatives)."
Driver training has been updated, a new user guide for passengers will be out in six months, a new procedure will be put in place shortly that will allow riders to email complaints and comments, and a new scheduling system will be in place in a couple of months, he said.
"I think it’s the overall quality of the service that we’re trying to improve," Fernandes said. "What we will go forward with is look at each recommendation and say, ‘How does this improve the service and how can we put it in place as soon as possible?’"
— with files from Larry Kusch
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.