November 14, 2019

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Transit Plus booking-system change made frustrating winter for users worse, city report says

Winnipeg's Transit Plus service went from bad to worse last winter as the service was rolling out a new scheduling system to address problems identified in a lengthy report from Manitoba's ombudsman.

Ombudsman report puts spotlight on Handi-Transit shortcomings

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Marc Cormier, Manitoba's Acting Ombudsman
Marc Cormier, Manitoba's Acting Ombudsman

Posted: 08/01/2019 7:00 PM

From Jan. 8, 2019: 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.

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In January, the ombudsman issued a 152-page report detailing recommendations to improve the accessible transportation service formerly known as Handi-Transit — such as allowing more people to use it, responding to their complaints and addressing broken policies that automatically charge people for "no-shows" if the driver can’t spot them and denying rides deemed unimportant.

Transit Plus launched RouteMatch, its new ride-booking system, that same month in an attempt to fix some of those issues.

But the next month, complaints surged even higher, with 421 in February alone.

"The frustration was very real," said David Kron, executive director of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba. Members told him the availability of rides was "awful" and they still haven't received an explanation.

A report to city council’s public works committee details a perfect storm of problems, beginning with actual storms that caused two citywide power outages and bad weather in February that caused vehicle break-downs.

But five long-term staff also quit, and the new trainees were forced to enter all bookings in both the new and old systems — causing call wait times to skyrocket to an average 13.22 minutes in February.

As of July, wait times were back to 2.5 minutes, the report states.

David Kron said several times this year he’s been standing outside with a Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba member waiting for Transit Plus — but the vehicle never arrives, and the client is charged anyway, marked as a "no-show." (Jason Halstead / Free Press files)

David Kron said several times this year he’s been standing outside with a Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba member waiting for Transit Plus — but the vehicle never arrives, and the client is charged anyway, marked as a "no-show." (Jason Halstead / Free Press files)

Drivers learning the new system often went to incorrect locations or missed instructions about location, it also states.

Kron said several times this year he’s been standing outside with an association member waiting for Transit Plus — but the vehicle never arrives, and the client is charged anyway, marked as a "no-show."

"The no-show policy is very problematic," he said.

Overhauling the no-show policy is one of 14 ombudsman recommendations to fix Transit Plus that haven’t been implemented.

The priority system — that makes it more likely for a client to get a ride to the doctor than to a friend’s house — has also been widely criticized.

About 25 per cent of 538,189 ride requests were denied in 2018.

Above all, Kron wants better communication; he said he filed a few of the hundreds of complaints made during the winter on behalf of members.

"I’ve never heard a word back about what happened or who was at fault. The communication with the community really needs to be improved, and it can’t just be one-way, it needs to be both ways," he said.

The report states things are getting better: complaints were down more than 50 per cent in July compared to February.

But there are half as many Transit Plus riders in the summer, because it’s easier for people to navigate sidewalks to bus stops.

"If they can, they do, because it’s easier than using Transit Plus," Kron said.

“Nobody should be stuck staying at home. It’s frustrating for everybody.” - David Kron, executive director of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba

Transit Plus service is provided by private transportation companies under contract to the city.

The possibility of a strike by Winnipeg Transit workers, is a source of concern for Kron, because it could lead to more requests for Transit Plus service, and in turn, more denied trips for non-essentials such as shopping and attending events.

"Nobody should be stuck staying at home," he said. "It’s frustrating for everybody."

tvanderhart@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @tessavanderhart

Tessa Vanderhart

Tessa Vanderhart
Reporter

Tessa Vanderhart is interested in everything, but especially local news, health policy and statistics.

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