Roughly 7,500 Winnipeggers with disabilities use Handi Transit, and one advocacy group says the service is so problematic it's filing a complaint with Manitoba's ombudsman.

A 40-page report compiled by the Independent Living Resource Centre (ILRC) and the Public Interest Law Centre details concerns about what they say is an "inaccessible" and "unequal" transit service.

"In one sentence, it's not so handy," said Lori Ross, board chair of the ILRC.

Ross said the level of service is so frustrating, she's learning to take regular transit in her electric wheelchair.

Handi Transit offers door-to-door transportation for those living with physical disabilities in the city. The service requires users to book rides in advance, and it accepts bookings up until 11 a.m. every day.

At times, Handi Transit requires users to divulge the purpose of their trip if the service is busy. Rides are then prioritized into three categories:

  • Those who have work, school, medical appointments get first priority.
  • Priority 2 trips include travel for bank and legal services, religious purposes and essential shopping such as groceries.
  • Priority 3 consists of trips for recreation purposes.

"Every single person who uses the city transit does not have to say what kind of medication they're on, does not have to tell them where they're going, why they're going, what time they want to be there. They don't have to say what their weight is," Ross said.

"What about those of us retired, who have family, who have friends? Maybe you want to go to a movie. Maybe you want to go someplace else. It's an intrusion."

Wait times an issue

Another issue, according to the group, is lengthy wait times. Handi Transit operates with 65 vehicles daily, according to the city. Some users say more vehicles are needed, as the wait can be upwards of two hours outside the requested time for a ride.

"How would you be able to do [your] job if you had to be there at a specific time and they get you there 30 minutes late, or maybe two hours early, because that's when they could fit [you] in?" Ross said.

"How would your employer be with that? These are the situations we find our selves in on a regular basis."

Ken Shachtay can relate. He's been relying on Handi Transit since multiple sclerosis stole his ability to walk six years ago.

"They're doing what they want, when they want, with very little consultation and virtually no accountability," he said.

"It makes you feel like a second-class citizen, like you don't matter, whereas they're supposed to be a parallel service [to regular transit]."

Fewer guidelines than garbage pickup: advocate

Marie Lynn Hamilton, an advocate for the ILRC, has been on the team drafting the ombudsman complaint. She says when you compare Handi Transit against other public services, it doesn't stack up.

"The sad reality is that when you look at the legislation that governs it, you'll find that the management of garbage from your backyard actually has more [legislation than Handi Transit]," she said.

Hamilton said she has dealt with people who have been fined "no-show" fees when a driver has been more than 45 minutes late.

"Sometimes, I would say often, rides are late and if the person is not waiting when the ride arrives, then they'll be charged a no-show fee equivalent to one fare. The second time it's two fares….

"This is without any sort of oversight or allowance for the person to object to the no-show fine," said Hamilton.

City to meet with group

In an email to CBC News sent Thursday, a spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg confirms that staff "have been in contact with a representative from the ILRC regarding Handi Transit services."

"We look forward to meeting with them to hear their concerns and will work with them towards the resolution of any issues," the spokesperson said. "It would be premature to comment prior to our meetings with ILRC."

Ross says she hopes the complaint to the ombudsman sheds light on the challenges that Winnipeggers face and fuels improvements.

"We're not asking for anything special," she said. "We just want the same access as everyone else."