A proposal to bring Para Transpo's ride booking system into the digital age is being met with both excitement and trepidation among users who continue to struggle with long wait times.

Currently, Para Transpo users can spend hours waiting on the phone, even after calling as early as 7 a.m. to book a ride for the following day.

At a public consultation Tuesday evening, many riders called for an online booking system to replace the outdated phone queue.

"At least you will be wasting less time to get limited service," said Anne Marie Todkill, who routinely books rides for her brother, who has developmental disability.

Serious concerns

But OC Transpo says it needs to overcome some serious concerns before moving ahead with an online booking system.

'If there aren't the rides available, it's just the same problem as we're having all the time.' - Brenda Cardillo, Para Transpo user

The transit service is concerned that if it moves to an online system, users who continue to book by phone will be left out in the cold. The agency needs to make sure available Para Transpo spots aren't immediately snapped up by people using the more efficient online system, leaving those who are unable to access or use a computer without a ride.

"We know that in some cases, customers who are reliant on Para Transpo may have those potential barriers that are compounded in a way other customers may not have," said David Pepper, manager of customer services for OC Transpo.

Frequent Para Transpo user Jaques Quesnel said he's worried the existing phone service will suffer once an online system is introduced.

But OC Transpo officials at Tuesday's meeting vowed they won't sacrifice one service for another.

"We wouldn't let one suffer for the other," said Danielle Ritz, a team leader with OC Transpo's customer service and planning division.

More buses needed, users say

Regular Para Transpo users at Tuesday's meeting described being tethered to their phones every morning starting at 7 a.m.

Catherine Gardner, who uses a wheelchair and has a service dog, said she had to upgrade her phone plan because she was spending so much time on hold.

Others said updating the booking system won't necessarily solve that problem, and urged Para Transpo to add more buses to its existing fleet.

"If there aren't the rides available, it's just the same problem as we're having all the time," said Brenda Cardillo, who has used Para Transpo for 26 years. 

'Refusal rate' improved'

The city has improved its "refusal rate" on Para Transpo, which measures how often disabled transit riders are turned down for a ride. The rate dropped from 4.7 per cent in 2016 to 1.2 per cent in 2017.

But users said more buses and drivers are needed to keep up with growing demand for Para Transpo, and until the city makes a serious investment in the service it's not likely to improve.

The 2018 city budget was approved last month with $74.3 million set aside to replace and maintain mainstream buses, but no new investments for Para Transpo.

City staff have not decided to move ahead with an online booking system yet, and there's no clear timeline for when they'll make that decision.