'No trips for me': Scheduling problems escalate for accessible transit service
Regular users of Winnipeg’s Transit Plus say the service is worse after new software
Longtime users of Winnipeg's Transit Plus (formerly Handi-Transit) say the service has been at its worst since new software was introduced earlier this year.
The accessible service — which is part of Winnipeg Transit — had a rocky start to the year with customers reporting hours, even days, of waiting on hold.
Back in January, Winnipeg Transit told CBC that was a technical problem with new scheduling software.
It's since been fixed. But a new problem has taken its place.
Kevin Linklater, who's been using the service since 2012, says he's lucky if he can get accepted for a ride these days.
"Since the start of the year it's been downhill. There are no rides and you can't speak to dispatch. It's never been this bad. Like, I've missed three rides this week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. No trips for me."
Linklater says he typically uses the service four or five times per week. So far in 2019 he's been accepted for two or three of those rides on average. But even when he is accepted, he says it's typically only one way.
"What's the point if they can only take me there and not back; or back and not there? I just have to cancel those trips."
There aren't many alternatives this time of year. Linklater is in a power wheelchair and he doesn't have an easy time using sidewalks in the winter.
He says an accessible vehicle is the only way he can get around right now.
For Linklater, and others like him, a taxi service or rides from friends and family are the only other options.
But those come with their own set of problems.
Paula Havixbeck, a former Winnipeg city councillor, says her mother needs Transit Plus to go pretty much everywhere.
"If she didn't live with us I don't think she'd ever leave the house. She probably has three appointments a week. Forget about shopping; she can't go to the mall. Forget about visiting friends."
Havixbeck says her mother doesn't like to be a burden but the alternative is having to cancel important appointments.
She wasn't able to get a ride to her appointment at Seven Oaks Hospital this week. Transit Plus dispatch told her they could book a ride back from the appointment. But without a way there it had to be cancelled. Now Havixbeck is worried it'll be months before her mother will get another one.
This, she says, has been going on for weeks.
"This week — for the first time this year — my mom got a ride to and from her appointment. That was the first time since January."
For some other users of the service, a vehicle for hire is the only alternative when they can't get a ride.
Nolan Smith, who lives in an assisted-living facility, says he ends up taking taxis more often than he can afford to.
"Last week I was given a hard no, to or from [my destination]. The alternative was a $40 cab ride — one way."
A monthly pass for Transit Plus costs $100, $50 for seniors. Those without a pass pay $3 per way.
Smith has been in the process of moving from the Deer Lodge Centre to a transitional housing facility. He's been trying to book rides to view his new apartment and sign the lease.
Since his accident in the summer of 2017 he hasn't been able to work. Being on a fixed income, Smith says he relies on Transit Plus to be the most affordable way to get around.
But he says that just hasn't been the case this year.
"It's frustrating and debilitating, really. You just can't make arrangements to go places. Frustrating is a pretty nice way of putting it."
Linklater, Havixbeck and Smith have all been keeping records of the number of rides they're refused.
Havixbeck says she wanted to give the service some time to sort out the issues with the new system before she started complaining. But now she's says she's finally had enough and she's looking for someone to speak to about it.
"I just don't know how to complain," says Linklater. "When I call in they just say 'sorry Kevin but there are 200 people without rides right now and we can't get them rides.' You can't complain to dispatch but if I could I would just say, 'please get us to our destinations, there and back.'"
Matt Allard, city councillor for St. Boniface and chair of the infrastructure, renewal and public works committee, says users can share their experiences with him.
He says he's actively working to find solutions to the ongoing issues and hearing from those using the service can go a long way towards making it better for everyone.
Allard says there are a number of factors contributing to the problems, including the late implementation of the system, a shortage of drivers and vehicles and an increase in users.
Transit Plus has seen an additional 480 registrants compared to this time last year. Allard says he's not sure why they're seeing that increase but he's hopeful they'll all be getting rides before too long.
"We are doing everything we can to get the best value for our dollar at the level of municipal government," says Allard. "We're holding the line on transit in a very tough budgetary situation."
Allard says the provincial budget cuts in 2018 are still hitting transit pretty hard.
"City council had to make some tough decisions on transit when the provincial government arbitrarily eliminated the 50/50 funding for transit."
He says in addition to speaking with their city councillor about Transit Plus, users should reach out to their provincial representatives to let them know how important this service is.
In the meantime, Allard says Transit Plus is already seeing improvements. He says they've added four new vehicles and expects two more to be operating by the end of the week.
- An earlier version of this story mistakenly indicated Nolan Smith has a monthly $100 Transit Plus pass, which is not the case.Mar 12, 2019 11:52 PM CT