Revise no-show policies, expand service, Manitoba Ombudsman advises Handi-Transit

Manitoba's ombudsman has recommended Winnipeg's Handi-Transit service consider expanding its eligibility criteria and questions the effectiveness of its system for penalizing no-shows.

Report also recommends removing Winnipeg Handi-Transit manager from appeal panel

A review of Handi-Transit, which will be rebranded as Transit Plus in 2019, is set to be included in the city's new transit service master plan. (Samuel Rancourt/CBC)

Manitoba's ombudsman has recommended Winnipeg's Handi-Transit service consider expanding its eligibility criteria, and questions the effectiveness of the transit service's system for penalizing no-shows.

The recommendations appear in a new 152-page Manitoba Ombudsman report released Tuesday, the result of an investigation into the service triggered by a complaint from the Independent Living Resource Centre, a local organization that helps people with disabilities.

The centre argued Handi-Transit, which will be rebranded as Transit Plus this year, has not met its commitment to provide universal access to the public transit system in a way that is reasonably equivalent to the fixed-route system.

Handi-Transit provides transportation for about 7,500 clients who can't use the regular bus system.

The ombudsman found that Handit-Transit met its commitment in many areas, but fell short in others, and made a total of 19 recommendations. The City of Winnipeg responded to each of those recommendations in a seven-page release.

Limiting eligibility for the service to those with mobility impairments "is somewhat restrictive," the ombudsman says in the report. It recommends Handi-Transit review its eligibility criteria to consider whether a person with other disabilities, such as certain cognitive impairments, can use the fixed-route system.

The city responded, saying such a review would be a "long-term project" and require more funding from city council. It recommended waiting for the completion of the Transit Service Master Plan, which will include an evaluation of the Handi-Transit service model.

Handi-Transit should also abolish a rule that limits service to areas within 500 metres of a conventional bus stop, and instead expand its services to all areas within city limits, or within one kilometre of a conventional bus stop, the ombudsman said. 

Handi-Transit is currently reviewing the policy, the city said. A September 2018 report to the city's infrastructure and public works committee estimated expanding the service city-wide would cost $410,000.

Reconsider fining no-shows

Handi-Transit should also reconsider its policy of fining no-shows who don't phone within 30 minutes of a scheduled pickup to cancel a trip, the report said. 

The ombudsman cited the "inordinate amount of time and effort" required to appeal a fine, as well as new software that is expected to improve Handi-Transit's scheduling system.

The new scheduling service, called RouteMatch, will include an online app, call-out notifications, and a web portal where users can schedule their own trips. In early 2019, as the app is rolled out, information sessions will be available for users. 

Handi-Transit committed to review no-show policies in other jurisdictions and said it would "revisit the issue of no-show fines." It also agreed to revise the wording on fine-notification letters, and will give riders 14 days to appeal a fine before deducting it from their account.

In order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, the ombudsman advised Handi-Transit against placing its manager of client services, responsible for managing service delivery, on the panel that hears appeals on eligibility decisions. It recommended Handi-Transit consider appointing someone from the disability community instead.

In response, the city said the manager would remain in a "consultative capacity," and it would add the chair of council's human rights committee, but that would require more money and council approval.

The ombudsman also made several recommendations centred around improving and clarifying the Handi-Transit complaint process. The city says it is in the process of setting up a centralized email system for taking in complaints, and will add information on the complaints process to all its written materials.

The city also agreed to the ombudsman's recommendation to create a comprehensive user guide.


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