Para Transpo investment stops short, users tell commission

Some Para Transpo users are frustrated the city plans to continue to put millions into OC Transpo without improvements to service for the disabled.

'It makes me feel that I have been shortchanged,' wheelchair user tells transit commission

Para Transpo users criticised the service, calling it low quality and unreliable, at a transit commission meeting on Monday. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Some Para Transpo users are frustrated the city plans to continue to put millions into OC Transpo without improvements to service for the disabled.

The transit commission approved the 2018 draft budget with $74.3 million set aside to replace and maintain mainstream buses, but no new investments for Para Transpo services. 

"I don't understand how they can live with themselves," said Carol Chantal after speaking to the transit commission.

Chantal has used Para Transpo for two decades. She said demand for Para Transpo services is on the rise as the population ages and the city expands, and more accessible buses are needed to keep up.

Wheelchair user Carol Chantal told the city's transit commission about her frustration with a budget that she said favours able-bodied riders. (Laura Osman/CBC News)
But there are no plans in the budget to add more Para Transpo buses to the fleet. While the city continues to invest in new buses for mainstream riders, Chantal said the quality of Para Transpo service is slipping.

"It makes me feel that I've been shortchanged," she said.

Service slow, unreliable and uncomfortable

She was one of several riders with accessibility needs who told transit commission about difficulties getting around using Para Transpo and OC Transpo.

Wheelchair user Robert Crout told the commission that while traditional buses have accessible spots, the buses are often packed and there's not enough room for his chair.

Crout said accessible taxis put a strain on his chair because it sits right over the back wheel of the vehicle, making for a bumpy ride.

He said if he does get a Para Transpo bus, he has to book 90 minutes ahead if he hopes to get where he's going on time.

"Para must be thought of as an essential service," Crout said.

The Ottawa Seniors Transportation Committee asked the transit commission for more resources so that the 50,000 registered Para Transpo users can better access the service at the same level as conventional transit.

Service improving, city says

A few years ago Para Transpo moved its operations in-house, and had to buy a whole new fleet of 82 accessible buses, ten fewer than the previous contracted fleet. The city has contracted accessible taxis to fill the gap.

Speakers at the transit commission said they find the taxis unsafe and unreliable, but city administration said the taxis have improved the system.

"Since 2014 to present, we've increased the number of trips we've been able to provide to the customer," said Troy Charter, OC Transpo's director of operations.

Pat Scrimgeour, OC Transpo's director of customer systems and planning, told the commission they have made steady improvements to the system. Now only 1.25 per cent of users are refused service, though this still amounts to thousands of trips per year.

If even one person who is refused service it is too many, said Coun. Jeff Leiper.

But Scrimgeour said it would be "very expensive" to make sure every Para Transpo customer gets a ride.