Ottawa

New Para Transpo online booking system gets mixed reviews

Para Transpo now allows riders to schedule next-day trips online — a feature long-sought by customers frustrated by the unwieldy phone-booking system  — but not everyone is impressed by the upgrade.

Lack of consultation caused bugs, says former accessibility chair

While other cities moved to online booking systems years ago, Para Transpo users have had to put up with a phone-based system — until last month. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Para Transpo now allows riders to schedule next-day trips online — a feature long-sought by customers frustrated by the unwieldy phone booking system  — but not everyone is impressed by the upgrade.

Freelance journalist Sarah Trick and Catherine Gardner, former chair of the city's accessibility advisory committee, both use Para Transpo and reviewed the new service last week for CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"There's a number of problems that, if they had consulted with a number of us before launching it, the bugs may have been worked out," Gardner said.

While some other cities moved to online booking systems years ago, Ottawa's Para Transpo users have had to book rides by phone — at least they did until late last month.

The new online service requires users to input specific addresses, however. As a nature photographer, Gardner said the places she travels to don't always have one.

Catherine Gardner, former chair of Ottawa's accessibility advisory committee, says the new online service doesn't meet her needs. (Submitted by Catherine Gardner)

It also doesn't give her options to choose what mobility device she's planning to use, like a wheelchair or a walker — and that means there might not be a seat available, she said.

Likewise, while an option to bring a "companion" exists, Gardner said the website won't let her specify if she's bringing a service animal. It also doesn't let the user specify if their human companion also has mobility issues, she added.

For those reasons, Gardner said, she doesn't use the new service.

"It doesn't work for me," she said.

Trick told Ottawa Morning that while she hadn't yet used the new online booking system, she'd heard it can take a long time to confirm bookings — and as a journalist who needs to make quick decisions, that could be a problem.

"It can be kind of anxiety inducing, waiting around for like two hours, not knowing whether your trip is going to be able to happen," she said.

"I thought you'd press a button and then you'd know right away."

Online booking also only works until approximately 5 p.m., she added.

Still a driver shortage

Even with the new online system, the shortage of Para Transpo drivers remains problematic, Gardner said.

"There's been times when I've waited over two hours outside for a pickup," she said. 

Pat Scrimgeour, director of transit customer systems and planning at OC Transpo, said two-hour wait times aren't acceptable, but he knows they happen. 

"We are hiring more operators now," he said. "We're hiring them and training them. That will help us with our service reliability."

Scrimgeour said OC Transpo welcomes the feedback of riders like Gardner and Trick, noting that the new service was initially tested with a small group of riders.

His team considered delaying the service, he added, but decided that giving users access to booking rides online — perfect or not — was more important. 

Later in the year, the city plans to roll out apps for iPhone and Android, as well as booking for same-day trips.

Scrimgeour said Gardner and others will be able to track their vehicles' movements on their phones once the full version of the online booking system is released. Until then, there's a phone number customers can call to talk to an agent and find out the precise location of their bus or taxi.

Transit staff also say they hope to enable Para Transpo riders to tap their Presto cards on minibuses and accessible taxis by the end of the year.

“It can be kind of anxiety inducing, waiting around for like two hours, not knowing whether your trip is going to be able to happen,” Sarah Trick said. (Hallie Cotnam/CBC)

Scrimgeour said his team is consulting Para Transpo customers about the app's launch, and called the new online service "an interim process."

"It is working," he said. "There's been some improvement suggested by customers, including these two, but it's working and it's working very well."   

With files from Ottawa Morning and Joseph Tunney

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