Para Transpo to welcome more riders aboard, transit commission decides

Ottawa's transit commission has voted to broaden Para Transpo service to include a wider group of customers, estimating between 800 and 2,000 people with intellectual disabilities or mental health issues could sign up for door-to-door rides.

OC Transpo estimates up to 2,000 new riders could sign up for door-to-door trips

Changes to who's eligible to ride Para Transpo, and how they book rides, should be implemented by 2017, provided city council gives its approval. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Ottawa's transit commission has voted to broaden Para Transpo service to include a wider group of customers, estimating between 800 and 2,000 people with intellectual disabilities or mental health issues could sign up for door-to-door rides.

The recommendations come after a year-long review of who should be eligible to take Para Transpo minibuses and accessible taxis, and how they should book their trips.

OC Transpo management couldn't pinpoint how many new riders might apply to use Para Transpo, but general manager John Manconi said his department is not budgeting for any extra customers at this point.

"We'll see what the uptake is and work our way through it," Manconi said.

25,000 no-shows per year

Manconi assured transit commissioners at a meeting Monday that OC Transpo does have a strategy to pay for all the changes stemming from the review, including hiring a medical professional to review applications.

He pointed to a new, "aggressive" contract with Coventry Connections for its accessible taxi service that he said freed up money to accommodate more Para Transpo riders.

Para Transpo also has an improved dispatch system, and has converted its fleet to a new model of minibus that can carry more passengers, said Manconi.

Improvements to the booking process and an updated penalty system also aim to address a large number of late cancellations and no-shows. 

Some 25,000 Para Transpo trips each year are no-shows, said assistant general manager Pat Scrimgeour. Another 100,000 trips are cancelled late, Scrimgeour said. The city acknowledges many of the cancellations and no-shows are unavoidable.

"It's not about that. It's about doing what's right for the customers," said Manconi. "Is there some abuse? Yes, and we will deal with it an appropriate and caring manner."

Consulting from the bottom, up

As part of the review, OC Transpo held more than a dozen in-person consultation sessions and distributed a questionnaire, while a working group of transit commissioners looked at the many issues.

"This is a bottom-up approach that was used here," said Coun. Marianne Wilkinson, who hoped other city departments might use a similar model of consultation. "It takes some time. It takes some effort. But in the end you get a better product."

Only four people showed up to speak about the recommendations on Monday.

"I think that, often, the closer we come to getting it right in a staff report, the less people that are out there wanting to make public delegations," noted citizen transit commissioner Blair Crew. 

If the Para Transpo recommendations receive full council approval, they should be implemented by the spring of 2017.