Para Transpo riders protest as OC Transpo tackles other problems
Small group held rally outside city hall Wednesday
Para Transpo riders dealing with late or cancelled trips say they're being left behind as OC Transpo focuses its efforts of fixing problems with the city's regular bus service.
A small group protested outside Ottawa City Hall ahead of Wednesday's city council meeting.
OC Transpo has been facing backlash after 216 buses were cancelled Saturday, partially because of a lack of drivers.
Extra drivers have been brought in to handle the 60 additional buses recently put into service. But that's being felt by Para Transpo users, who say they were promised some of those drivers would fill vacancies on their buses once the LRT started chugging.
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"We're also suffering too," said Catherine Gardner, a Para Transpo rider and community activist.
Riders have to book their trips a day in advance, and while Gardner said that process has improved, pickups are still a problem. She said users often face long waits for their scheduled rides, and sometimes they're cancelled without any explanation.
"There's been times when I've been dressed with five layers of clothing, ready for my bus, only to find out that my bus isn't coming for another hour."
She said OC Transpo has told users more drivers are coming, but not "until maybe the end of January, early February."
Without better service, people who rely on Para Transpo can become isolated, Gardner said.
"Activities are important. They're important for your wellbeing and so many people may not be getting their food, may not be getting out to get prescriptions," she said.
"And don't tell me that, 'Oh, get somebody else to do it for you.' Because that's taking away our independence."
Para Transpo users like John Redins say they're looking for the same dignity and treatment regular passengers receive, including similar late night service.
Whereas OC Transpo offers late night service on New Year's Eve, Para Transpo customers have to be home not long after midnight, he said.
"Are we not equal bodies that have equal people in this system? It doesn't sound like it," said Redins.
Staff being hired
The city's goal is to "fulfill every booked trip" on Para Transpo, said director of transit operations Jim Greer.
"We are actively working to recruit and train staff to meet these standards," wrote Greer in a statement to CBC News. "We are always available to meet with our Para Transpo customers should they have suggestions or concerns, as we value their feedback."
As for cancelled trips, Greer said Para Transpo is a "shared service" — meaning if one rider is delayed by heavy traffic, bad weather or other issues, it can have a ripple effect.
If your bus is going to be late, more than half an hour, call us.- Catherine Gardner
Sometimes one rider's vehicle ends up being cancelled so that another vehicle can be assigned in its place, Greer said, in the hopes that ultimately the new one will arrive sooner.
"When decisions are made to change a trip, they are not made lightly, nor are they done without careful consideration by our operational staff. The priority is to ensure the customer will get to their destination as quickly as possible," Greer wrote.
Ultimately, Gardner is hoping for the same thing OC Transpo riders have been seeking: better communication.
"If your bus is going to be late, more than half an hour, call us. Find a way to communicate with the riders so that we're not dressed and waiting for the bus only to find out it's not coming."