In Winnipeg, a city in which “winter only service” had to be extended until the end of April this year, Handi-Transit is an invaluable service, especially during those harsh winter months. Handi-Transit provides transportation city-wide for many people with disabilities as long as they book the trip by phone before 11 am a day prior.
Gladiola Kehler, a Handi client, finds the lack of flexibility inconvenient. “It makes spontaneous outings, changes to schedule difficult,” Kehler says, before lamenting that they used to accept late bookings, but changes to the policy have made it difficult for her adjust to life’s curveballs.
According to Michelle Findley at the City of Winnipeg's media department, the service receives over 1,800 requests a day.
“Late booking requests that were being manually added to the schedule were causing delays, adding to the workloads of already tight schedules for the drivers, and in some circumstances, contributing to further delays which negatively impacted the quality of service,” Findley says.
Delia Knight, another Handi client, would like Handi-Transit to see more funding from the city to improve quality of service, but is amused when she and her husband travel alone on a large bus intended for many people, burning fuel on just two clients. Although it can be annoying when drivers hurry them into starting their trip 15 minutes early by ringing the doorbell, both Knight and Kehler appreciate most drivers for their “patience, diligence and grace”, despite long hours and an outdated booking system. However, they both acknowledge that there are some bad apples among the largely respectable group, with Knight claiming to have witnessed a number of drivers becoming impatient with elderly clients for being slow. She says some drivers even “have it out” for certain clients.
In one case, a client waited for a ride which never came, from a house in the West End. When the residents informed Handi, customer service said the driver had tried the door but it was locked and no one was there. The six residents uphold they had been waiting with their friend, and the door was unlocked. A week later, when a driver pulled up to the same house, for the same client, two of the residents went outside to set up the removable wheelchair ramp, however, less than a minute later , the driver left. Again, her friends filed complaints, but never heard back.
Jesse Turner, Accessibility Advisor at the University of Winnipeg, suggests that the service could be improved if the drivers received training about how to work with people with disabilities.
Although Handi-Transit is a much valued service, all three clients also agreed that the booking system could be improved. Turner suggests an online booking program would make the process easier, which could allow for a shorter time between booking and travelling. She would also like to see more drivers on the road, with more training to serve people with disabilities. These changes could see an invaluable program, designed to give people their dignity, fully realized in respect to the many Winnipeggers it serves.
Published in Volume 68, Number 27 of The Uniter (June 4, 2014)