An investigation into a complaint made in 2016 about Winnipeg’s Handi-Transit service has led to 19 recommendations from the Manitoba Ombudsman’s Office, which said the service fell short in some areas.

The Ombudsman’s report out Tuesday came in response to a complaint made by the Independent Living Resource Centre, which provides services and advocacy for people living with disabilities.

The 42-page complaint made in February of 2016 characterized Handi-Transit as unaccountable, said the Ombudsman’s report, saying it had fallen short on its commitment to provide accessible public transportation that’s reasonably equivalent to Winnipeg Transit’s fixed route system, and failed to engage meaningfully with users “about service needs and appropriate service standards.”

The complaint outlined concerns with Handi Transit’s appeal process, alleging unfair and biased conduct at hearings and discriminatory criteria for determining who’s eligible for the service. 

The complaint also focused on service levels and poor customer service, “including the failure to uphold the commitment to provide safe, courteous and reliable transportation,” read the report. 

Concerns over “a lack of a coherent framework for governance and accountability” were also included in the complaint.

Tuesday’s report came after an investigation into the complaint by the Manitoba Ombudsman.

“We know that by undertaking an investigation such as this one, where we looked at multiple issues in a large program, we have the potential to positively impact many people,” said Marc Cormier, acting ombudsman, in a news release.

As the report was released, Winnipeg Transit said it is working to address the recommendations and Handi-Transit, which was recently renamed Winnipeg Transit Plus, is focused on providing accessible service.

Among the recommended changes is for Handi-Transit to broaden its eligibility criteria, change the membership of its appeal hearing body to replace a manager with someone from “outside of Handi-Transit’s internal eligibility decision-making process,” and produce a comprehensive user guide.

A number of the recommendations related to a ‘no-show’ charge for riders, with the Ombudsman’s officer suggesting a review of policies to see if the charge works. 

Winnipeg Transit shared some of the ways the city is responding to the recommendations, including that it would need funding and approval from city council to revisit its eligibility criteria. It also said that the manager who sits on the appeal hearing body would remain in a “consultative capacity” and it would see the chair of the human rights committee join the appeal panel as a voting member, though that would also require funds, a contract renegotiation and approval from council. 

In regard to the ‘no-show’ fee policy, transit said it is willing to revisit the issue and review how no-shows are handled elsewhere in Canada. 

Approximately 7,500 clients who are unable to use Winnipeg Transit’s fixed route system use Handi-Transit/Winnipeg Transit Plus.