'What's the purpose of your trip?': Priority system that questions Transit Plus users under review
Concerns are being raised about the system used to schedule rides for users of Winnipeg Transit Plus, which provides service to people who live with a disability.
It's a system which questions riders about where they're going and assigns trips based on importance.
The priority system has been put under the microscope by the city after the Manitoba Ombudsman released a report on the service.
Lucie Diane lives with multiple sclerosis and uses a scooter and Transit Plus to get to work, church and go shopping.
When scheduling a pickup, she and other riders get asked, "What's the purpose of your trip?" It’s a question Diane feels they shouldn't have to answer.
"Sometimes I would just want to say I'm going to this address and the time I need to be picked up and the time I need to be dropped off,” she said. “That would be really pleasant rather than having to get into details as to why I'm going where I'm going."
The reason they're asked is because unlike fixed-route transit, Transit Plus schedules rides based on a priority system.
The service doesn't have the resources to provide all requested rides, so priority one trips for work and medical appointments take precedence over priority two trips such as grocery shopping, personal business such as banking, and religious services.
Recreational activities, haircuts and eating out go into priority three.
"I've had to lie,” said Diane. “I've had to say it's medical, meanwhile, I just wanted to get a haircut."
The system's been reviewed and modified by the Transit Plus Policy Advisory Committee.
The Manitoba Ombudsman concluded earlier this year that Transit Plus's trip priority system would benefit from further review -- to ensure the service is reasonably equivalent to fixed-route transit.
It’s a finding disability rights advocate Allen Mankewich said needs to be taken seriously to remove barriers Transit Plus users sometimes face.
"They need to be able to do recreational activities, social activities,” said Mankewich. “All the day-to-day things that most of people would take for granted and people aren't able to do that because they're not able to get rides."
In an update given last week to the city’s infrastructure renewal and public works committee, Winnipeg Transit officials told city councillors the priority system is being reviewed as part of the Winnipeg Transit Master Plan.
"If you look across Canada jurisdictionally the other option is first come, first served,” said Josie Fernandes, client services manager, Winnipeg Transit. “So in a system where you're unable to provide every ride that's requested, there's always going to be individuals that will not get their ride."
Officials say the alternative also comes with drawbacks.
"With the priority system, some individuals have those rides guaranteed,” said Fernandes. “With first come, first served, nobody does."
Diane has previously been denied trips for recreational outings.
"I think there should be some more flexibility,” she said.
She hopes the review leads to more rides and fewer denials.
The city has fully or partially adopted 10 of 19 recommendations made by the Manitoba Ombudsman.
A report on implementing the remaining changes is currently being prepared.