Paralympic hopeful Kyle Humphrey has seen an improvement in Para Transpo service over the past two years, but he’s still waiting for the game-changer.
“I’m no longer sitting on the phone for hours, so that’s gotten better, for sure. In terms of trying to get a booking, they have opened that up,” Humphrey said, referring to wait times to reserve trips.
“The unfortunate part is I still have to book a day before.”
After two LRT derailments in the last half of 2021 and the “Freedom Convoy” occupation to kick off 2022, OC Transpo has come to a period of renewal and reassessment as it tries to bring customers back to Ottawa’s public transit system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Para Transpo did 374,000 trips in 2021, which was 42 per cent of trips in 2019, the most recent pre-pandemic year. January 2022 and February 2022 registered 38 per cent and 48 per cent of 2019 Para Transpo ridership in those months, respectively.
OC Transpo general manager Renée Amilcar has made Para Transpo one of her seven priorities in the agency’s 2022 business plan, with a focus on online services and Presto card integration.
Humphrey is no stranger to the transit department since he has pushed management and the transit commission to address inequities for Para Transpo customers compared to the conventional service.
While he has seen shorter telephone wait times to make bookings and a gradual rollout of online booking, Humphrey says the requirement to book rides at least one day in advance remains a major annoyance for customers.
Spontaneous outings with friends or last-minute medical appointments are out of the question under the booking system, he said.
“Can you imagine being at work and your buddy saying, ‘Let’s go to the game tonight,’ or, ‘Let’s go to the bar tonight,’ and having to say no?” Humphrey said.
“We’re thinking of equity here.”
Humphrey, 32, said a better Para Transpo service would also help him access training opportunities as he chases his dream of playing for Canada’s sledge hockey team in the 2026 Paralympic Winter Games.
Para Transpo has become an afterthought because LRT has dominated public transit discourse, Humphrey believes.
“It’s just being forgotten,” he said. “It’s not being covered by any of the city council, and it’s not being covered by transit commission, and it’s not at the forefront of everyone’s mind.”
OC Transpo’s business plan for Para Transpo says the first phase of online services launched in 2021 was extended into 2022 because the agency needed more data during a period of low ridership. The agency plans to launch a notification system for booked trips by mid-year, develop a smartphone app later in the year and continue studying improvements to online booking.
The transit commission met last Wednesday for the first time since November.
Representing the group Ottawa Transit Riders in a deputation at the meeting, Laura Shantz spoke up for Para Transpo customers who want regular updates and statistics about the service. She questioned the need for Para Transpo customers to book rides a day in advance.
“Para riders have been incredibly patient and these simple equity measures are needed in order to let them have the same advantages that many of us take for granted,” Shantz said.
Para Transpo could receive more attention from the transit commission for the rest of the council term, which ends in November.
Coun. Riley Brockington said he would ask the transit commission this month to support receiving Para Transpo updates as dedicated agenda items for at least the rest of the term. He also wants management to provide more Para Transpo statistics in the semi-annual performance updates.
Humphrey hopes more bureaucrats and politicians at city hall will make Para Transpo customers a priority.
“I’m hoping someone at city council will say, ‘We got you,’” he said.