More than 28,000 wheeltrans registrants can expect longer waits for their rides when the door-to-door disabled transit service implements a 30-minute window for all its weekend trips across the city beginning in July.The extended wait time will apply to weekday trips starting in September.
About 50 riders came out to protest the move at a public meeting with Wheel-Trans officials Monday, April 28, where we were told that the changes are all about providing the maximum number of trips with limited resources.
"It provides us with a great deal more scheduling flexibility," says Wheel-Trans superintendent Bob Thacker.
But in the 10 service zones where the system is currently being tried, the riders' reviews haven't exactly been positive. A flaw in the computerized scheduling system has been giving riders half-hour windows that begin 15 minutes before a driver even starts his or her shift.
"Even the drivers hate this," says Wheel-Trans user Doug Faulkner, who is now organizing a petition to stop implementation of the 30-minute window. He's collected 300 signatures.
Presently, Wheel-Trans buses aren't considered late until they're at least 20 minutes behind schedule. Under the new system, riders will have to wait an additional 10 minutes before they can call to check on a vehicle's whereabouts.
A much more pressing need for Wheel-Trans is an overhaul of the seven-year-old computer system used to schedule 5,000 daily trips.
It's quite common for more than one vehicle to be dispatched to the same pickup location at the same time, each bus taking one person to the same destination or somewhere nearby. It happened twice when my neighbour Greg and I went out to support Faulkner's cause a couple of weeks ago. We were delivered on separate buses 20 minutes apart and were scheduled to go home on different vehicles as well.
We had called a couple of hours apart to book our trips the day before, but the software scheduling the rides was incapable of slotting the two of us together.
"It's something we're continually struggling with," says Thacker.
With an average public subsidy of $24 per trip, it doesn't take long to eat up Wheel-Trans's $48-million annual operating budget. It's easy to calculate the number of rides that can't be provided because multiple vehicles are doing the job of one.
Thacker believes that because the service is growing, the use of 30-minute windows for all rides is "a realistic approach, with all the construction and unknowns the system runs into daily."
Unless, of course, you have things to do.