‘Enough is Enough’: Advocates Say London’s ParaTransit Needs Immediate Change

3 Londoners weigh-in on the state of paratransit in the city Michelle Both, CBC News
Posted: Jan 12, 2023

Londoners are speaking out about ongoing issues with paratransit in London – and renewing calls for change after years of frustration.

Complaints are surfacing about an overloaded booking and transportation system that is leaving many users without rides to necessities like medical appointments. The London Transit Commission (LTC) said more time is needed to address the issues, but advocates are saying it’s time to fix the problems.

LTC’s specialized transit service has 11,000 people registered – and offers door-to-door transportation through a contracted company for people with a disability that prevents them from using regular bus service.

CBC News spoke with three people affected by paratransit challenges in London. Here’s what they had to say.

Jeff Preston, Associate Professor

Jeff Preston started using paratransit more than 20 years ago when he moved to London. The system was already “dysfunctional” then, said the associate professor of disability studies at King’s University College.

“The same problems continue to exist over and over and over again. It’s time to fix this problem,” Preston said. “It’s time for our city councillors to sit down and say enough is enough. We can do better.”

After “rarely” being able to get where and when he needed to go on paratransit, Preston bought an accessible vehicle – an option that’s “extremely expensive” and outside the financial means of a lot of people, he said.

“I simply couldn’t rely on the system. I couldn’t depend on it in order to live my life,” he said.

Preston still sees friends “missing out on life” because they can’t get rides.

“I think that, at times, the problem of paratransit is easy for people to ignore because it doesn’t always affect people in their daily life. Because if you’re not a paratransit user, you’re not seeing these challenges upfront,” he said.

“It’s not just unfair. In my opinion, it’s unjust.”

Preston wants to see more online and scheduled booking options and explore reimbursing for individual taxi rides when paratransit isn’t available.

Lorna McKenzie, Personal Support Worker

Frustration is building for Lorna McKenzie, a personal support worker in London who’s been using paratransit with her clients for work.

“We need to see change at a faster pace. I’ve been riding the service for 12 years, and things have only gotten worse, not better. It needs to change, and it needs to change immediately,” she said. “I’ve complained over and over again… and it goes nowhere.”

McKenzie said her workplace recently had to foot a $60 taxi bill after paratransit wasn’t available on Saturdays, after hours spent trying to book rides. She said she once waited three hours for a paratransit pickup after the person she was supporting vomited while they were out.

“It’s very, very frustrating that the most vulnerable in our society aren’t treated with more dignity and respect. They are people too. They deserve a service that will serve them,” she said. “The humans that use this service suffer. We all suffer. It’s just, it’s not practical, it’s not available.”

She believes the paratransit driver shortage could be remedied if their pay was increased, adding the work is physically demanding.

Brian Dunne, President of PHSS

Paratransit is an incredibly important service in the city, said Brian Dunne, the president of PHSS Medical & Complex Care in Community, which supports about 300 Londoners with developmental, medical or complex physical needs.

“Sadly, it’s not always as responsive as it should be, and currently, there are a lot of challenges,” he said.

Dunne said he’d seen ongoing problems with the phone-based booking system, cancellations and booking times, among other challenges.

“There’s all kinds of issues around the immediacy of transportation needs, responsiveness and availability,” Dunne said.

PHSS raised funds to buy their own accessible vans because they could not rely on paratransit to meet the needs of the people that they support. Their organization, which has more than 75 locations across Ontario, said they aren’t having the same issues in other cities, such as Ottawa.

“It is a huge barrier to their independence in the community,” he said, from getting to medical appointments to getting groceries or visiting family.

“We need a system that’s able to accommodate that if we’re going to be a caring, healthy community that we’re trying to build.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Both is a reporter for CBC London. She holds a master’s degree in journalism and communication from Western University. You can reach her at michelle.both@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @michellelboth.

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/enough-is-enough-advocates-say-london-s-paratransit-needs-immediate-change-1.6705840