‘It’s Winnipeg Transit Minus’: Transport service for physically disabled pushing inaccessible pick-up point

A Winnipeg woman says the safety of all Transit Plus users from 60 and 70 Wellams Lane is put in jeopardy as they're asked to meet at an inaccessible pick-up point. Joanne Roberts has the story.

A Winnipeg woman says her safety is being jeopardized by Transit Plus after being asked to meet at what she calls an inaccessible pick-up point.

Breanne Boyce is among several Winnipeg Transit Plus riders demanding answers.

“Our safety is not a request, it’s a human right,” Boyce told CityNews.

“It’s unreasonable and they’re putting our safety at risk. Winnipeg Transit Plus preaches safety, but the only thing they’ve been doing for our safety is disregarding it.”

Transit Plus provides door-to-door transportation for Winnipeggers who can’t use the city’s fixed public transit routes because of a physical disability.

In October, residents of two North Kildonan buildings – 60-70 Whellams Lane – were told by Transit Plus the service was no longer offering pick-ups in front of the buildings due to an overhang. Instead, the dozens of users living there were asked to walk to an adjacent building.

A Winnipeg Transit Plus vehicle. (Photo Credit: Steve Anderson, CityNews)

Boyce, who has been using Transit Plus for just over a year, says it completely defeats the purpose of the service.

“After going from being a fully sighted person to almost losing everything I have eyesight-wise, I am trying to have as much independence as I can,” she said. “I have been so lucky to actually get a job in the workforce. That company has hired me and the only way I can actually get there and have financial freedom (and) keep as much independence as I can is by using this service to get to work.

“I don’t even know where in the abyss that the other building lies, so how would Winnipeg Transit Plus expect me to find that building with no sight?”

Sheryl Peters (left) of the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities stands with Transit Plus user Breanne Boyce (right). (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

‘Is somebody going to have to die for this to change?’

Since Transit Plus announced the change, residents held a town hall and contacted the ombudsman in November to try and get help to reverse that decision, but Boyce says she’s still being left stranded without a ride.

“I’ve had my managers and my executive directors watch the Winnipeg Transit vehicles drive away, not stop at the buildings and mark me as a no-show,” Boyce said.

She’s encouraging others to speak up, saying the issue won’t be addressed if people are afraid to share their experiences.

“It’s not only affecting myself, but it also affects many other tenants and people on dialysis. And my question to Winnipeg Transit Plus is, what’s it going to take for this change to come into play? There’s people at risk here. Could you imagine if I can’t keep my roof over my head or if a dialysis patient misses an appointment. Is somebody going to have to die for this to change? Because that’s exactly what we’re on track for.

“I feel like a spokesperson on behalf of a lot of them, including the elderly and other disabled people. They deserve a quality of life, too, and that’s what we’re trying to have.

“A lot of tenants are very scared as well as other riders to speak up because services have been threatened to be taken away.”

–Transit Plus user Breanne Boyce

Boyce is in no way blaming the Transit Plus bus drivers themselves, calling them hard-working individuals.

“Many of the drivers are in fact really good people as well and being forced to work 12-hour days, minimum wage, six days a week (with) no breaks allowed. I can see probably why sometimes they do mark no-shows.

“The system is only as strong as the integrity of the people you plug into it, and the upper management are absolutely failing us.”

Boyce says she’s calling for immediate action from Transit Plus to make sure everyone at 60 and 70 Whellams Lane can access the service they need.

For the last two months, the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities (MLPD) has been trying to advocate for Boyce and other tenants in the buildings to no avail.

“Can you imagine how frustrated you would be if every day when you tried to get into your car to go to work, you actually have to hold a town hall meeting with your car manufacturer in order to get service to get to work?” said Sheryl Peters, a project coordinator at MLPD.

“This issue with accessibility for riders on Winnipeg Transit Plus, they need to look at the system and find out why it’s not meeting the needs of the Transit Plus users.”

Peters, who described herself as a “sighted” person “who does not have mobility issues,” attempted to walk from 60 to 50 Whellams Lane – what Transit Plus is asking residents to do.

“I had a really hard time getting from one building to the other,” Peters said. “It’s an old building, there isn’t a clear path, so even on the inside it is very difficult to navigate. Then if you have a sight impairment, it is impossible to navigate from one building to the other.

“People who use Winnipeg Transit Plus should not be required to do all of this extra effort in order to get the same service.”

Transit Plus claims pick-up point switch was reversed

There are conflicting accounts on the location change – whether it is still in effect or not.

Winnipeg Transit Plus has said it was suspending the pick-up location change pending an investigation. This has not happened, according to Boyce.

The City of Winnipeg’s manager of client services, Teresa Platt, says Transit Plus’ fleet cannot access 60 and 70 Whellams Lane due to the overhang. But Platt also insists all residents are being picked up there.

“Customers are still being picked up and dropped off as they always have been while we conduct these investigations and assessments with the customers,” Platt said.

Platt says every Transit Plus customer at the Whellams Lane buildings, including Boyce, has been contacted for feedback during the investigation.

“We certainly are very committed here at Winnipeg Transit Plus, working with our customers and removing potential barriers to service,” she said.

When asked whether Platt would feel comfortable having her loved ones using the Transit Plus service, she declined to answer.

Transit Plus bus. (Photo Credit: Steve Anderson, CityNews)

Progress following CityNews report

Boyce says issues with Winnipeg Transit Plus began on day one of becoming a customer. At times she’s had her work and her building’s property managers attempt to help in the constant fight to resolve issues, but claims they have all been ignored by the service.

The wheels of change have only begun to turn, she says, following attention from media and public servants.

“Quite frankly right now it’s not Winnipeg Transit Plus, it’s Winnipeg Transit Minus,” Boyce said. “And it’s a certain sad state of affairs and a huge problem when SkipTheDishes can offer more reliable food delivery service than Winnipeg Transit Plus can deliver ride service.”

Some progress can be noted in Transit Plus’ service in the aftermath of a CityNews report at the end of November.

User Anne Loewen was being left stranded in the city due to drivers not following protocols around her disability.

Her Transit Plus file asked drivers to come to her side door and ring the bell when picking her up. Instead, drivers would not let her know they had arrived, and simply leave.

In the two weeks since that report, Loewen tells CityNews supervisors of Transit Plus are now accompanying drivers to ensure she’s getting the service.

Anne Loewen has been using Transit Plus for six years. (Photo Credit: Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

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