Changes to Winnipeg Transit Plus booking system ‘long overdue,’ but more trip options still needed: advocate

While a disability advocate says Winnipeg Transit Plus’s new booking system will make it easier for riders to schedule trips, he’s worried that one problem will still remain: a lack of trip options available to book.

The city announced two new ways customers can book trips on Winnipeg Transit Plus, which are set to kick in in June and July. They include a new automated phone service, complete with voice response technology, and a mobile and web application.

But Peter Tonge, a Transit Plus user who advocates for people with disabilities, said while the new ways to book are “long overdue,” he’s concerned customers will still have a hard time choosing from the limited trip options.

“We still have the problem that demand exceeds supply,” he said. “So some people, whether we’re using automated systems or not, are not going to get the transportation that they want. And for a lot of people, this is their only option.”

Winnipeg Transit Plus provides door-to-door transportation for people who require a level of assistance not provided on a Winnipeg Transit bus. Currently, users phone the service’s call centre and speak to a service representative to plan their trips.

They can book up to a week before their trip and until 5 p.m. the day before. But Tonge said since there aren’t a lot of trips available if you try to book the day before, he said he usually books six days ahead of time — an onerous task that can take him up to three hours each week.

“I’m booking my life a week ahead,” he said.

Tonge said he also often spends 30 minutes on the phone to make his arrangements. Over the last two winters, he’s had to wait about three hours on hold at times.

A man with a bald head and multiple piercings in his ears, wearing a black jacket with a logo that says "76ers Winnipeg" and a picture of a volleyball, is smiling at the camera.
Peter Tonge is a disability advocate and Transit Plus user. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

“One of the most challenging parts of using Transit Plus is waiting on the phone to speak to somebody to book your ride,” he said.

With the new booking system, Tonge said booking a trip won’t be as difficult, though governments should invest more money to make more trip options available.

“To be able to go into a system presumably 24 hours a day and book the rides that you need, that’s a big advancement.”

From June 11 to 18, riders will experience some changes in the way they book trips, the city said in a Tuesday news release. By the 18th, the automated phone service will launch. The app will be available by July 9, though a select group of people will have access to it before then.

Customers can still phone the call centre to book their trips.

Teresa Platt, the manager of client services division with Winnipeg Transit, said the new system could free up more rides, since the trips will be planned more efficiently.

“As the system looks at batching trips in a certain way … we’ll be able to utilize our vehicles in a more efficient manner,” she told CBC News.

“As we see that roll out, we’ll be able to analyze the impacts to service and what further resources would be required.”

The new system was developed by Spare Labs, a Vancouver-based company that creates transportation software.

Winnipeg Transit On-Request, which has been running as a pilot project since 2021, will become part of the Spare Labs system later this year.

E-cash payments will be available with the new system, the city said in the news release. A one-time transfer of up to $200 from Transit Plus accounts to e-cash is being offered as part of the launch.

Customers will be able to add a payment method to their profiles to pay for trips.