City of Winnipeg pilot program for booking accessible rides has cut wait times, could become permanent: mayor

The city says a pilot program that focused on quickly getting wheelchair-accessible vehicles out to people in need of a ride has been a success so far — and the hope is to make it a permanent fixture in Winnipeg. 

Winnipeg Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle, or Winnipeg WAV, is a taxi-booking service launched by the City of Winnipeg two years ago.

Similar to other ride-hailing services, it lets users set their pickup and drop-off locations and arrange for a ride from the nearest available vehicle through a mobile app, the city’s website or by phone.

The dispatch service also acts as a backup when Winnipeg Transit Plus, the city’s door-to-door transportation system for people with disabilities, is booked up.

“We know Transit Plus works really really well for pre-scheduled trips like travelling to work or to appointments, but for getting home from appointments or going out for the evening, going out to dinner or for entertainment, that’s where having an on-demand service like WAV really helps to make life easier for those with mobility challenges,” Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham said at the news conference on Wednesday, during National Accessibility Week. 

The head and shoulders of Winnipeg's mayor in the foyer at the council building.
Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham, seen here in a file photo, says the city’s public service is working toward making Winnipeg WAV a permanent program in the city. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The city collaborated with multiple taxi companies, including Duffy’s Taxi and Unicity, and the Independent Living Resource Centre to make the program a success, said Grant Heather, the City of Winnipeg’s manager of vehicles for hire, during a news conference on Wednesday. 

Before the program, “to get rides was too difficult and wait times were far too long,” Heather said outside the Duffy’s Taxi building on Notre Dame Avenue, but officials said the program has helped address that.

In 2023, Winnipeg WAV handled 13,213 wheelchair accessible trips, nearly triple the 4,400 trips in 2022, Mayor Scott Gillingham said at Wednesday’s news conference. 

Data from the pilot program showed that 93 per cent of passengers were picked up early or waited no more than 20 minutes for a ride.

“Eight years ago, it was not uncommon for members of our community to experience two-hour wait times for an accessible vehicle for hire,” said Patrick Stewart, with the Independent Living Resource Centre.

A man in a blue shirt smiles for a photo.
Patrick Stewart, with the Independent Living Resource Centre, says the program was ‘born out of necessity,’ but it ‘puts Winnipeg on the cutting edge’ for providing accessible rides. (Submitted by Patrick Stewart)

The new vehicle dispatch system is working, and ridership is increasing, he said.

“What we have in place today puts Winnipeg on the cutting edge not just in Canada but internationally for accessible vehicle provider services and it was born out of necessity.”

Gillingham said customer satisfaction with the service was high, with 95 per cent of passengers giving the service rating of four or five on a five-star scale, based on 3,297 customer reviews in 2023. 

“We know that this reduction of wait times is a gamechanger for residents who depend upon these services,” he said. 

“Now that is the kind of results I would like to see in all of our city programs.”

Ram Valluru, general manager of Duffy’s Taxi and the project manager for Winnipeg WAV, said he didn’t initially think the service would get more than 10,000 trips during its first year. It’s now expected to see more than 20,000 this year.

“The most rewarding and satisfying experience is when customers say that their life changed based on this vehicle,” Valluru said. 

Winnipeg WAV also offers free accessibility training to taxi drivers and accessible vehicle owners, in addition to providing financial incentives for the purchase and maintenance of an accessible vehicle — something Stewart said provides “much-needed assistance for a job that is overlooked and taken for granted.”

The hope now is to make Winnipeg WAV a permanent program in the city, both Gillingham and Heather said.