People who used to ride on the Wheelway paratransit bus service are now becoming accustomed to GoBus Accessible Transit, which took over the service Jan. 1.
According to some riders, it has been a rocky first month of service, although the general manager for GoBus says numbers show service is improving.
Suzanne Petten, who uses a wheelchair, made a booking mid-January to have the service pick her up at her apartment on Bay Bulls Road at 9:45 a.m. so she could make an appointment 45 minutes later at the Dr. Leonard A. Miller Centre.
The night before she was due to leave, her boyfriend Bill Bennett called to reconfirm the booking.
The time had been changed to 10 a.m. Checking again the next morning, the time was changed to 10:10 a.m.
In the end, Petten’s bus arrived at 10:25 a.m., five minutes before her Miller Centre appointment.
“I phoned them the next day and said, ‘Boys, I had to be there for 10:30 a.m,’” said Petten.
Ralph Clarke, who has cerebral palsy, has made bookings with GoBus only to learn later they were cancelled.
“It’s really a hassle,” he said. “There’s a lot of people having problems with them.”
Petten said when booking times are changed, no notice is given to users.
“It’s very stressful, because I could call in now, and they’d say it’s all booked up,” said Petten.
“I’d like to see them treat people half-decent,” added Bennett.
Mark Pritchard, general manager for GoBus, said the service started out with a reduced fleet of 10 wheelchair accessible vehicles. It now has all 18 of its vehicles, operating 17 each day.
“When we pulled out on Jan. 1, as with any transition with new companies, we did have some isolated start-up issues, which have over the last month been dramatically reduced,” he said.
For the day of Jan. 30, Pritchard said GoBus operated with an on-time rate of 97 per cent. He said increases have been experienced on a weekly basis through to the end of January. The average from Jan. 1-29 was 92 per cent.
Pritchard added that GoBus operates with a 15-minute window for pickups, meaning a bus can arrive 15 minutes before-or-after a scheduled stop.
A class of new drivers are now being trained, according to Pritchard, giving the service more staff to use for on-call purposes.
“Of course with new drivers, it takes them a little while longer to learn the city,” he said, adding that buses are being equipped with computerized GPS devices. “That will help the drivers get around town.”
Bennett said they have called the GoBus general manager multiple times to voice their concerns about the service, but those calls have not been returned. The only person who responded to their complaints as of last week, according to Bennett, was Coun. Tom Hann, who serves on the City of St. John’s paratransit committee.
Contacted by The Telegram on Tuesday, Hann said based on information he has received from the city’s transit co-ordinator, there has been an increase in paratransit usage since GoBus began operating.
“A 91.75 per cent on-time rate is not bad for the first month of operations,” he said.
“Yes, there have been some complaints, and as soon as they come in, they’re addressing them.”
While service provided by Wheelway in the past was not always perfect in his own view, Bennett feels Wheelway tried its best to accommodate passengers.
“Wheelway wasn’t this bad,” adds Petten. “When you called Wheelway, they were right there to get you on time.”
While it may be a new company in name, Clarke said many GoBus workers were previously employed by Wheelway. He would like to see the city arrange a meeting for users to voice their concerns.
Hann said the city has already hosted a public meeting on paratransit and consulted with the public prior to selecting the new service provider.
“It’s not the city they have to deal with, it’s the company who has the contract to run the service,” he said.
Petten suggest GoBus should have made a fresh start with all new drivers and dispatchers.
Bennett said his girlfriend has received improved service since voicing her complaints through local media. However, he is adamant problems persist for others.