Committee calls for review of London paratransit services following 2022 ‘satisfactory’ grading

File photo of London Transit office. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

The controversial self-evaluation of the London Transit Commission (LTC) service performance returned to city hall on Tuesday as a committee pushed for future refined grading criteria.

The civic works committee (CWC) unanimously voted for LTC to review and update the evaluation criteria for its 2023 annual report, with a particular focus on service delivery standards as advocates continue to call for significant improvements for paratransit users.

The decision comes after city council rejected the London Transit 2022 Annual Report in July as the commission self-evaluated its performance to be satisfactory as an “integrated, affordable, and valued mobility choice.”

Asking that the report be referred back to LTC, council also requested that a revised report be submitted to city hall.

But during Tuesday’s meeting, LTC officials announced that they stand by its initial report and grading.

Story continues below advertisement

“This grading has been in place for as long as we’ve been creating business plans for the LTC,” LTC chair Sheryl Rooth told the committee. “This is an overall scorecard of all of our services. It’s not just specialized. It’s not just conventional. It’s all of the services that we provide.”

Rooth explained that for the majority of 2022, LTC operated under pandemic restrictions, which impacted its supply chains, staffing and ridership.

“However, we did not deter from service, we were still on the road,” she said.

“We’re aware that there are gaps,” Rooth continued. “We are clearly aware that there are issues that we are working on, and the unfortunate part is, with a pandemic, you cannot get enough staff to drive the buses. You cannot get enough staff to clean and maintain and be a mechanic. You cannot do all the things that you want to do, and that is why we have the satisfactory grading.”

With regard to issues surrounding paratransit, Rooth added that “it’s not perfect.”

“We are working diligently,” she said. “We hear the people, we hear their comments…. But I think it’s really important for everyone who uses transit to know that we do care about our customers.”

Earlier this year, a formal audit request was sent to the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (ADO), alleging “the continued failure of the London Transit Commission to organize and maintain a functional specialized transit system for disabled Londoners.”

Story continues below advertisement

Accessibility advocates said that after nearly 20 years of hearing that the city’s public transit service is “looking into it,” the time had come to escalate their concerns.

Jeff Preston, associate professor of disability studies at King’s University College, was among those who authored the audit request letter. He voiced his ongoing concerns with paratransit accessibility to CWC on Tuesday.

“I questioned the adequacy of the self-evaluation tool in capturing the lived realities of paratransit users,” he said. “The volume of emails and phone calls that I’ve received this summer from riders reporting service failures is, although not unsurprising given my experience, troubling to say the least. Many of these people have stated that they have come to me because they’ve reported these challenges in the past, but no one was listening to their concern.”

Preston brought up the ongoing challenges with LTC’s specialized service not accepting Smart Cards, despite the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) stating that “the transportation service provider shall ensure that the same fare payment options are available for all transportation services.”

“We were told that Smart Cards will be coming online in 2020, a year after implementing the system on conventional transit, contrary to the AODA. We were then told it will come in 2022,” he explained. “Now we’re being told it’s coming in 2024, meaning almost five years of violation.

Story continues below advertisement

“The LTC said that last year that their work was satisfactory. But for myself, personally, I do not find it satisfactory that people are required to browse hundreds of times to book a ride, sometimes not getting through,” he continued. “I don’t think that it’s satisfactory that people have to wait sometimes for over an hour for late rides without any contact from the LCT, contrary to the ADO transportation standard.”

Preston added that while challenges posed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic did affect LTC, “things that people have experienced on paratransit were not new.”

“They were not new in 2022, they were not new in 2021. These are issues that have existed for years,” he said. “It’s about time that the commission put serious focus and significant focus on these initiatives to finally fix accessible transit in the city.”

Wendy Lau, CEO of Leads Employment Services, also addressed her concerns with the LTC satisfactory grading on Tuesday.

“I’m asking LTC to really focus on immediate support and action to the riders and to the public,” she told the committee. “At this point, there are very high needs.”

Ward 1 Coun. Hadleigh McAllister proposed the motion to have the LTC review and revise its grading criteria for the 2023 annual report, saying that “moving forward, we need a plan.”

Story continues below advertisement

“We do need a focus, and a lot of the issues that I’ve heard really do revolve around service delivery,” he said. “I’m giving the opportunity to LTC to review and refine the grading material because I do think there are shortfalls that we’ve identified in our review of the 2022 annual report and I would like that feedback to be taken on board for the LTC.”

Ward 3 Coun. Peter Cuddy highlighted the number of concerns raised by constituents who’ve used paratransit services over the years.

“I understand, listening to the speakers, that this is probably a systemic problem that has lasted for more than a decade,” he said. “I think this is our time (and) our turn to help fix the problem for all the ridership of LTC.”

Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis, who stood as acting mayor during the CWC meeting, said he still disagrees with some of the self-evaluation in the 2022 report, but added that he’s “more interested in how we address this moving forward.”

“I can support this is a good first step,” he said. “But I think what we’ve heard loud and clear from both members of council and the community is that we have a serious problem here that needs to be addressed.”

Ward 13 Coun. David Ferreira, who also sits on the LTC board, said council also has a role to play in addressing these paratransit issues.

Story continues below advertisement

“We are going to be getting a significant budget asked from the LTC coming up,” he said. “So there is a part of council’s role that we have to start considering in order to make some of these changes work.”

London Transit said it also plans to address paratransit challenges during the LTC meeting on Wednesday.

Sponsored content