City of Ottawa plans to roll out Para Transpo online booking in 2020

The Canadian Press Images/Francis Vachon

Ottawa’s public transit agency is planning to roll out bilingual online booking services for Para Transpo users beginning in early 2020, with the full suite of services going live by the end of next year, the transit commission heard on Wednesday.

Ottawa is behind several large Canadian cities in implementing online booking for a paratransit users. A presentation by OC Transpo staff to the commission said that Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton and Hamilton already offer online booking, while Vancouver is in the process of setting it up.

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Users of Para Transpo in the national capital have long called for an online booking system, telling city hall they sometimes spend hours on the phone waiting to book a ride and then also wait a long time for their ride to show up.

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Earlier this year, city staff were asked to come up with a project plan and secure funding to implement an online booking at Para Transpo. Council approved extra funding in September and staff presented their implementation plan to the transit commission on Wednesday.

The roll out for online booking services in Ottawa – who shares the same software supplier as Edmonton, Hamilton and Vancouver – will come in two parts, senior OC Transpo staff told commissioners.

Click to play video: 'Regina program helping those with disabilities transition from Paratransit to city buses' Regina program helping those with disabilities transition from Paratransit to city buses
Regina program helping those with disabilities transition from Paratransit to city buses – May 14, 2019

An “interim” online booking system will come in early 2020 and will allow customers to submit trip requests through a web form so they can avoid queuing up over the phone, freeing up the phone systems for others with no internet access, according to the transit agency. The requests will be “manually reviewed and entered by staff” and then confirmed via email, staff said.

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The interim system will first be presented to a customer test group at the end of this year, staff noted. The full online system – available on the web and as an iPhone or Android app – would go live about a year later, by the end of 2020.

According to staff, the complete online booking system would offer users the following functions:

  • book, confirm or cancel a trip;
  • create a new subscription for recurring trips;
  • track location of a booked trip on a map and get estimated trip arrival times;
  • receive trip reminders by phone, email or SMS text;
  • view trips and details in a calendar or list;
  • view and edit account data;
  • allow customers, support persons or agencies like hospitals and clinic to manage bookings; and
  • be compatible with minibuses and contracted taxis.

Transit advocates call for clearer timeline

Transit advocates who addressed the transit commission on Wednesday welcomed the news but also called on OC Transpo to give them a more detailed timeline for the project’s roll out next year.

“We want a firm date,” John Redins said of the interim system’s projected launch. “Early next year is not specific enough.”

“There’s no accountability, no transparency without timelines,” argued Sam Boswell from the Health Transportation Coalition, an advocacy group comprised of 35 organizations.

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Several speakers added they’re worried that Para Transpo users’ concerns will be swept under the rug with so much attention on the city’s problem-plagued light-rail transit system right now.

OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s willing to provide “regular updates” on the booking system.

“We will get a timeline as soon as we can,” Manconi said.

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