Did Wheel Trans Botch A New System Implementation?

Recently, I received an email from a reader reporting a major problem in the implementation by Wheel Trans of a new booking system.  Here is the relevant part of the note:

On August 6th, Wheel-Trans took down its online booking system to install a “New and Improved’ reservation system. Two days later the new page was up and running — sort of. Wheel-Trans had cleansed half of our list of “preregistered addresses” and, in so doing, had forced us back upon the hugely overloaded and barely functional phone reservation system.

The consequences were devastating. Bus operators, contract minivan owners, taxi drivers, reservationists and customer service agents, and the customers, all felt the effects; customers arriving late to appointments or not able to book rides or make cancellations, drivers attempting to meet an impossible schedule while driving to cancelled or abandoned calls, and agents and reservationists facing a never-ending flood of calls from frustrated, desperate, and, in some cases, irate customers. Like a locomotive shunting cars, each missed or late call rippled down the whole system; drivers run further and further behind in their schedule, customers wait longer and longer for their ride which, increasingly, as the day wears on. are abandoned or never arrive at all. And the traffic on the phone system grows and grows.

Even those not directly involved with the system— customers’ employers, physicians and therapists, hospitals and labs, friends and families—are all dealing with missed or late appointments.

Everyone I’ve talked with over the past few weeks, customers, Wheel-Trans drivers and phone staff, and health care professionals has a story to tell. And not one has a happy ending. Although everyone has different tale to tell, they all want a return to the old setup. But no one knows how to make this happen.

This has all the earmarks of a botched IT project although the exact reason has not come out yet.  In my own IT experience, this could be a question of bad specifications, of the official client not understanding how their own system works, or a badly executed data/functional migration that wasn’t properly tested before the system went live.

I am not a Wheel Trans user, although I have heard enough horror stories about the service it provides.  It’s a vital service for users, and yet the TTC and City are entertaining a cutback to the amount of service or the eligibility of riders, not further enhancements as part of the 2012 budget.

This article is intended as a repository for comments about that service, and in particular about the effects of the recent changes to the trip booking system.

12 thoughts on “Did Wheel Trans Botch A New System Implementation?

  1. My younger brother has special needs and uses YRT Mobility Plus to get him to school and to work, and in most cases the service is timely and efficient. It’s been awhile since the press has run a “villainize the TTC” story, maybe it is time for a new one if it will get them acting on these problems.

    At least before lawyers take note…


  2. I worked for the summer at a sheltered workshop for adults with developmental delays. The last week I was there a guy who was supposed to be picked up at 2 had to wait FIVE HOURS. And this was after numerous calls and guarantees from Wheel Trans over that time. Oh yeah, it was going to be guaranteed to be there at 5, 5:30, whatever. Finally they had to send him in a cab with no other option. It’s disgusting how they treat their customers.


  3. Somewhat off topic but, has anyone ever looked into how many people are forced to use WheelTrans simply because the streetcar system has no ability to handle wheelchairs? Could some relief be provided to the burdened WheelTrans buses if streetcar routes had some accessible buses running parallel to the streetcars? These buses might operate every 30 minutes and carry only wheelchair and other passengers requiring an accessible vehicle but not a full blown WheelTrans vehicle? TOTB (Thinking Outside the Box!)

    Steve: This is certainly a good idea, although there will be problems at many subway stations that are not accessible, but which are transfer points. This problem exists independently of the type of surface vehicle. Keeping elevators working at locations where they are installed is a related issue if a fixed route WT bus arrives at a station that has become inaccessible.


  4. I suppose St. Patrick, St. Andrew, King, College & St. Clair West stations will move ‘up’ the priority list for elevators once the new streetcar fleet has fully replaced the current fleet.

    On an unrelated access note *anyone* know how it can take so long to put an elevator in at Lawrence West. It’s a single car shaft, straight up, no diversions, no modifications, just two corresponding holes in the floor.


  5. On the subject of cutbacks to service and eligibility to force users onto the main system, I hope the TTC realizes that having more and more accessible stations and vehicles does not mean the system is more accessible.

    Ever try getting into a subway car in rush hour or during a delay while in a wheelchair? Or even as someone who can stand but needs a wide stance and a pole to hold on to? And if the response to this was that other riders should accommodate these users by getting off the train to let them on, that’s not realistic. With the level of crowding today, except for the couple people at the door no one can even see someone sitting on the platform on a wheelchair. Even with the fancy new TR trains and their new accessibility features, the system is not accessible and forcing users out of wheel trans is cruel.


  6. I think that Bryan has hit the nail on the head. Service is often so overcrowded that only a surface transit abstainer (insert name of chair or councillor or mayor or media contact here) could think that wheelchair/wheeltrans regulars could be diverted to the regular accessible surface network. Night bus, off peak, late evening, you name it, it’ll be a packed bus. Already, I believe that super-dedicated riders in wheelchairs have taken to planning their commute by the expected level of crowding instead of the most direct route, either by taking a highly circuitous and indirect route, or making use of parallel routes with less frequent service (your Dupont bus, etc.)


  7. I’ve been a Wheel-Trans customer for about 5 yrs. In the beginning things seemed ok. NOW, what a mess..who is getting paid for this, all they do is mess things up. I booked a trip, which I do EVERY WEEK,asking for my “drop-off” to be at 9:15am. So keeping in mind the half hour window, at the latest I should be dropped off is 9:45 !!

    What do they do..? They give me a 9:30am PICK-UP and a 10:15 DROP-OFF …. way too late for my appointment. I also submitted a new address on-line, they gave me a completely different address and when I called they told me “well it’s the same people who own the building, so you will be ok” … WHAT, ARE YOU KIDDING ME…

    If I get one of these darn sub-contractors, they will take me quite a distance from where I want to go. Did they change the address after I called … NO !!!

    I’m so frustrated with these people … and they are sooooo rude for the most part. Some of them are nice, but they are few and far between. So although I appreciate this service, c’mom TTC, get someone in there who knows what the heck they are doing … right now your system is a mess.

    PROOF .. did you see the story on CITY TV Sept 15th … they left a poor woman waiting for a pick-up for more than 3 HOURS … the people at her dental appointment tried calling customer service … guess what NO ANSWER.!!!!! unbelievable THESE PEOPLE GET PAID FOR THIS ???? Like REALLY.???? Thanks for letting me blow off some steam.


  8. I would like to know why people in Toronto do not make use of our regular accessible routes more than they do.

    You go to Hamilton, or any American city, and you almost can’t ride without seeing someone use the wheelchair lift on buses, etc.

    My friend is living in NYC now for school, and even the other day on the phone, he said everyday he can’t ride his local bus without someone using the wheelchair lift.

    Yet here, you hardly see anyone use the system even though almost every route is accessible and there are plenty of destinations one can get to on the accessible service.

    Trains and buses are just as crowded in NYC, yet people use the accessible features.

    Why are Toronto residents not making use of something that has cost hundreds of millions to implement.

    Steve: Accessibility of the surface system is still incomplete, although we have it on most routes. However, there are regular complaints about operators passing up scooter users and claiming that “the ramp is broken” or similar problems. Also, much of the subway is not accessible, and even the elevators that are installed may be out of service for months at a time. That sort of thing isn’t an issue in Hamilton where there is no subway. In NYC, the route structure was not created to replace buses with subways and they were even separate fare zones until the last reorganization. In Toronto, many trips cannot be made (or at least be made easily) without using the subway for part of the journey.


  9. What is the incentive for a TTC employee to do a good job? What is the incentive for TTC management to do a good job??

    Steve: The eternal love of the city and the riding public. Sadly, the message the city sends is that we think you’re all overpaid bums who can’t be bothered providing good service. That’s far from the truth, but it’s the message received. Yes, there are some rotten apples in the operating staff, and there are managers who spend too much time making excuses for what didn’t happen. However, we risk creating an entire organization that doesn’t care, and then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. What is lost is the continued sense passed from generation to generation that a good job is worth doing, and a public respect for the organization now under siege.


  10. Could some relief be provided to the burdened WheelTrans buses if streetcar routes had some accessible buses running parallel to the streetcars?

    David Gunn’s solution would be to replace streetcars with accessible buses. This would actually save the TTC money. And buses are more reliable in mixed traffic (right of ways mitigate like on St. Clair this). (Downsides: streetcars offer a better ride, have no emissions at street level, arguably lead to economic development, etc.) I find it hugely unfortunate that our newspapers do not discuss this option. The Toronto Star for example frequently frames plans to get rid of streetcars as an attack on transit… while failing to discuss the reliability and accessibility issues.

    Steve: This is certainly a good idea, although there will be problems at many subway stations that are not accessible, but which are transfer points. This problem exists independently of the type of surface vehicle. Keeping elevators working at locations where they are installed is a related issue if a fixed route WT bus arrives at a station that has become inaccessible.

    As I understand it, what wheelchair users actually do is to take the local bus routes that run along the subway lines (e.g. 97 Yonge). Unfortunately they cannot take any of the streetcar routes and there are some inaccessible bus routes.

    As far as broken elevators go, ACAT is leaning towards building a second set of elevators at all stations. [ACAT minutes from April 28, 2011]

    The current backup is to take the subway to the next accessible station, then backtrack via bus. (Hugely inconvenient… though it may not be as bad as not being able to board any streetcar or inaccessible bus.)

    Steve: And the likelihood of getting a second set of elevators is absolutely nil. The TTC is far from finished with the first set.

    The ACAT meeting notes linked above also address ramp issues. IMO the TTC should not be blamed for equipment failures. However, it could do a little better in having more educated/experienced drivers (one time I was on a bus where the driver took a very long time to figure out how to get the wheelchair lift on a high-floor bus to work).


  11. I don’t know how much that Wheel-trans paid for the new system. I should say” recycled system” it was apparently bought from the people in Montreal that made our last software. It lacks anything new. With all the progress in GPS systems over the last 10 years it surprises me this is all they could come up with. I wonder if they even tendered out the bid. I would like some answers…the public deserves them


Comments are closed.