By JESSICA HENDRIKS
The BTS Network is a transportation company for the disabled and elderly, who’s motto is “on time, every time.”
However, Sarah Hirniak and Rhys Evans, Niagara College students who use the service daily to get to campus and back, disagree and have a different view.
“I have yet to see that statement shown true in the actions of the company,” says Hirniak.
On Nov. 3, Niagara Region’s public works community voted to award Niagara Specialized Transit to the BTS Network Inc., in Vaughan, Ont., at a cost of $1.2 million.
Red Cross, whose contract ended at the end of November, previously provided the service.
Niagara Specialized Transit, which is run by the Region, has 1,080 active clients and 10 vehicles and one shuttle bus.
This is a special service to help people, who are unable to board a conventional transit vehicle or walk a distance of 175 metres, get to medical appointments, school and work.
A trip must also be from one municipality to another municipality.
These include: Niagara Falls, Thorold, Welland, Wainfleet, Fort Erie, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Lincoln, West Lincoln, Pelham, St. Catharines, Grimsby and Port Colborne.
Riders are required to pay a minimum of four one-way trips ($30.00) in advance and they will receive a punch card.
Upon boarding, the driver will punch out a $7.50 fare. If the trip costs more, the driver will punch out an additional fare.
Since the BTS Network took over for Red Cross, Hirniak and Evans, among others, say they have had a number of issues.
Evans says they are late “about 95 per cent of the time.” The longest wait time for him has been two hours.
Time is not the only issue.
He says a few of the drivers seem as if they are not trained to hook up a wheelchair.
“My dad had to physically show the guy how to do tie my wheelchair down.”
He adds that the first day the new company took over, it didn’t send a wheelchair accessible van due to having incorrect information.
Hirniak says, “One driver stopped to fill up for gas and got lottery tickets when he was already an hour late, and I was already late for class.”
She adds that sometimes they will show up even though she had cancelled the run, and that she can rarely get through when she tries to call.
They both say the people in the office, as well as a few of the drivers, are “rude and disrespectful”, and that they are “very disorganized.”
They say they feel they are being “belittled” as they feel they aren’t being treated with the respect they deserve.
Evans says that just like everyone else, he has places to go and people to see; it makes him feel like a “second class citizen.”
Hirniak says she feels as if the firm sees customers as “objects for delivery” and not people.
She raises the fact that the drivers get angry if one of the students is late to get to the pickup spot, which may only be a few minutes, but yet, transportation issues can cause people to miss whole classes.
“They have schedules and their time is valuable, but so is ours,” she says.
Evans and Hirniak have personal support worker services every day at scheduled times. If they are late to arrive for those, they either miss them or have less time with them.
Evans also speaks for those who use the transit service for their medical appointments.
“They rely on that service to get to their medical treatments. … If they’re not at the right place at the right time for their medical treatment, their treatment might not be as effective. So, it’s those people that I am advocating for as well as myself and others.”
Hirniak has been told that the company is working on these issues, but says she has yet to see improvement.
Confirmed by Sarah Holmes, transit co-ordinator for Niagara Region, starting in May, the price will be changing, but the punch card system will still be used. The price change was approved by Regional Council.
Holmes admits to receiving some complaints but is working to get them resolved.
“The service provider has resolved a number of these issues and is continuously working to improve the service and customer experience. This is witnessed by a significant decrease in volume of complaints we have received. However, while the service overall has seen substantial improvement, some clients have unfortunately been inconvenienced on more than one occasion.”
She adds, “As the new service provider is still adapting and learning, there is an element of rationalization that must occur in unforeseen circumstances. For example, in the event of an accident resulting in a driver being delayed, a client travelling to dialysis may be prioritized over a client travelling to school or work. We continue to work closely with the service provider to resolve all issues and address all customer feedback.”
Two attempts were made to contact BTS, both were unsuccessful.