This article was written by Sorcha DeHeer
Amidst the evolving Covid-19 pandemic, Lethbridge transit implemented a reservation-only model on April 8. The new model is designed to limit ridership to ‘essential’ travel only, which includes grocery shopping, attending doctor’s appointments and going to and from work. Anyone who needs to take the bus must reserve the time and stop number online or over the phone at least one business day in advance. The purpose of the change is to “ensure transit can remain a safe and viable service for those who need it most.” Ridership will be limited to 14 passengers per bus but people are asked to enter through the back.
While many have been satisfied with the new model, even claiming that it has reduced the number of transfers needed, others have begun to question its effectiveness. Buses are often late, sometimes as much as 20-30 minutes. Late pick-ups happen so often that call operators won’t look into the matter until 20 minutes have passed. Riders, on the other hand, are expected to be precisely on time, otherwise they face being removed from the system. It has led to many people being late for work and appointments, potentially costing them their jobs, wages or no-show fees. Other problems have arisen with the reservation system itself. Many have said that their requests never got processed properly in the first place, leaving them stranded. During call hours, last minute accommodation is often made, but after 4:30 pm no line is available. One resident shares their experiences:
“I booked weekly trips, the same times every day but for a week and a half no bus showed up. Each time I called the help line and they arranged a last minute ride but this still resulted in lost hours at work and sometimes relying on family for transportation. I get off of work after the call center is closed so if the bus doesn’t show up, I have to hope that a friend can pick me up or walk. Being so late at night, after 20 or 30 minutes of waiting I have to assume its not coming and start walking before it gets too dark. Finally, after my ride didn’t show up again, someone looked into the situation and found out my request had never been processed. It took them over a week to figure this out.”
Riders have also noted that it can take up to 2 hours to get through to someone one the phone, potentially leaving them stranded or having to arrange other means of transportation. Some have stopped using the transit altogether; relying on friends or family instead. One resident felt they have been “cut off” by the city, further limiting their access to essential resources. Those with limited mobility have been moved to access-a-ride buses, but similar complaints have been expressed. One resident claims the bus showed up 50 minutes late. With reduced services and unpredictable prairie weather, it can be difficult to find somewhere safe to wait such a long time, especially for vulnerable populations. Public transportation should be accessible to those who need it most, but those without a phone or wifi access have been left out in the cold. The transit website states that “we would encourage those who do not have access to phones or the internet to work with those support systems they would regularly rely on. This information has been communicated to those groups who support our vulnerable populations.” This fails however, to account for those who suddenly lose access, either because of financial difficulties or their phone dies while out.
What has been the most frustrating thing for riders is feeling like they aren’t being heard. Many have sent in complaints through email with no response. To date, the City of Lethbridge has not addressed nor acknowledged these concerns. In such uncertain times, the unreliability of the transit system has only added to people’s anxiety and stress.
Anyone with general inquiries are encouraged to call 311.