Mystery surrounds little-known free bus pass program for people with disabilities

Advocates say the City of Winnipeg should advertise program better

By Austin Grabish, CBC News

Posted: Jul 18, 2016 4:15 AM CT
Last Updated: Jul 18, 2016 2:12 PM CT

Jesse Turner rides Winnipeg Transit for free but says the city program that allows her to do that isn’t advertised to everyone in Winnipeg’s disability community. (Austin Grabish/CBC )

A little-known city program that lets Handi-Transit users ride Winnipeg Transit for free should be better advertised and made available to more riders, advocates say.

In 2006, the city made it free for Handi-Transit users to ride regular transit for free, but several transit users CBC News spoke to say they’ve never heard of the program.

Any Handi-Transit user that uses a wheelchair, scooter, or is legally blind or unable to walk 175 metres qualifies for the program.

But numbers provided by the City of Winnipeg show only 919 users have a free pass. There are 6,371 users eligible for the program, the city said.

“It’s not something that they state outright on the public transit and Handi-Transit website,” said Jesse Turner, 34.

Turner is a wheelchair user registered with Handi-Transit but rides regular transit because she has a free card from the program.

She got the card after hearing about free fare through a friend who also had a card.

“I try to avoid using Handi-Transit just because you have to book in advance and then you’re on their schedule,” Turner said.

Eva Beaudoin is the chair of the Disabled Women’s Network of Manitoba and said she never heard about the free fare program until CBC News contacted her.

Beaudoin, 58, lives with a disability, uses a cane to get around, and is on a fixed income.

She uses Winnipeg Transit for convenience and sits in priority seating on the bus but said she would apply for Handi-Transit just to receive the free fare.

Eva Beaudoin
Eva Beaudoin is the chair of the Disabled Women’s Network of Manitoba and said she’s never heard about a free fare program that lets Handi-Transit users ride the regular bus for free. (Austin Grabish/CBC )

“I think it should be done for everybody all people with disabilities,” Beaudoin said.

“It would save a lot of money.”

Josh Brandon, a community animator for the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, said the free fare program should be better advertised so it can reach more people. He suggested the city advertise directly on Winnipeg Transit buses.

Brandon said Handi-Transit is already a program difficult for many to get into.

“There’s always a problem when you have programs that are application based.” “That’s why we prefer programs that are more universal,” he said.

City of Winnipeg spokeswoman Alissa Clark said in order to ride regular transit for free, Handi-Transit users must obtain a photo ID card, which is good for three years.

Clark said the majority of Handi-Transit users have impairments that prevent them from using Winnipeg Transit and suggested that could be the reason for the discrepancy in the numbers.

Handi-Transit
Advocates say the City of Winnipeg should advertise a city program better that lets Handi-Transit users ride Winnipeg Transit for free. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

She said letters are sent out to all Handi-Transit users who qualify for the program and clients are also informed about the free program verbally.

But some say they were never told about the program.

Libby Zdriluk, 30, uses both Handi-Transit and Winnipeg Transit to get around. She said she didn’t know about the waived fare program until a free card arrived in the mail one day.

“It just showed up,” Zdriluk said.

“Obviously, I was pretty mad to find out I could’ve been riding for free,” she added.

Scott Best is legally blind and has a free fare card. But the 26-year-old said he hardly uses it because he finds Winnipeg Transit too difficult to navigate.

He said the free fare program feels “a little weird” since he can’t use it easily.

Terry McIntosh, 54, rides Handi-Transit and doesn’t have the free fare card.

“It would be useful but with our weather in winters I couldn’t use it half the time If I wanted.”

She added she doesn’t mind paying to ride the bus. “We want to be treated equal so why would I use the bus free?”

“It’s probably not a perspective most people would agree with, though,” she said.

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