Calgary Transit glitch leaves special needs children stranded for hours

Systems upgrades at Calgary Transit Access led to service delays that have some users upset, including parents of special-needs children who were stranded at their summer camp Monday when their scheduled pickups were more than two hours late.

Naomi Stiglic, left and Lois Petersen had children in their special needs summer camp left waiting for hours after problems with(out) Access Calgary service. They were photographed where the camp is held outside Christine Meikle School in Calgary on Tuesday July 26, 2016. Gavin Young/Postmedia

Yolande Cole, Calgary Herald July 27, 2016

Lois Petersen, the director of Camp Sunflower, said the last Calgary Transit Access vehicle showed up at 5:30 p.m. Monday, three hours after her camp finished at 2:30 p.m., which is when the participants are normally picked up. The delays came after she spent hours on the phone on hold trying to set up the rides.

“I was in tears,” she said.

“It was just not a fun day. And not just for me — I don’t care about me, but for the little guys it’s just not fair to them at all.”

According to Calgary Transit spokesperson Sherri Zickefoose, Calgary Transit Access launched its new scheduling and dispatching software over the weekend. The service delays have led to a much higher volume in calls, making it difficult for people to get through.

“They, unfortunately, were hand-in-hand,” she said. “So, as people were not able to double check or getting a notification that their trip had been rescheduled, in error, they would phone the phone line, so the volume was off the chart.”

She added that there was apparently a “human error” that contributed to trips having to be rescheduled.

Petersen has 28 kids in her special-needs program this week. The majority take Calgary Transit Access to and from the camp.

She said the caretaker of the Bridgeland school where the camp is located stayed as long as he could, but when he had to leave at around 4 p.m. it began to rain, and camp staff stood outside sheltering the kids from the weather with umbrellas and blankets until the buses arrived.

That’s where photojournalist Christina Ryan saw her daughter, Emily, when she arrived at 4:30 p.m., after hearing that the girl wasn’t even on the bus yet.

“I was thinking, ‘here we go again’,” she said. “Two hours late, no bus in sight, not for Emily, and this is not acceptable.”

Petersen said in the nine years that she’s been running the summer camp, there have been “glitches” in the Calgary Transit Access system about once a year — but this is the worst one so far.

Ryan noted the summer camp users are all children who are medically fragile.

“They need their medicine, they have seizures,” she said. “This is what Access is for, is to deal with people who are not mobile. This is what the service is for.”

She questioned why Calgary Transit Access users weren’t notified of the system change and of potential disruptions to service.

“If you own or run a business, you would reach out to your clientele to let them know we’re implementing a new system, there could be some bugs to be worked out, I just want to give you a heads-up,” said Ryan.

“It could have been so much easier if the parents or the caregivers or the aides were aware… of what was going on so something could be implemented in case (an) emergency happened, which it did.”

Ryan added that while not as extreme as the situation Monday, delays in service happen “often.”

“It is very frustrating,” she said. “It is just not being resolved — in fact, it’s getting worse.”

Zickefoose said Calgary Transit Access brought on extra staff and vehicles to help during the system upgrade, and the hours of booking lines have been extended.

“Thankfully, as of Tuesday we’re already seeing some improvements, so the service is expected to reach the regular levels in just a few days,” she said.

Source Calgary Herald and Postmedia

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