Rob Ford is right about something: Wheel-Trans….

No. Seriously. I’m not kidding.

It’s not so much that there is a gravy train. It’s that the civil service in this City really is not run with the citizen’s needs in mind. I really do think we’ve got to the point where I am personally ready to break the entire bureaucracy up and start again.

I do admit that I am just very frustrated from a recent encounter with Wheel-Trans (at TTC).

My parents are 91. My mother can no longer walk without the aid of a walker. My father, although much better, has for the past month required a cane.

So they applied for Wheel-Trans at the TTC.

Do you know that you cannot apply over the phone or on the Internet? You cannot even get a doctor’s note (like for a handicapped parking space). No, amazingly, you must attend an interview in person at one of 5 TTC offices in Toronto. I presume they need to see you crawl in the door personally to admit you to the privilege of their services.

Now, if you need Wheel-Trans, it’s because you cannot get on the regular TTC on your own. And you cannot afford to take taxis everywhere. But the TTC makes you show up in person.

So my parents did finally take a very expensive taxi ride to show off their infirmity. My mother qualified but my father did not. So he can only use Wheel-Trans if he is accompanying her.

Fine. So she is signed up.

Well, my father calls to book the first trip… a doctor’s appointment at a downtown hospital. Fifteen minutes of constant redial and more than that on hold and he books his trip. He was very happy with the service the driver provided but said he could no longer do the phone part.

He asked me this past week to sign up for on-line trip booking. Now my parents, as many elderly, do not have a computer or access to the Internet. As a result, I will need to book for them every time they want to travel. That can be a bother for me but it’s the least I owe them.

So, I sit down to sign up for Wheel-Trans on-line booking. Whooo…. not for the faint of heart.

I enter their registration number, my mother’s date of birth, choose a password (yeah, this site is just like so many others….you choose a password, confirm it, complete the page and when you hit ‘enter’ only then are you told that it has to be ‘x’ number of characters plus a digit, etc. One day I want to invite all software writers over to my house and put them all on a hamster wheel….. but I digress).

So, when all this is done and I hit ‘register’ I get a message that the computers are down due to upgrading!

Ok, that’s not going to work today.

I tell my father that the computer system is down and that I will try after August 7, the date the recording said all would be ok.

On August 7 I cheerfully try again. I try to register and am told that the number I am using is already registered. Ok, I think, it did register me the previous attempt. Looking good.

I then try to login. The message says something like ‘account not validated’. Nothing I can think to do gets me by that.

I get on the phone to call them. I use automatic redial and on about the 25th attempt I manage to get past the busy signal to the machine that tells me that they are having a high volume of calls. But, I am told, if I am calling to book a Wheel-Trans trip, I can call another number right now and there will be no line up to get through. Wow! I’m finally on my way.

I call that number. Then set my phone to automatic redial. After 12 attempts I get to a machine that tells me they are very busy but if I dial the number I have just dialed, then I will get right through.

Hmmmm….

I stay on hold. And on hold. And on hold. I am not going to lose my sequence in line for anything at this point.

About 17 minutes later a very tense and unhappy woman comes on and basically says ‘what do you want’? I say I want to book a trip. She puts my on hold. However, only 1 minute later she returns. Bruskly, ‘what is your registration number’. Given. ‘When do you want to travel’. I was calling Sunday evening to book for Wednesay am. Can’t do it. ‘We only book 24 hours ahead’. ‘But the computers are down, can’t you do this, please’? No can, or will, do. End of conversation.

So Monday am I try the computer. They are up and I can log in! Ok. I put in the date my parents want to travel. It is now August 8 and I put in August 10. It accepts. I put in the time: 9:30 am. I press ‘enter’. It tells me the time is invalid because it is after 1:30 am.

Huh? I try several times to no avail.

Ok. I will call tech support. Cannot find the number. I go through about 8 or 10 screens and searches and cannot find the number. So I call back the main line. Only 20 minutes to get through this time. We’re cooking. I ask to book the trip. Cannot because it is more than 24 hours ahead. Ok, then give me tech support. I get the number. I call. Busy. I redial, busy.

After a further 10 minutes I give up.

I’ll take a break for now and try on Tuesday to book Wednesday am. My father is rather anxious that I won’t get through in time. I’m worried I will kill someone at work today because I’m so frustrated. It’s these difficulties that make the human experience so rich and full.

So, Rob Ford, if you want to send the entire current Wheel-Trans office workers (the drivers seem nice) packing go ahead. But you have to make sure you re-hire unionized replacements. This is a valuable service. If only the people working there would remember why the service exists.

I believe in a strong and healthy civil service. We need to re-install a sense of pride in our public service. I suspect that as long as people like Ford refer to the entire bureaucracy as a gravy train the people who work there will respond in the worst possible way. And they are doing that. So while I started off by saying I am ready to relieve the entire bureaucratic infrastructure, what I really mean (when I am in a more thoughtful mood….ie: when I haven’t dealt with them in a while) is that I would like citizens and government employees to enter a social contract of mutual trust and respect. I respect civil servants and the work they have to do. And I am prepared to pay the taxes necessary to pay them well. But then I want them to work efficiently and with care and a level of professionalism. Right now we aren’t getting value and no one is happy.

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