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Letter: Where is the love for accessible transit in Metro Vancouver?

Users of paratransit, including seniors, and those with physical and cognitive needs must be prioritized for input on the "Access for Everyone" plan, the letter reads.
A Metro Vancouver coalition group is calling on TransLink to ensure HandyDart riders have a say in the future of local accessible transit. | Glacier Media

The Editor:

As we make our way through February, a season of hearts and flowers, the Save Our HandyDart Coalition finds ourselves feeling that accessible transit is being left out in the cold.

Coalition members, including HandyDart users, seniors, community groups, disability activists, caregivers and labour unions have been working for almost a year to draw attention to systemic safety and reliability issues at HandyDart.

We are in support of the Mayors’ Council Access for Everyone plan but see a gap between the plans for more access, including as much as 60 per cent more trips, and how we will get there based on the current service delivery model.

At a townhall in September, more than a hundred HandyDart riders and caregivers shared stories that exposed safety and reliability problems, particularly with the increasing use of private taxis.

Although the company operating HandyDART claims that taxis are only used when drivers are not available, we also note that the industries most loudly complaining about "labour shortages" are those in privatized sectors where profit often comes at the expense of workers and service quality.

This is why we are calling on TransLink to conduct what’s called a multiple accounts evaluation and public sector comparator review of the Metro Vancouver HandyDart service. This type of review would document rider and worker input, and would examine whether an in-house model would be safer, more reliable, and a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

Our call to action has been supported in an open letter signed by Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley and City Council, Mayor Patrick Johnstone of New Westminster, Mayor Brad West of Port Coquitlam, Langley City Mayor Nathan Pachal and its Council, and more than a dozen community organizations.

Many of us remember when TransLink previously committed to limit the proportion of taxi trips to seven per cent of service, and only backfill HandyDART service with taxis when a HandyDart driver is not available. The current rate is more than three times this, and taxi use has increased every year since 2010.

A recent highly publicized incident in Richmond, where a client was injured from being improperly secured by a taxi, shows that an overreliance on taxis risks negative impacts to the safety and wellbeing of users, and increases the liability risk and costs to Translink, who are ultimately responsible for the client.

We understand that some amount of taxi service has been an integral part of managing overflow service in Metro Vancouver. However, the year-after-year growth of taxis suggests that in fact it is a growing part of the operator’s service model.

Given the poor track record that the last several contractors have had in meeting demand using regular HandyDART drivers, we question TransLink’s ability to grow the service by 60 per cent using privatized service delivery.

Governments and institutions must have a plan to address the well-publicized demographic shifts coming in our society.

When they say "Access for Everyone," we are demanding that they show they mean it.

Users of paratransit, including seniors, and those with physical and cognitive needs must be prioritized with the understanding that their lives, their health and well-being rely on HandyDart service.

We understand that Translink will soon be doing a comprehensive review of HandyDart service, and we demand this review include a multiple accounts evaluation and public sector comparator as part of the review, to ensure that riders and workers — the groups most impacted by decision making — have their voices heard and taken into account.

- Ron Bergen, Save Our HandyDART Coalition