TransLink will consider reforms to HandyDart service in response to recurring rider complaints and that could lead to a decision to replace the current U.S.-based contractor in 2017.
That’s when TransLink’s contract with MVT Canadian Bus Ltd. expires but outgoing board chair Barry Forbes said talks can start next year, along with a review to determine how better to serve passengers with disabilities who can’t use the regular transit system.
“We are concerned,” Forbes said after an open board meeting where TransLink directors heard several users complain the door-to-door custom transit service is inadequate and difficult to use.
Forbes promised TransLink will reach out to users to “figure out how we can adjust the system to more adequately and accurately – and humanely – meet their needs.”
Many activist users and unionized drivers have been openly at war with MVT for years and they repeated their calls for the private for-profit contractor to be abandoned in favour of a service run directly by TransLink or a non-profit.
“We all know there will be an increased demand for HandyDart service in the future,” said Bob Chitrenky, president of the drivers’ union, arguing profits that now go to MVT’s U.S. parent should instead be kept here to build a more sustainable service.
HandyDart’s budget would have increased had the transit sales tax referendum passed earlier this year, but it remains effectively frozen.
Chitrenky warned that budget restraint measures making it harder to qualify for HandyDart or moving to longer pickup time windows “may get less people riding but it’s not the answer to service.”
HandyDart users at the meeting carried placards with slogans like “people before profit” and “stop the abuse.”
Long waits and lack of availability of HandyDart vans has been a steady complaint of riders, as well as inflexibility of dispatchers.
“Accommodation is not in their dictionary,” said terminally ill disabled user Bet Tuason. “To MVT, it’s a foreign language.”
TransLink will consider the option of ending contracting out and making the service a direct TransLink function “as well as all other options,” Forbes said.
He indicated the aim will be not just to decide who should run the service, but how it might change.
“Part of the review that will be underway in 2016 is looking at the ways we might provide service in the future – are there other ways, better ways that aren’t presently available or that we’re not presently offering.”
Forbes defended some of the steps taken in recent years, saying the recent shift to use taxis for a portion of trips sharply cut the number of unfilled trip requests.
Some advocates have supported the supplemental use of taxis, but HandyDart users who spoke out Wednesday said they are unacceptable and ill-suited to transport vulnerable clients.
HandyDart user Bet Tuason speaking to the TransLink board Tuesday.