White Rock residents who rely on HandyDart service say it’s become so difficult to book return trips that they’re having to cancel medical appointments and other plans.
The problem has grown in the three years since TransLink contracted out the service, they say – a move they were assured at the time would result in improvements.
“They said, ‘we’re going to give you better service,’” recalled Anna Hayes, 90.
But when Hayes tried last week to book a ride for herself, Catherin Butcher and Viola Perkins to a June 12 ladies auxiliary meeting at the Crescent Legion, she was left wondering how the trio would get home.
“They say they can get you there, they can’t get you back,” Hayes said. “I never had any trouble before… (and was) never refused a ride.”
It is a similar story for 66-year-old Allan Watson.
Watson, a quadriplegic since he was injured in a cycling accident in December 1998, had to bow out of a June 4 doctor’s appointment after he was unable to book a return trip to the medical office – despite calling HandyDart a week in advance. His appointment was not for a trivial matter. He needed to get to the root of recent unexplained drops in his blood pressure.
Multiple calls to check for cancellations in the days leading up to the appointment were fruitless, with the end result being that Watson’s wife, Rhonda – a Peace Arch News circulation staffer – met with the doctor instead, to glean what advice she could for the problem before he left on a month’s holiday.
“HandyDart used to be a lot more convenient. Since the present operating company took over, it’s deteriorated,” Allan Watson said. “I know there are a lot of people having trouble with it. There have been occasions when I haven’t… seen a doctor simply because it’s so difficult to get there.”
Zdenka Buric – a spokesperson for MVT Canadian Bus, which is on contract with TransLink – said she could not get into specific details of individual clients, but confirmed that 37,000 ride requests were denied last year. The number is out of approximately 1.22 million trips (598,000 service hours) that the TransLink contract provides for, she said.
“We work really hard to accommodate requests and deliver good service to all of our customers,” she said. “It comes back to the number of hours that we can deliver based on our arrangement with TransLink.”
TransLink has not returned PAN’s queries, other than to refer HandyDart questions to Buric.
A pilot program is in place to supplement the service with taxis, however Buric acknowledged taxi service “is really not appropriate” for all clients.
Watson said he knows of only two taxis in the White Rock/South Surrey area that can accommodate his “sip-and-puff” wheelchair.
And Perkins, 85, Hayes and Butcher, 94, said the service they receive from taxi drivers is far below that provided by trained HandyDart drivers.
Hayes said one taxi driver actually drove off before she had steadied herself on her walker and without even closing the car door.
The seniors said they can’t afford to routinely pay regular fares for taxi rides. A one-way trip to the Crescent Legion cost Butcher $25.
“It makes it impossible for us to take part in anything outside of living in a place like this,” Hayes said.
And while Watson said rides with a private service are available, that cost – it would have been about $160 return for his June 4 doctor appointment – is also not sustainable long-term.
Watson said he hopes that increased awareness of the issue and how people are being affected will help others in similar situations. If no one speaks up, nothing will change, he said.
“There are a lot of people that can’t speak for themselves,” he said. “If people don’t know what the problem is… it’s certainly not going to get fixed. If those that can speak don’t, who will?”
Hayes said she plans to take her concerns to Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg.