Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

The Need for Improved HandyDART Service

with 4 comments

Once upon a time I worked for Translink and the HandyDART file seemed to reside almost permanently on my desk. If I can recall any one summarizing emotion about that it would be intense frustration. The problems then were only too apparent, and the willingness to do anything about them was almost non-existent. I would like to be able to say that since I left more able minds were employed and things got better. But they haven’t: they have got a great deal worse. And mostly because everyone involved in the decision making process prefers to ignore demographics.

The story makes the front page of today’s Vancouver Sun, but my own resolution to not link to paywalled sites can be maintained since there is also coverage at the Vancouver Media Co-op. And my friend Eric Doherty, who is the author of the report, has made the whole thing available on line at his own web site as a pdf. I recommend that you read the whole thing.

The points made by the report are telling. The need to use Handy DART rises steeply with age, and the population “over 70 in Metro Vancouver has increased by two and a half times that of the general population” in the last five years. This is nothing new – the same effect can be observed over a much longer period. But during that time HandyDART service has not been increased. Indeed it has been cut, in part due to a misguided belief on the part of the former Translink Commissioner Martin Crilly that taxis would be cheaper. He formed that opinion after hiring his old friend and former colleague Glen Leicester – who was previously Translink’s Vice-President of Planning who presided over the years of inaction on the same issues when he was my boss. He now operates as Shirocca Consulting of North Vancouver and his usual methodology is very selective comparison with other Canadian cities using CUTA data.

The headline statistic is the rapid increase in the number of trip refusals – 4,900 times in 2008, 13,400 times in 2010 and 37,700 times in 2012 – obtained by an FoI request. It is also pointed out in the report that trip refusals actually understate the problem. “Trip denials do not show the full extent of unmet demand people won’t attempt to book trips they know will be denied.”  That’s actually a tweet I made which slightly edits what Eric wrote to fit the Twitter 140 character limit.

Privatising the service did not help at all. Previously Translink contracted with a number of smaller operators – mostly societies run by people with disabilities, with one company on the North Shore which must have had one of the most quixotic mission statements as it could not have ever turned a profit. At no time in the years I was involved was there any suggestion that this arrangement was especially problematic, although the re-organisation and concentration of health services by the province was making the need for cross-boundary trips increasingly problematic.

I do not understand why an American based for profit organization needed to be brought in – and they have not performed well. And – just in the interest of full disclosure – MVT in the US is run by Kevin Klika who was once a brother-in-law of mine.

Once of the real changes I have noticed in recent months is that the Health Authorities have at long last woken up to the health impacts of our dysfunctional transportation system. They have sent representatives to at least two of the recent pubic meetings about the future of transit in the region. Perhaps this is being driven by the work of Larry Frank at UBC. But the concern expressed so far has been restricted to the general health of the population at large (see yesterday’s post for Larry’s take on that) and none at all about how the geographic concentration of outpatient services has put such a strain on the sector of the population that needs it most. It needs to be understood that when you are over 70, you are much less likely to be in employment or full time education, so the only trips you can qualify for on HandyDART are those of a medical nature. That must be borne in mind too when you look at trip refusal rates.

The failure of Translink to meet the essential needs of the most vulnerable sector of society is egregious, but in large measure it can be laid at the refusal of the Health Authorities to work cooperatively with Translink. Their view seemed to be that transporting patients was not any of their concern. As long as it could be downloaded onto the patient then their own statistics and financial data would look better. They were, after all, only following the example of other service providers – such as retailers. By choosing to build bigger facilities, and seeking “economies of scale” more of the distribution/collection problem could be downloaded to customers. IKEA, for instance, not only expects you to travel a long way to its stores, it expects you to take care of delivery and final assembly – unlike most other furniture retailers. Of course, Health Authorities do not face much competition – so the pressure has simply been from politicians who only think that public services ought to be run like businesses.

HardyDART is much more a social service than a business and its shameful neglect of its responsibilities has to laid at the feet of these same politicians. And, I am sorry to say, at those of a number of senior officials only too willing to do their bidding and not stand up for their mandate.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 20, 2013 at 11:43 am

4 Responses

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  1. I worked for 25 years in a Long Term Care facility in downtown Vancouver. We didn’t use Handy Dart but taxis and it was a daily problem. Before I go into details, let me say that I knew a young woman with MS that used Handy Dart. More often than not she had to phone to all the people she knew that had a car and were able to give her a ride. Not an easy task.

    Back to the many times a wheelchair taxi that we had ordered in advance would drive by our place, slow down then take off, because the driver didn’t like having to load/ unload a person in a wheelchair, and knew that he would not get a tip.
    In winter or on a rainy day their excuse was that the person was not waiting outside…as if a 80 years old person with health problems could wait outside.
    We often sent a staff with the client–when the later was ill, or not aware of where he/she was going– and, more often than not, the driver expected our staff to push the client in a wheelchair in /out of the taxi…

    Red frog

    November 21, 2013 at 12:16 pm

  2. The root of the whole problem lies in a wrong taxation policy by all levels of government. The trickle-down policy does not work. Figures on the ground prove it! We believe the following letter to Christy CLark Premier BC if supported by enough people is now the only avenue left to our campaigning since 2008.

    From: John Beeching
    Subject: Recent moves under TransLink for HandyDART
    Date: 21 November, 2013 2:29:54 PM PST
    To: premier@l
    Cc: Adrian Dix , BC Auditor General

    Dear Premier,

    I am unable to find in my computer the following letter. It is copied here in case It did not go or get delivered. This letter does contain minor amendments. With apologies to all,

    John Beeching

    4715 Lanark Street
    Vancouver, BC V5N 3R9

    November 18, 2013

    Dear Premier Clark,

    Transportation in South Coast British Columbia is central to its industries and all business, small or large. It transports workers and employees to and from work. Without that, business would fail. It is imperative that all businesses in the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Act – TransLink operate so as to achieve this need of industry and business.. Presently it is a failure as transportation for the able bodied and disabled is in crisis due to limited income from government. TransLink announced a decade freeze to 2023 for HandyDART. A Taxi Pilot Program has been introduced.

    Media and internet reveal a growing opposition to all transit changes. Our personal experiences revealing safety concerns have been sent to The TransLink Board, CBC and the Auditor General. We believe the financial problem is a result of unfair government taxation policies favouring business thus limiting taxation income for the government.

    We therefore with respect call on you and the BC Legislature to initiate forthwith a public inquiry into all transit, able bodied and disabled for the South Coast British Columbia Transit.

    Cc is reserved by us.

    John Beeching
    Elizabeth Beeching

    John Beeching

    November 23, 2013 at 2:30 pm

  3. HandiDart has major limitations.

    My mother relies exclusively on HandiBus (Calgary’s version) for travel to / from her care centre and it is annoying at best, horribly inconvenient at worst. Riders are at the mercy of the route planners, and often you are taken so far out of the way on milk runs it is incredibly painful. This is literal when you are 89 and paralyzed from the waist down and tied to an expensive motorized wheelchair for hours, not to mention mechanical lifts, and always have an additional 20-90 minutes imposed on your scheduled appointments or family events. Sometimes you are unavoidably late for an important appointment only to find out it was cancelled before you arrived and you have to reschedule. Meanwhile your previously scheduled HandiBus pick-up two hours later cannot be rescheduled, and you have an urgent need for a Number Two. Depending on HandiBus has resulted in increased sales for Depends throughout our ageing society.

    One day I’ll write an essay titled The Octogenarian Grandmother Exam where “Alice,” an octogenarian wheelchair-bound grandmother, motivates around a city testing it for universal accessibility and embedded high-quality urban mobility opportunities. HandiBus in the suburbs would fail miserably, as would poor access to the closest bus or rapid transit station (notably in winter, even with a multi-million dollar snow removal budget which is focused on the vast road system), whereas the proposed Oakridge development in Vancouver would get an A+ if it had a care facility for people like Alice where all the mall shops, services and rapid transit service were just an elevator button away and had completely indoor access.

    This a commentary as much about urbanism as it is public transit. Yes, by all means increase the funding and service for HandiDart, but until a wholistic view is taken on planning and urban design — which would finally acknowledge the demographic trends so widely published over the years — we are forced to look for solutions that may not exist, such as complete neighbourhoods, affordable care, and universal accessibilty.


    November 25, 2013 at 9:59 am

  4. My mother, who is in her late 80s, relies on HandyDART. This is sad, as HandyDART in not reliable, neither is it handy, nor does it dart. I don’t have a car, and travelling on regular public transportation is difficult for us when we go out anywhere together. We have spent countless hours waiting for the HandyDART, in freezing cold weather. Sometimes they send a taxi, but the taxi cruises by and then takes off and claims that we weren’t waiting outside, when we were. It’s not healthy for my mother to wait outside in freezing weather or in the rain for long periods of time. It’s not exactly fun for me, either.

    On the rare occasions when these taxis actually pick us up, they tend to take the scenic route in order to increase the fare. Once the driver took us out to Richmond, parked, and sat there for a while staring into space. My mother and I were both frantic to get home, as it was getting late and very cold out.

    Another time, the taxi driver dumped my mom, in her wheelchair, onto the street. I was struggling with our shopping bags, and didn’t realize what was happening until he got back into the taxi and drove off. He left my beloved mother sitting in her wheelchair in the street. The only reason I didn’t scream after him was that I was frantic to get her up on the sidewalk before she got hit by a car, or truck. I’m not making any of this up, I assure you.

    The HandyDART drivers themselves are usually very nice people, and I’m sure none of the problems are their fault, but something needs to be done.

    Janet Kizer

    November 28, 2013 at 6:14 pm

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