HandyDart trip denials climbed again in 2013 and critics say the increasingly constrained access to TransLink’s custom transit service is unfair to the disabled and elderly.
There were 42,418 service denials where requests couldn’t be accommodated due to constrained capacity – 3.5 per cent of all trips. That was up from 37,690 in 2012 and represents an eight-fold increase in the last four years.
“We have committed no crime and yet are sentenced to house arrest when demand for rides outstrips capacity to provide rides because politicians won’t make transit funding a priority,” said HandyDart Riders Alliance spokesperson Tim Louis, a former Vancouver councillor.
A further 0.9 per cent of HandyDart trips requested were refused, meaning they couldn’t be provided at the requested time and the customer wouldn’t accept an offer of an alternate time of up to an hour sooner or later.
TransLink’s HandyDart budget has been frozen for five years and no new money is available.
But Coast Mountain Bus Co. transit services director Martin Lay said the number of trips provided has been increased by shifting 10,000 service hours from HandyDart mini-buses to taxis.
Lay said the strategy is to provide as much service as efficiently as possible with the money available.
Transportation planner Eric Doherty said the population of older seniors and people with disabilities has rapidly increased in Metro Vancouver, and the number of residents over 70 is set to grow 40 per cent over the next decade.
He said it appears extra money for HandyDart will depend on Metro Vancouver mayors making it one of the expansion priorities to be voted on as part of a 2015 referendum on new TransLink taxes.
Both demographics and politics support including an increase for the HandyDart budget in TransLink’s expansion plan, Doherty argued.
“There’s obviously a crisis in the HandyDart system,” he said. “Seniors vote. If the mayors actually want to have this referendum pass, they need to make sure that seniors can vote for things like HandyDart and washrooms at transit stations – things that specifically speak to their needs.”