With a rise in denials in 2012 for the HandyDart service, a group of Burnaby seniors are getting their voices heard at the provincial level.
The Voices of Burnaby Seniors, a community-based planning table comprised of seniors and agency representatives, has written a letter to Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone about the 38,000 HandyDart service denials last year, which represents about three per cent of total trips delivered. It's an increase from 1.5 per cent of trip denials in 2011.
"We have been made aware that frail seniors and people with disabilities face severe transportation problems," Hans Olsen, the group's chairperson, states in the letter. "Often they are unable to use the public transportation system, and so (they) depend on TransLink's HandyDart service."
Olsen said the group finds the denials "unacceptable" and asks both TransLink and HandyDart to remedy the situation.
"Denial of service means that the elderly and people with disabilities miss medical and other appointments, as well as the ability to shop and interact in their community," Olsen said. "They become virtual prisoners in their own homes, thus adding to the health and social deficit of such people."
The group sent the letter last week, which urges sufficient funding be found in the transportation budget to help the seniors and disabled people "so that they can live their lives in dignity and health."
The letter was sent last week.
As the Burnaby NOW previously reported, TransLink cut the TaxiSaver service last year to reallocate funds to its HandyDart program, but one local Burnaby resident was unhappy about the change because it's now more difficult to book a ride and takes longer to use.
"That's just the reality on HandyDart," said Lilo Ljubisic, who noted that it would take her about a week to secure a booking.
In April, TransLink started its pilot program, which reallocated more service hours to taxis on HandyDart runs that were inefficient to run.
Derek Zabel, TransLink spokesperson, said there are no cuts coming to HandyDart and the number of trips for customers will actually increase.
"In 2012, the provincial audit of TransLink and the regional transportation commissioner's efficiency review both identified potential improvements to our custom transit services to be more efficient and still meet the needs of customers," he said in an email interview. "Supplemental taxi service has always been part of our custom transit service delivery model."
Zabel also said many customers will experience an increase in service, with a projected 7,000 additional trips for HandyDart customers.
"TransLink is currently reviewing the whole custom transit service delivery model review to look at ways to improve the program to make it both more efficient and sustainable," he added. "HandyDart is a well-respected program and there are no plans by TransLink to reduce service or cut back the program. However, some elements of the program may need to change to achieve operational efficiencies and to continue to provide the important service it does."
HandyDart's operational budget is about $47 million for 2013.
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