Burnaby councillors are calling for TransLink to bring its HandyDART service in-house after signing a letter penned by the Save Our HandyDART Coalition.
The letter also calls for funds from higher levels of government to provide HandyDART with an expanded, electric fleet of buses.
HandyDART is TransLink’s door-to-door shared ride service for people with disabilities who are unable to use conventional public transit without assistance.
Coun. Maita Santiago brought forward the motion to sign the letter and stressed HandyDART’s importance to the city’s most vulnerable residents, particularly elderly residents who need to go to medical appointments and day programs.
Trips are provided either by a HandyDart bus or a supplemental taxi, according to a report for TransLink’s Mayors’ Council in September.
In 2022, 17 per cent of HandyDART trips were delivered by taxi for a total of 167,700 trips, according to the TransLink report.
“This increase is a result of HandyDART operator shortages, consistent with general post-pandemic labour challenges,” said the report.
The Save Our HandyDART Coalition, made up of riders, disability justice advocates and labour organizers, wants to limit the percentage of taxi trips to seven per cent or fewer of total HandyDART trips.
HandyDART has been operated by contractor TransDev since July 2018, according to the report, and delivered by contractors since the service began in 1981.
TransLink’s report said TransDev has begun employment campaigns and worked to reduce licence processing times.
'Privatization hurts regular people': councillor
Coun. Sav Dhaliwal stressed TransLink should be “100 per cent” responsible to provide the HandyDART service.
“There’s no reason why HandyDART services are not up to par,” he said.
He added taxis are not to blame.
“It seems like maybe taxis are the villains, to some extent. I don’t see it that way,” he said, adding he thinks taxis provide a “very real service” when HandyDART can't.
Coun. Alison Gu said when governments contract out, taxpayers pay more.
“Privatization hurts regular people,” she said.
“HandyDART riders are paying the price. … Bringing that service in-house means more good jobs for people, and most importantly, better service for vulnerable people, for seniors, for people with disabilities.”
Santiago choked up while telling a story about a HandyDART driver who waited for her father, who has dementia, despite him not being ready to go on a chilly December day.
She said she was “so, so grateful” for the service.
“It’s not just a matter of moving people from one place to another, but it’s about a real difference that it makes for quality of life for the clients that they serve,” she said.
In 2022, HandyDART had a total of 26,500 registered customers,
The City of Langley has also signed the letter.
The letter will be sent to Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming.