Letter: HandyDART funding being outstripped by demand

Editor: The following is an open letter to Kevin Desmond, CEO of TransLink

Dear Sir: After 37 years of working as a HandyDART driver, then a training instructor, this week I applied to be a HandyDART passenger.

Due to knee replacement surgery, I am unable to drive for three months, and getting in and out of conventional transit is not an option.

Since its inception, HandyDART has been an essential service for seniors and disabled people.

There has been a freeze in funding for HandyDART since 2008. As the population of riders has been growing the service has stayed stagnant, trip denials went up 700 per cent.

The total HandyDART budget amounts to 2.8 per cent of the total TransLink budget.

As a result of political lobbying by HandyDART riders, to all levels of government, the budget for the transportation of seniors and disabled people has been given a 15 per cent increase in the next three years and 15 per cent in the following seven years.

According to statistics, the ridership of HandyDART is likely to increase exponentially.

HandyDART is contracted out to a for-profit company based in the United States.

Mr. Desmond discounted bringing the service in-house as a way of improving the service. People differ in their calculations about profit taken out of tax dollars by this private company, transparency is non-existent.

At a calculation of a 10 per cent profit margin (not including the taxi supplement), $4.8 million is being siphoned to the US.

$4.8 million would go a long way to achieve the improvements that TransLink outlined in their recent stakeholders report.

On the day after my surgery, I was driven to the surgeon’s office by my wife. I witnessed a taxi driver improperly securing an elderly woman in a wheelchair, then drive off without supplying a seatbelt.

My experiences in taxis have been frightening.

TransLink, in 2015, slashed the HandyDART service by 10,000 hours, redirecting those funds to taxis. Taxi service hasn’t improved with increased training; the reality is that for taxis “time is money,” which supersedes training.

Using my surgery as an example, getting to and from a cab will cost taxi drivers’ profit, not to mention causing me pain.

TransLink has put forward “solutions,” like increasing the taxi budget, changing lingo — turning denials “unaccommodated standbys” — handpicking advisors (excluding HandyDART workers, including taxi advocates) and revisiting tightening eligibility requirements.

It would seem that the long arms of the provincial government continue to manipulate the strings in TransLink while passengers suffer.

Hopefully the public will make their voices heard in support of this service as many who take HandyDART cannot. I had a passenger tell me that “there are no able bodied people, only temporarily able bodied.”

The truth of that statement rings loudly.

Mark Beeching,

Langley