Elimination of TransLink TaxiSaver program criticized
A TransLink program that has been used since 1990 as a transportation option for people with disabilities will be phased out beginning this summer.
Coupons for the TaxiSaver program, which allows HandyCard holders to call a taxi directly and get service at a 50 percent discount, will no longer be accepted as of June 2013.
According to TransLink, the money saved on the elimination of the TaxiSaver program will be re-allocated to HandyDart service and to the increased use of taxis to supplement the service for people with physical and cognitive disabilities.
“With our taxi supplement, we’re able to use that to take up the slack where HandyDart is not able to carry people,” TransLink spokesperson Drew Snider told the Straight.
“If we can’t get a HandyDart vehicle, and it’s an appropriate alternative for the customer, like they don’t have really, really specific cognitive disabilities that only a HandyDart driver is trained to handle, then we can call the cab for them.”
But advocates for seniors and people with disabilities are criticizing the decision to eliminate the program.
The Council of Seniors Citizens’ Organizations of B.C. (COSCO) and the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities said in a statement today (May 16) they are “extremely disappointed” that the TaxiSaver program is being phased out.
“This will definitely have a negative impact on seniors living on low income and frail seniors who use taxi savers,” said Lorraine Logan, the vice president of COSCO.
Jill Weiss, the chair of the City of Vancouver’s Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee, said the TaxiSaver coupons have two important functions.
“One is to enable people to have rides on the same day, which right now, with the HandyDart system, seniors and people with disabilities can’t, and it also provides rides when the HandyDart system is too booked,” Weiss told the Straight by phone.
“It’s a very important system, and it’s the cheapest system the government has to provide rides to seniors and people with disabilities who can’t use the bus.”
Weiss is concerned that the elimination of the program could mean more pressure on an already constrained HandyDart system, with an increased demand from clients that were using the TaxiSaver program.
“The average number of round trips per month per registered active user on HandyDART in 2010 was 2.5,” she said. “On HandyDART, the situation is already abysmal…and this will make it much worse.”
Weiss noted that in her experience, the system is so over-booked that arranging same-day trips is virtually impossible.
“Because the rides on HandyDART are so limited, there’s usually no rides left by two or three days before the day you want to go,” she said.
According to Snider, the use of the taxi supplement service is expected to increase the availability of same-day trips.
He noted the TaxiSaver program was implemented as a measure to fill a service gap for people who could not use the conventional transit system. Over 85 percent of TaxiSaver customers do not use HandyDart, according to TransLink data.
“When TaxiSaver was brought in, we didn’t have a fully accessible conventional transit system,” he said.
“We had high-floor buses, buses with steps on them—it was not a viable option for a lot of people. Times have changed. We now have a fully accessible conventional system—we also have a much more extensive HandyDart system.”
Snider said the TaxiSaver program had become an “uncontrolled cost”.
“People were able to just call up and get a half-price cab ride,” he said. “With this, we’re able to have some form of control over the cost that’s going out there, so in many ways it’s a budgetary measure.”
The elimination of the TaxiSaver program is expected to save $1.1 million per year over the next three years. Snider said TransLink will spend $200,000 over the next year on supplementary taxi service. The remainder of the savings will be invested, after outstanding TaxiSaver coupons are refunded, into overall HandyDart service.
The TaxiSaver program will be phased out beginning this July for new HandyCard registrants. People who were issued HandyCards prior to July 2012 will be able to purchase coupons up until January 2013. The TaxiSaver coupons will no longer be accepted for payment as of June 2013.