Seniors, people with disabilities voice concerns about proposed cuts to TaxiSaver program
Seniors and people with disabilities gathered at city hall today (June 19) to voice their concerns about proposed cuts to a service they say is essential.
The public forum was organized by the Vancouver Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee and the Seniors Advisory Committee in response to TransLink’s announcement in May that it intended to phase out the TaxiSaver program.
The 20-year-old program allows HandyCard holders to book taxi trips at a 50 percent discount. Following public outcry, TransLink put its plan to eliminate the program on hold in order to conduct public consultation.
Lilo Ljubisic was one of many speakers who said the TaxiSaver program gives them an independence that HandyDart, which books several days in advance, can’t.
“TaxiSaver gives me the freedom that I would not have otherwise,” she told the crowded meeting.
“Without them, I also will become someone who lives inside a home…I’m a very active person in the community, and I would hate to have to move into my home and have my wings clipped.”
Ljubisic said she uses TaxiSavers to access streets where there is no public transit.
“As a blind person, I may be dropped off 7, 8, 10 blocks from a point of destination,” she said.
“There are times in the day and in the evening where a blind woman, or anyone, should not be walking around with any security issues in question.”
Tim Johnston, the president of the union that represents 550 HandyDart workers, said TransLink has reduced the hours of service for HandyDart from 650,000 hours two years ago to 598,000.
“While we have an increased demand for the service…we are frozen,” he said.
“So we are trying to work best with what we have. The only way we’re going to change this is by getting the board of TransLink to change their minds to increase hours of service, so we can accommodate you.”
Peter Hill, the manager of Access Transit, said the hours of service have been at 598,000 “for a couple of years now”.
“That’s determined by the TransLink executive based on need—it’s only been the first quarter of 2012 that we’ve actually seen trip denials go up on HandyDart,” he told meeting attendees.
“So I think we’ll see our executive respond to that concern.”
The transit authority said when the elimination of the TaxiSaver program was initially announced in May that the savings generated from the cuts would be redirected into the HandyDart service.
Jill Weiss, the chair of the City of Vancouver Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee, said the concerns about the proposed cuts are unanimous among TaxiSaver users.
“You hear the same things from everyone—this is essential, this provides a service that is not the same as HandyDart, and also, that provides service when HandyDart can’t,” she told the Straight.
“I don’t have the words to say how bad it is to be disabled in our culture, and how really hard it is to lose your independence and the life that you had if you become disabled by an accident or an illness,” she added. “One of the things you lose is your independence and your ability to have a life, and TaxiSavers give that back.”
Weiss said two more public meetings on the issue are scheduled to take place in July.