Tim Louis: With success comes bureaucracy

A founder of HandyDART experiences a Kafkaesque series of conversations about getting back from the Vancouver Folk Music Festival

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      TransLink’s HandyDART is on the whole a truly great system.

      This innovative service—delivers over 5,000 trips per day in the Metro Vancouver area.

      I remember in my first year of law school, 1981, when I helped to get HandyDART off the ground. It was a huge victory.

      Then, still in my first year of law school, the HandyDART cooperative I helped to set up—the Pacific Transit Cooperative—was awarded its first HandyDART contract by TransLink’s predecessor, B.C. Transit.

      We then became the world’s only HandyDART operator made up exclusively of HandyDART users. We quickly dubbed it “the DART”.

      HandyDART is no longer delivered by the users cooperative but by a private company, First Transit Canada.

      Our first contract was for $1 million per year. Kudos to TransLink, which now spends $50 million per year providing this service.

      However, every service, no matter how good, has nonsensical rules. Today I encountered one of those rules.

      By way of background, I should tell you that my life partner Penny and I attended the Vancouver Folk Music Festival every year for decades until it was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID.

      We were over the moon when it was announced a few months ago that the folk festival would return this year from Friday (July 15) to Sunday (July 17).

      On Wednesday (July 13) I called the DART to book our Saturday and Sunday trips to the folk festival site. Rides are not booked for precise times, but rather for half-hour windows. It is a shared ride system with passengers riding together.

      The Saturday (July 16) pick-up was no problem—we got the 11:00-11:30 time we wanted—but there was no return ride available at any time. So, I was put on a waiting list.

      For Sunday, our same desired pick-up time in the morning was available, but the only return ride available was a 5:35–6:05 slot. I accepted this available return time but asked to also be put on the waiting list for my preferred return in the 7:00–7:30 slot.

      I was informed that I was only allowed to be placed on the waiting list for my preferred time if I agreed not to book the earlier available time. I could not do both.

      This made absolutely no sense to me.

      I then spent 20 minutes in a fruitless effort to explain to the booking agent why this made no sense. She could not give me any rational reason. In typical bureaucratese, she simply said it would not be allowed.

      I finally asked to be transferred to someone higher up. I then spent another 30 minutes explaining that this policy made no sense, but my efforts were all in vain.

      The discussion was Kafkaesque.

      At one point, she said that if I was on the wait list for the time I wanted and ended up getting that time slot but had also already booked a time slot I would no longer want, then when I cancelled that earlier not-wanted ride, there would be a negative effect for the trip time of the other passengers already booked on that earlier trip. This was nonsensical and my cancellation would in fact speed up the trip for the other passengers on the earlier trip.

      Needless to say, to have fewer passengers on the bus would do nothing but make the trip more efficient. It could never have a negative impact.

      I then asked to speak with a customer feedback agent.

      After I explained the situation, he said that I was right—if I cancelled the earlier ride there would not be a negative effect on the efficiency of earlier trip. But he then told me that the problem with my request was that many customers book a trip they ultimately don’t want and then forget to phone HandyDART to cancel, meaning someone else who is on the waiting list for the earlier time will not get the trip.

      So, I said when you call me—if you call meto say that you can book me for the 7:00-7:30 time slot, just cancel my earlier trip right then and there during that phone call from you to me.

      In other words, don’t call me to give me the good news and then leave it to me to call back.

      He simply would not acknowledge the obvious common sense.

      Why would HandyDART wait for me to call back? Why would the agent not cancel the earlier trip then and there?

      Don’t say to me that you cannot do both. It’s just crazy.

      All told, I spent 2.5 hours Wednesday speaking with individuals from HandyDART who were clearly auditioning for the next version of my favourite show, Monty Python.


      Daily atmospheric CO2 [Courtesy of CO2.Earth]

      Latest daily total (July 14, 2022): 419.17ppm

      One year ago (July 14, 2021): 417.55pm

      Tim Louis is a Vancouver lawyer and former city councillor and park commissioner. This article first appeared on his blogThe Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.