Jean Swanson: HandyDART users oppose proposed application procedures sure to reduce ridership

The City of Vancouver’s persons with disabilities advisory committee had some harsh words

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      If you wanted to improve transit services in Metro Vancouver—knowing that as the population ages, more people will develop disabilities that prevent them from using buses and rapid transit—what would you do?  

      I know what I’d do. I’d try to expand services to meet the projected need. In this case, I’d expand and improve HandyDART, the door-to-door shared transit service for people with disabilities who can’t use buses and SkyTrain.

      But that’s not what TransLink is proposing in its HandyDART “Modernization Program”, which it calls a “package of updates that would improve the customer experience from start to finish”.  

      Right now, when people apply for HandyDART, they have to fill out a 15-question form and get their health-care practioners to fill out a nine-question form to see if they are eligible. The new plan is to make people meet with a hired consultant.

      According to TransLink, one task is to: “Explore which transit options best meet the individual needs and abilities of each customer.”

      My translation: See if people can use buses and SkyTrain instead of HandyDART, and if so, deny their HandyDART applications. Then, violà, the consultations would “help sustainably manage growth”. 

      The folks at the City of Vancouver’s persons with disabilities advisory committee saw through this “TransLinkSpeak” and passed a resolution opposing the proposed new procedure, making these points:

      • “In-person applications do reduce the number of persons applying for HandyDART before these people’s eligibility can be assessed because many people are not willing or able to go through the process—reductions between 10 to 20 percent have been reported in Canada;   
      • The persons who do not apply have been eliminated from paratransit use, not because they don’t qualify but because many are not willing or able to go through the process;
      • In-person applications are difficult for persons with mental health conditions, cognitive disabilities, dementia, and persons with English as a Second Language;
      • The in-person application process is therefore a barrier to the use of HandyDART services, and the process eliminates the most frail and vulnerable users;
      • In-person applications discourage persons from applying for HandyDART because the process is humiliating, frightening and invasive;
      • The in-person application process is also expensive and the funds should be used for needed HandyDART service.”  
      Coun. Jean Swanson worries that transit users don't have nearly enough input into how TransLink is operated.

      That’s why I submitted a motion to be heard at city council’s June 8 or 9 sessions.  It asks Mayor Kennedy Stewart to call on TransLink to “maintain HandyDART’s current, accessible application process; and to ensure that the proposed in-person interview is not mandatory”.

      TransLink has yet to make its decision, so Vancouver city council’s vote could make a difference. TransLink's board of directors is scheduled to next meet in public June 17.

      If my HandyDART resolution passes, it will be the third in a line of recent resolutions from Vancouver council to TransLink.

      The first called for stopping bus fare increases scheduled for July 1 and consulting with transit user groups before cutting out bus stops and making people walk farther to catch their bus. The second asked TransLink to put accessible washrooms in the new SkyTrain stations. Incredible that we have to beg for washrooms at SkyTrain stations!

      What’s become increasingly clear to me is that TransLink isn’t accountable to the folks who use public transit. TransLink is governed by a council made of Metro Vancouver mayors, which appoints a board to run day-to-day operations from a select list provided by a panel whose members are nominated by three business groups, the Mayors’ Council and the provincial minister responsible for transit.

      Hmmmm. No bus riders required on the council. No requirement for people with disabilities. 

      Please join us in urging city council to vote for my resolution and urging TransLink to make the changes requested. In the longer term, we desperately need a different way of running our transit system so it's accountable to the folks who use it.