Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

HandyDart workers vote to strike

with 3 comments

HandyDART T710 Tsawwassen BC 2009_0121

Jeff Nagel broke this story today on BC Local News. I really wonder how this will play out and cannot make any predictions, just raise some concerns.

Seniors, the disabled and other HandyDart users could be affected in the event of a strike, but essential service levels would first have to be approved by the Labour Relations Board.

First off, people with disabilities are the only people who use HandyDART – that is because it is a specialized transit system intended solely for people who cannot use the conventional transit system. That being said, the conventional transit system has been getting more accessible – the introduction of the low floor trolleybuses removing one of the largest barriers. But for many people it is not the transit system that is the problem – it is getting to it. HandyDart provides a door to door service – the driver will help people in ways that are not practical for a bus operator. Even when the bus itself is accessible, many bus stops are not. And the municipalities are all a long way behind making the streets easy to use for everyone. Continuous sidewalks are a rarity in most places – and dropped curbs seem to get put in for vehicles much more readily than for crosswalks.

But how the LRB defines “essential service” will also be interesting. HandyDart users do not get anything like the accessibility that the rest of us enjoy. They have to negotiate for every trip – and only those trips thought to be essential are likely to get a booking. Work, post secondary education and medical trips get priority in the booking system. If your trip request matches an existing van run and there is space you may be in luck. Regular trips also get served before “casual” trips – which was one of the reasons that Taxi Savers were introduced.

There is currently an ongoing ambulance strike – but that does not mean that you cannot get an ambulance if you need one. Though when it turns up it will have an “on strike” banner on it.

Users include renal patients requiring regular trips to local hospitals for kidney dialysis.

Usually that means a trip three times a week. And after dialysis, patients are often tired. I cannot think of a better case of “essential service” – but then that will also apply to many other types of trips which may not be quite so life threatening but will certainly have a devastating impact if they are denied. And most users of the services are among the most vulnerable members of society.

HandyDart is one of the few contracted out transit services in the region. It used to be operated by small local contracts – often by voluntary societies or other non-profits. That changed in recent times when MVT won all the contracts – and one of the reasons was said to be greater operational efficiencies offered by one operator rather than several. The greatest benefit being trips that crossed operational boundaries. Not that, in my experience, that was the greatest problem, but it seemed to me there was always more concern at management levels about efficiencies rather than service levels.  Simply because a specialized service costs a great deal more than conventional transit, and fares cover a very small percentage of operating costs.

MVT has grown up in the US as a “minority owned” business. They have been remarkably successful. As you can see from the brief details of the dispute  they did not get that way by throwing money around.

While MVT is offering modest pay hikes, [union president Dave] Watt said the firm wants to reduce payment for benefits, cut back vacation weeks and switch to a less generous pension plan.

He said MVT also wants the ability to contract out work and to end guaranteed hours, allowing the firm to send workers home early if there’s insufficient call volumes.

It’s a business, not a social service. MVT has to be concerned about its bottom line.

Taxis are not really an alternative. For one thing they cost a great deal and taxi savers are tightly rationed. For another, taxi drivers are one of the biggest sources of complaints from users with disabilities. While more licences have been issued in recent years for vans capable of loading a wheelchair, that has mostly increased the capacity to handle baggage for cruise ship passengers – and they tip better too.

I can only hope that negotiations are concluded successfully and speedily – and that if it does come to industrial action that the people impacted are given every possible consideration.  It is bad enough to have a disability – but to have your support system snatched away is intolerable.

HandyDART T710 Tsawwassen BC 2009_0121 decal

Written by Stephen Rees

September 1, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Posted in transit

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3 Responses

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  1. Great Post, Stephen. I work for an agency that supports people with disabilties and many use Handy Dart for trips that they describe as essential. I hope the LRB defines them the same way.

    Ernie Baatz

    September 1, 2009 at 10:47 pm

  2. Dear Stephen,

    I just wanted to vent somewhat to try to gain some perspective on the current handydart strike situation. I am a handydart driver in vancouver. I love my job and I am very good at my job. I’m feeling increasingly powerless as time goes on and I learn more and more about the complexity of this situation from various websites. http://www.handydart.info was particularly informative regarding history and complexity of the issues. However, there has been really no new info on it since Sept of 2008 when translink stopped communication with it. I really don’t know who to trust anymore. From day one since MVT took over the union and company were at odds, initially I was happy with MVT, I liked the uniforms even though some complained about the weather durability and visibilty of them. I enjoyed the new technology of the mobile data terminals but didnt agree with the constant camera monitoring on the buses yet to be implemented. It was explained to me during a training session that they run on a ten second loop and will only continune longer in the event of an accident or if the driver initiates it. But in the current proposal the company had listed camera reviewers employee classifications and also listed in current proposal that these cameras could be used for disciplinary purposes, so this sounds more like constant monitoring which i dont aggree to. I’ve had some instances of trips scheduled unrealistically but with enough warning to dispatcher they were usually able to rectify difficulties. I like being busy and enjoy a challenging schedule as long as its do-able. But I know most drivers were becoming increasingly stressed over more demanding schedules and customers were complaining more about being late and being left behind as well as rudeness from customer service and bookers. I was also discusted how an amercian company could use the word canadian in their name and mislead canadians who assume they are canadian when they are not at all. As the union informed us of difficult negotiations not going anywhere they held a meeting for strike vote and went over current offers by company which at that time seemed unacceptable. They said a strike vote didnt necessarily mean a strike but would give them more bargaining power. within 2 months we were on strike, initially promised 200 possibly 400 dollars a week strike pay. After we went on strike it turns out “they made mistake” and it would only be 150 dollars. If it wasnt for the few essential services shifts I’ve picked up I would be financially devastated. The union also convinced us all to give up our benefits so that they didnt have to pay for their share as they said the company was trying to starve them and eat up all their financial resources. They seemed ill prepared for this strike and haven’t really been honest about how long this could drag out. I agree that we are unfairly paid compared to transit drivers but I would be hard pressed to find a job right now driving for the same pay as I receive now unless it was for transit which I have no desire to work for, they have way more stress and possibly abusive passengers to deal with.. I am confused about the whole muncipal pension issue because according to handydart info website it said a private company is not eligible, yet when MVT took over we were told they were going to retain it and were applying. The union later revealed they were only submitting a temporary application in an attempt to purposly deceive us and didnt correct themselves when they were given the opportunity to re-apply for a permanent application. Now I read in an article in the Vancouver Sun that they are saying they are not eligible to apply although again in their recent proposal they offer it in 2012 when it is possible their contract will end. So what is it? Are they eligible or not? And if not, why is the union insisting we get it? I do worry about the implications of contracting out non-union workers as stated in mvt’s contract proposal as well as the 2 hour maximum pay for snow days that we are required to show up for only to be sent home again. They did give us back our holidays but essentially it was a vague contract particulary when describing benefits which were just listed in dollar amounts. I don’t understand why it is so difficult for them to clearly state and explain a budget plan to prove they cannot afford our demands if thats the case. In some ways I can believe translink had good intentions and believed this company was best able to run the system but at the same time I wonder if they knew exactly what they were doing purposly hiring a company known for its union breaking techniques. I feel so bad for the disabled that are being used as pawns in this what seems to be an unwinnable fight by the union and and equally stubborn attempt by the company to let this drag out and on and on an on and our passengers begin to resent us for not taking what according to the guy in van sun seemed to be an acceptable contract. I agree its totally unfair for clients to be held hostage to a battle between union and company that resembles children fighting. I think our union should have been more selective in prioritizing the battle that could be won and focusing on that instead of demanding everything. I just want to go back to work and have the security of a steady paycheque again . I think if this continues too long handydart will lose a lot of its best drivers because they will move on to other jobs instead of waiting it out like the hardcore longtime union guys are determined to do.

    Wendy

    November 7, 2009 at 12:14 am

  3. Thanks, Stephen, for this take on things, and also thanks to Wendy for her thoughtful response…

    Aaron

    November 7, 2009 at 11:55 am


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