The Tyee has a very good summary of the users’ case for retaining the TaxiSaver program.
I am not going to repeat what is in that article. As usual I refrain from stating the case that needs to be made by others – especially when they have been so eloquent. But where I feel my experience or knowledge add something I will chime in. And what made me react was this sentence
When the Taxi Saver cuts were first announced, TransLink indicated it was a budgetary decision that would save over a million dollars. More recently, TransLink has stated that money saved by cutting Taxi Savers would be re-deployed to finance improved HandyDart services.
When I was employed by TransLink I was expected to examine the whole range of services to people with disabilities – mostly because as the economist I was expected to provide some professional advice on things which on a per passenger ride basis were extremely expensive. TaxiSavers were indeed introduced to increase mobility – but that was because the system itself was overburdened from the start – and always will be. The people who act as “gatekeepers” and certify that someone needs special assistance have no interest at all to save Translink – or the taxpayer – money. They meet the needs of their clientele. As they should. Other systems, like Calgary, have a much more stringent approach to determining eligibility, but that reflects a different kind of organization. There the City provides both transit and social assistance of various kinds: that is not the case with Translink.
TaxiSavers halve the cost of a taxi ride for users. But they also greatly reduce the cost of the same ride compared to what it would cost Translink if it were obliged to deliver service using its own equipment. Transit is rationed here – mostly by the location of where people live. In fact people with disabilities who qualify for handDART and live in the outer suburbs may even enjoy more transit access than their neighbours who have no disability. But handyDART is rationed by trip purpose. Because there is so much demand, and trips must be booked in advance, trips for school, work or medical reasons take precedence. In reality that means that any trip outside those classes doesn’t get booked. Taxi Savers allow people to make trips at short notice and for any purpose at all. There is also no need to see if the trip can be shared with others.
I think that the Taxi Saver program saved Translink a great deal, since it removed a lot of pressure to improve the shared ride, pre-booked system. There is an equity (or “human rights”) argument: imagine waiting in line for the #99 – but having to persuade an official before being allowed to board that your trip purpose fitted some predetermined category. Imagine further that you have some of the problems of aging or limited intellectual capacity – or are too principled to game the system. That is the situation that HandyDart users face everyday. It would be intolerable if it applied to the population as a whole, but somehow it is acceptable when applied to an identifiable minority. Who are supposed to be protected by legislation. And the Charter.
The claim that the savings will go to improve service are sophistry – since the trips people make with TaxiSavers do not qualify for those prebooked trips which are always oversubscribed.
But the Translink Board now is not accountable. Local politicians would never have dared have made this decision. But an appointed Board can have no conscience – it simply follows the mandate it has been given. The problem we have now is we are ruled by a bunch of politicians who think cutting taxes and public spending is always the right answer to every problem. And who believe that the way to achieve that is to cut service no matter what the consequences. So we have cut environmental protection – and people can set their drinking water alight. We have reduced all those “frills” in education like special needs assistants and librarians, and we wonder why our children now cannot find employment. In the US the Republicans have just cut federal funds to walking and cycling programs: they are the same people who decry the increase in demand for health services, because they are so expensive. In Britain, public transport was deregulated and most of the subsidies eliminated. Not long afterwards we started reading about a new problem – social exclusion. That is not a phrase we have heard much here. Expect to hear it more often in future.
UPDATE 1pm Wednesday 11 July Outcry forces TransLink to Reverse Decision on the TaxiSaver program Vancouver Sun