Stephen Rees's blog

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

Posts Tagged ‘Taxi Saver

HandyDart users concerned about wait times and ride availability: seniors’ report

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The headline comes from the Langley Advance. The good thing is that the report itself is actually available in the article page and for download from Scribd, so you can make your own judgement about what it says. Of course the press will always go with a negative for anything about TransLink – and I must admit that I have long been critical of the lack of service available to HandyDART users. What I think is remarkable about this survey is that it reports a generally positive tone in the responses.

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The other thing that has to be noted is that very few of the people answering the survey were entirely reliant on the service.

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Now the report does spell out where it was conducted – across BC but proportionately by population with properly weighted response rates. So this includes results from Metro Vancouver – where it is contracted out to an American operator (MVT) – and several of the larger BC Transit service areas.

And my impressions are not those of a user. At the time I worked for BC Transit and then TransLink (1997 – 2004) I was only too aware of a very high level of dissatisfaction. That was not based on an impartial survey but rather the constant pressure from advocates – and dissatisfied users. On social media and talking to people my own age, all I see are complaints. But if you think about it, that is also the case with transit service in general. The posts about friendly helpful bus drivers are few and far between – but the gripes when service is less than perfect are plentiful.

Some of the responses reported seem to be a bit obvious: “71% of respondents used the service to get to medical appointments.” Well that is because the age group of users is heavily weighted to those who no longer work or go to full time education. The supply of HandyDART trips is inadequate to meet every need so they have to be rationed, and those are the three for getting priority. Now, if you are a user who knows how to work the system you ensure that your doctor or clinic is located in or next to a mall so that you can quite reasonably combine trip purposes. But when you book it is for a medical appointment and not just to change your library books.

Of course in recent years many more services can be conducted on line – and as a senior myself I am well aware that the degree to which people of my age group have become adept at using computers. I no longer even own a cheque book and the number of times I actually need to go into a bank branch a year is less than one handful.

Buses in the City of Vancouver are now all accessible: back in 2004 they still looked like this:

TL 2926 on #16 Arbutus 2006_0416

One thing that has not changed is the level of dissatisfaction with taxis – which are used to supplement the inadequate supply of purpose built vans. This is not so much about the vehicles (though accessible taxis are often pre-empted by cruise ship passengers with lots of luggage) as the drivers, who still have a low level of understanding or tolerance for assisting people with disabilities. It is notable that those in Metro Vancouver get much lower ratings than those in other parts of BC.

I also still think that if we had an accessible, door to door, shared ride service – better than a bus, cheaper than a taxi – the overall level of service and customer satisfaction would increase and the need to rely on all those other types of service mentioned in that chart would decline. I hope that we recognize that this is a real need and one that ought to be met by the public sector, since Uber has clearly targeted this market as the one it thinks it will be able to monopolize and extort.

UPDATE   February 10

HandyDART trips to increase by 85,000 in 2017 says Translink CEO: currently, HandyDART makes 1.2 million trips each year and has 23,000 people registered with the service.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 3, 2017 at 3:11 pm

Losing Taxi Savers Program Will ‘Clip Wings’, Say Users

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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

 

 

Written by Stephen Rees

July 9, 2012 at 11:30 am

Posted in disability, taxi, transit

Tagged with , ,