DATS users claim Edmonton transit service is getting worse: ‘I feel like we’re second class citizens’
Aleem Jaffer relies on DATS to get around in Edmonton. He uses a wheelchair and needs the transit service every day to get to work. While Jaffer says DATS has always been imperfect, he now calls the system broken.
“I’ve been taking DATS for a long time but this is the worst it has ever been, in my perception.”
“Lately, it has become a barrier more than a freedom for us.”
DATS (Disabled Adult Transit System) picks up users from their homes and takes them to a pre-scheduled drop-off point. Jaffer says a number of new problems have emerged and he recently hit a breaking point.
After spending more than half an hour on the phone waiting to schedule a ride, he was told DATS could get him to work on Monday but there was no way the service could get him home.
“I feel like we’re second class citizens and that’s not right,” Jaffer said.
He feels the problems are getting worse. He says he used to have to wait just a few minutes to schedule a ride and if he called three days in advance, it wasn’t hard to choose good pick-up and drop-off times.
Since December, Jaffer says service has deteriorated. He’s not the only one who feels that way.
Brenda Currey just wrote an open letter highlighting DATS’ shortcomings.
Recently, she scheduled a trip to and from the University of Alberta. The pick-up arrived so late that by the time she arrived, she had to sit there and wait for the return trip to arrive, just in case it arrived on time.
“It’s just not respectful of our time,” said Currey. “Not every day and ride is terrible but these days, they happen more often. It’s stressful.
“I’ve just done so much waiting in my life and so much wasted time waiting. You might think it gets easier but it’s actually getting harder.”
Similar complaints from last year led to city council approving $1.6 million over the next two years of new money for DATS. The cash will go to improving peak service delivery.
Councillor Bev Esslinger has heard many concerns like Jaffer’s and Currey’s since approving the new funding. That bothers her.
“I’ve reached out and said, ‘We’ve put more dollars into this system. When will we see that change?'” Esslinger said.
City staff say soon.
DATS is at maximum capacity and demand continues to increase. A driver shortage makes the problem worse.
Typically, five operators resign every year. Last year, 13 left. Five resigned in January alone.
The city says it is looking hard for replacements and hopes to find most of them by April.
Meanwhile, the new money the city provided to DATS has already hired new staff. The first were put on the road March 12. As more drivers are trained, the city plans to expand service every week for the next six weeks.
Esslinger says she’ll keep pushing.
“There’s a lot of work on that front right now but we’re not seeing it on the front lines. People are getting more frustrated than ever.”
A report completed last year for city council indicated DATS provides nearly one million trips to approximately 10,000 registered clients.
DATS targets a 30-minute pickup window. The review found DATS surpassed its 2017 performance target that “90 per cent or more of DATS pickups are to occur on time” by achieving a 93.5 per cent result.
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