More than a hundred HandyDART riders, family members and caretakers voiced their concerns with the “surge” in TransLink’s use of private taxis to complete rides.
They attended a virtual town hall on Wednesday night that was held in conjunction with the Amalgamated Transit Union — the largest labour union representing transit and allied workers in Canada.
HandyDART is a door-to-door shared ride service for people with physical and cognitive disabilities. TransLink contracts out the service to Transdev, a French company.
“(Save Our HandyDART), a coalition of riders, disability advocates, labour groups, community organizations, and attendees, described severe safety issues with taxis, including instances in which riders were injured getting in and out of taxis, had their wheelchairs improperly secured, or were even left on the street by taxi drivers who did not provide door-to-door assistance,” a union representative said in a press release.
A B.C. mother shared her “horrendous experience” regarding her non-verbal daughter and a taxi after the daughter was not escorted to her front door.
“She got lost for hours and it ended up in a full-on police dog helicopter search.… She could have been anywhere. She ended up walking across a highway, and she is not safe in traffic,” Viviane Schmidt Mumm said.
Eric Doherty, a transportation planner and researcher who presented at the town hall, reported that the use of taxis at HandyDART surged to 17 per cent last year, despite TransLink making a public commitment to bring taxi use down to seven per cent by 2021.
HandyDART users said taxi drivers very rarely exit their vehicles to assist those who live with disabilities.
Tanya Smith, a home care provider for a woman with a disability, described getting multiple calls from taxi drivers who refused to get out of their vehicles to escort the rider.
Smith stated that, unlike taxis, she had never had any incidents with HandyDART drivers.
“The training overall is better, which leads to the kindness and the professionalism. It really bothers me that this taxi service is being used when they should be doing everything they can to recruit drivers and treat them well,” Smith said.
TransLink provided a statement Thursday afternoon regarding the situation.
“Trip demand for HandyDART has been increasing rapidly, leading to a higher need for supplemental taxi services,” a spokesperson said in an email.
“TransLink’s contractor that operates HandyDART services has increased their efforts to hire and train operators to reduce the number of trips that are being delivered through supplementary taxi services. So far in 2023, 74 new operators have been hired with more hiring to occur throughout the year.”