Langley rider waits on HandyDART

Langley’s Dawn Collision is the latest Lower Mainland resident to run into problems getting where she needs to with HandyDART.

Collison, who uses a mobility scooter, said she has been using HandyDART for at least 10 years.

“I use it at least once a week,” she said. “Mostly doctor’s appointments.”

HandyDART is a service of TransLink that provides trips for people with physical disabilities, or who are unable to drive because of a medical issue.

The drivers take people from their front door to their destination. However, the service has come under increasing criticism in recent years as the number of refusals of service has increased.

Late in January, Collison contacted HandyDART for a long-planned trip to a doctor in Surrey. She had been waiting for an MRI for months, and her spot on the waiting list was up.

However, although she called seven days in advance, the maximum amount allowed under the HandyDART booking system, she said she was told there was no way to accommodate her trip.

It was the last straw for Collison, who feared she might have to wait another six months for an MRI if she missed this appointment.

She managed to find a friend who was able to drive her to her clinic, but Collision said it could have been worse.

“There are some people who don’t have anyone,” she said.

She has also had issues in the past with timing. In some cases, she’s been told that she can book a trip one way, but won’t be able to get back soon. Some of her friends have used HandyDART for a trip to the bank, only to be left there for several hours because of scheduling.

“There are times when they’re excellent,” Collison said. Some drivers are great and show a lot of compassion for their clients, she noted.

But she said at least one of her friends had so many problems, she quit using the service.

“It’s not good for seniors or disabled people to be housebound,” she said.

Switching over to using taxis on a regular basis isn’t an option for Collison due to costs.

“I live on under $1,000 a month,” she said.

TransLink denied or refused 4.4 per cent of all trips in 2013, according to Martin Lay, director of transit services for the Coast Mountain Bus Company, TransLink’s bus division.

Of those, 3.5 per cent were denials, in which there was too much capacity and the trip was turned down completely, and 0.9 per cent were refused, which means the client was offered an alternate time and the customer turned that down.

Of the 1.18 million trips in 2013, that would mean clients were refused or denied 51,920 times.

An internal Coast Mountain Bus Company memo uncovered last year by the HandyDART riders committee found that trip denials had increased by 670 per cent from 2008.

“All demand trips are on a first come, first served basis, and therefore even medical trips can get denied, and even when customer calls seven days out,” Lay said in an email to the Langley Advance.

Lay said the most common reason for trips being turned down is that they take place in a busy time window, such as between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

He said they are working on the issue. “However, without additional funding sources, TransLink is not in a position to expand services, either for conventional transit or for HandyDART,” said Lay.

A pilot program started last year uses taxis to deliver some HandyDART trips at the same price as a normal HandyDART ride.

“It is important to highlight, customers will receive a trip by taxi only if it is appropriate based on their mobility requirements,” said Lay.

Despite the issues, Collison said she will continue to use HandyDART, but she will also try to use the regular bus service more.

She also believes TransLink and HandyDART should listen to their users and clients, and work with them to create a better system.

– With files from the Burnaby Now.

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