High fares, inaccessible service plague transportation in Metro Vancouver
September 28th, 2023
For many people, it is clockwork that requires little thought or reflection
But for a growing number of others, taking transit in Metro Vancouver is a luxury they cannot afford or access.
As discussed in a series of public dialogues, costs add up and Translink’s high fares limit access to mobility services for many low-income Vancouverites, prompting them to resort to alternative, less safe transportation methods.
When the city held a reduced fare transit pilot the benefits were clear: participants accessed transit more readily, and had greater access to employment, education, and health care, using the savings on pressing needs like paying bills and buying food.
Lowering fares even resulted in greater family connection, as people were able to visit loved ones more regularly.
Reduced fare transit is one of the keys to unlocking the city for Vancouverites, but it is not the only one: many cannot access transit even if they can afford it.
Dumped to the lowest bidder
A lack of accessible seating - on buses and skytrains often packed to overflow - has forced people who use mobility devices to wait curbside as buses depart without them, while bus stops are often at the top of hills or spaced too far apart for people with limited mobility to navigate.
And even transportation specifically for seniors and people with disabilities is falling short.
HandyDART service has decreased dramatically, with half as many rides being offered as in 2008 despite a growing population of seniors, and a decline that started long before the pandemic.
While Translink reps point out that nearly all HandyDART users eventually get rides if they request one, they gloss over the fact this has increasingly been through dumping seniors and people with disabilities in taxis and calling it a job done, rather than providing them rides in a HandyDART van.
The 2022 taxi use rate of 21 percent was nearly 10 times higher than the 2010 rate, and 14 percent higher than Translink’s goal of 7 percent for 2021.
Not only are few taxis accessible, their drivers are rushed and lack the training of HandyDART operators, who provide individualized service to people sometimes needing extra time getting around.
These sentiments were echoed in a recent town hall hosted by the ATU, the union representing HandyDART workers, which has started a petition to cut down on taxi use and improve services.
HandyDART users relegated to taxis - former city councillor Tim Louis among them- described experiences ranging from falls caused by a driver not helping support them, to equipment being mishandled, to verbal beratings for taking too long.
A blind user even described waiting at her door for assistance, only for the driver to sit in his car across the street, refusing to come out and help her.
HandyDART drivers unhappily described this state of affairs, and also spoke about how some of their routes make little sense and needlessly cause trips to take hours longer than they should.
Increasing access to transportation is thus a multidimensional issue, with both greater affordability, expanded service, and smarter service needed for target populations, enabling people to become more active in their communities.
When it comes to HandyDART, services must stop being outsourced to the lowest bidder, and instead brought in-house and strengthened as a subsidiary of Translink.
In the meantime, taxi drivers providing rides in place of HandyDART drivers should be trained in working with riders who need extra support.
While Vancouver has many wonderful qualities, bolder action is required to ensure that as many people as possible can fully participate in the community and enjoy what it has to offer.