HandyDart service bumps across borders
By Paul Gowan
HandyDart is a public transit service that
accepts people with disabilities who are unable to access regular public
transit without assistance. Using specially designed vehicles, HandyDart
in the Lower Mainland is a perfect example of transit fitting the needs
of the community. Or is it?
HandyDart is operated by different contractors
in different Lower Mainland service areas, loosely based on
municipalities or municipal groupings. Each operator has a separate
contract with Translink, Greater Vancouver's public transit authority.
Some clients don't get their needs met. Carla
Felip, a disabled Delta resident, was working at Hydrecs, a B.C. Hydro
subsidiary located in downtown Vancouver. But she didn't take HandyDart
because it wouldn't get her to work when she needed.
Felip is recovering from an accident that left
her with limited mobility. She used Skytrain, but had to walk three
blocks to her job, exhausting her so much she was forced to quit her job
after only two months. Felip said she would be looking for another
position in a more convenient location.
She also can't get a HandyDart at a time of day
when she needs one to take her to rehabilitation appointments at G.F.
Strong - so her father drives her in from Delta. She wishes HandyDart
were a little more flexible about where they will take someone and when.
Coordination of service problems are common when
HandyDart buses travel from one service area to another.
Unlike regular Translink service, which operates
one automated set of schedules for much of the Lower Mainland, HandyDart
currently relies on separate schedules created manually in each service
Booking procedures and hours vary from one area
to another. Clients can "subscribe" to regular trips or book
trips three to four days ahead on a "casual" or one-time
basis. Each HandyDart operator tailors trips to its particular
clientele. Work, medical appointments or post-secondary education are
given top priority.
Surrey HandyDart runs a scheduled trip into
Vancouver Monday to Friday, arriving between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m.
depending on the drop-off point. But it only runs one regular Vancouver
trip per day. For this trip, HandyDart customers must be ready for
pickup by 7 a.m.
The Surrey return trip leaves Vancouver at 11:30
a.m. (There is an added 12:30 p.m. departure on Tuesdays and Thursdays
only). This only leaves an hour and a half for appointments and any
Delta HandyDart also runs one trip per day into
Vancouver, arriving between 12:30 and 1 p.m., again depending on the
location. If Delta residents want to go earlier, they can piggy-back on
Surrey HandyDart's Vancouver run, but only if they live in certain areas
of North Delta and are also registered with Surrey HandyDart, which they
must do separately.
Simon Fraser HandyDart, which covers Burnaby,
New Westminster and the Tri-Cities, runs two trips into Vancouver per
Translink administrator Jim Dawe said that
HandyDart has some coordination issues, with contractors doing things
differently in different geographical areas. He said the program tries
to meet demand, but that HandyDart service operators find it hard to
keep up, especially for trips through two or more municipalities.
He admits that problems with scheduling are made
worse by the manual scheduling system, under which schedulers are
constantly struggling to meet varying demands and special requests for
HandyDart recently purchased hardware for a new
automated scheduler. Dawe hopes the new system, due for a trial in
Richmond and Simon Fraser in March and April, will resolve some of
HandyDart's current Lower Mainland scheduling issues. Implementation in
other Lower Mainland communities is set for the summer.
"We've been gradually working toward
homogenization of the service hours and everything else," said Dawe.
HandyDart isn't like the bus system, he said.
He said people can sometimes get an extra trip
or arrange a HandyDart transfer when travelling from one service area to
"If [HandyDart] is able to provide the trip
directly, they will. But what happens is, each HandyDart has their
specific service area, so basically the bulk of their trips are going to
be within the service area. What happens is the buses become booked into
that area so it's very difficult for them to go outside the area. But
they do that. It's just that it's a little more difficult to go
outside the service area.
"Then they have the ability to transfer
from bus to bus [between zones] as well, and they do that as the next
step." If a client wants to travel from Surrey to Vancouver, for
example, they can attempt to arrange a trip to Vancouver and then
transfer to a Vancouver HandyDart at a cluster point, such as Vancouver
But to do this, Surrey HandyDart needs to call
Vancouver HandyDart to see whether or not a link can be made. The
process takes time and a transfer isn't always possible.
Dawe was surprised to hear that Surrey HandyDart,
when contacted, didn't mention the availability of extra trips on top of
the once-daily "subscription" trips. Nor did they mention the
possibility of a bus transfer when travelling to another municipality.
"The operator is supposed to offer an alternative," said Dawe.
He said they might not have mentioned other
options because they were simply overloaded and had nothing available.
For people like Carla Felip, who need to travel
from one municipality to another for work, Dawe suggested negotiating
start times with an employer.
"It's a give and take thing between the
customer and the HandyDart," he explained. Some options are good
and some are not good.
In Vancouver, the HandyDart contractor is
Pacific Transit Cooperative. Riders own the company, and the company
manages the drivers. Translink provides the vehicles and the funding.
All HandyDart operators in the Lower Mainland
are non-profit societies or similar, except for two, Dawe said. The two
private operators are on the North Shore and in Maple Ridge.
Dawe said HandyDart has a five- to seven-year
plan, but beyond that, concerns arise about the ''baby boomer bubble.''
Geriatric-related disabilities will place extra stress on the system.
"We really don't have a handle on that yet," he said.
Seventy per cent of HandyDart clients are
female, and 70% are also over 75 years of age. A fare is $2 for two
zones and $3 for three.